In a recently published Accounting Today article, I provided insight on the impact of the new audit report standard from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), which was approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on October 23. The new standard — which is the first significant change to the audit report in over 70 years – expands the scope of the audit report by requiring a discussion of “critical audit matters” and a disclosure of auditor tenure.
In monitoring SEC comment letters, we came across this SEC comment letter made public this month. It serves as a reminder to registrants that, when calculating a company’s public float, there is an informal presumption that a 10% or greater stockholder is an affiliate of the company; however, this presumption is rebuttable by the registrant.
The letter stated that “[t]he Staff has consistently taken the position that the determination of ‘control’ status is dependent in large part on the facts and circumstances involved and, therefore, has declined to state definitively what circumstances will result in a person being deemed to be in ‘control’ of an issuer. While the Company recognizes that, as a rule of thumb, more than 10% ownership has become an informal benchmark at which control should be evaluated, such ownership, standing alone, is not dispositive.”
In a Bloomberg BNA article, I provided insight on what future additional updates the SEC Staff could be focusing on following the Commission’s announcement of proposed amendments to Regulation S-K last week. The article quotes Elizabeth Murphy, an associate director in the SEC Division of Corporation Finance, from an October 18 Association of Corporate Counsel conference discussion saying the SEC has “more to come from our Reg S-K disclosure initiative,” but did not specify any particular recommendations to Regulation S-K the Commission plans to focus on. I noted that the Staff might continue to focus on MD&A disclosures and Regulation S-K’s Item 101, the narrative description of the business. In those areas, many comments on the concept release urged the SEC to “move from prescriptive rules to a more principles-based approach,” I explained in the article. “Given how fundamental these S-K sections are to SEC filings generally, it seems reasonable to believe the SEC Staff would develop recommendations to these rules for Commission consideration.”
The full article, “More SEC Proposals on Disclosure Rule Coming, Official Says,” was published on October 18, 2017, by Bloomberg BNA and is available online.
On October 11, the SEC proposed amendments to modernize and simplify disclosure requirements in Regulation S-K, which were mandated by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. In large part, the proposed amendments follow the recommendations of a November 2016 report from the SEC staff. As one SEC commissioner put it, the incremental adjustments to Regulation S-K are meant to “prune” the SEC’s existing disclosure regime rather than as “an exercise in slash-and-burn clearcutting.”
Below are six highlights from the SEC’s proposed amendments to Regulation S-K:
- Rules for Management’s Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) would be amended to clarify that a registrant need only provide a period-to-period comparison for the two most recent fiscal years presented in the financial statements and may hyperlink to the prior year’s annual report for additional period-to-period comparison. The proposed amendments would require hyperlinks to information that is incorporated by reference if that information is available on EDGAR. Instruction 1 to Item 303(a).
On August 5, 2015, the SEC adopted new rules implementing the pay ratio disclosure requirement of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank Act). Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act required the SEC to adopt rules requiring reporting companies to disclose the ratio of the annual compensation of the company’s median employee to the annual compensation of its principal executive officer. These rules will become effective generally for companies in their Form 10-K for the 2017 fiscal year or in their proxy statement for the 2018 annual meeting. Below are some frequently asked questions that companies should be considering now in preparing for this new disclosure.
1. What are the new rules on pay ratio generally?
The new rules are contained in a new Item 402(u) of Regulation S-K added by the SEC. Item 402(u) generally requires companies to disclose
- the median of the annual total compensation of all company employees other than the company principal executive officer (PEO),
- the PEO’s annual total compensation, and
- the ratio between the two numbers.
I recently provided insight for an article published in Compliance Week on the SEC’s pay ratio rule, which will require companies to disclose for the first time in their 2018 proxy statements the ratio between the median annual total compensation of all employees and the annual total compensation of its CEO. While the rule has brought some opposition, companies should still keep an eye out for developments in Washington and the SEC, but should not have unrealistic expectations. As I point out in the article, “given all the dynamics and the make-up of the Commission still evolving, companies should proceed with things the way they are now, with the rule in effect.” While there may be possibilities for some type of alleviation, companies should not rely on that to avoid delaying any adjustments needed to be made in preparation.
Last week, the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance issued updated guidance on processing procedures for draft registration statements. Below is a FAQ summary table we have prepared related to this new guidance.
There are some nuances in the guidance, so please consult with outside securities counsel before omitting any financial statements in your filing. Contact any member of our Corporate & Securities practice for more information.
With the September 1, 2017, deadline fast approaching for complying with the SEC’s new rules on exhibit hyperlinks, we have updated our March blog post with the frequently asked question below.
How does one link to an exhibit in a 30-year old registration statement that was filed as one gigantic ASCII file? The only available “link” would be to the whole file.
Based on recent informal Staff discussions relating to this question, we were instructed that the filer should hyperlink to the ASCII filing containing the exhibit and clearly identify the hyperlinked exhibit that is being incorporated by reference from the ASCII filing. By way of example, the hyperlink description could look something like this:
3.1 Articles of Incorporation (incorporated by reference to Exhibit 3.1 to the Form S-1 Registration Statement filed with the SEC on XX XX, XXX) (File No. XXX-XXXXXX)
Alternatively, the registrant could voluntarily choose to re-file the old exhibit with the present filing.
Last month, the Staff of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance announced that, as part of the Division’s ongoing efforts to facilitate capital formation, all issuers are now permitted to submit draft registration statements relating to IPOs and Exchange Act Section 12(b) registration (e.g., spin-offs) to the Staff for nonpublic (i.e., confidential) review.
Previously, nonpublic review was available only to emerging growth companies (EGCs), as authorized by the JOBS Act, and in certain circumstances to foreign private issuers. Nonpublic submission of registration statements makes it possible for companies to avoid alerting the market of offering plans before the company is certain that it will move forward with any offering.
The most recent edition of The Business Lawyer, published by the ABA’s Business Law Section, includes its Annual Review of Federal Securities Regulation prepared by its Subcommittee on Annual Review from the Committee on Federal Regulation of Securities. The Review outlines significant developments in federal securities law and regulation during 2016. The Review is divided into three sections:
- Regulatory actions
- Accounting statements
- Case law developments
I currently chair the Subcommittee and wish to give special thanks to all of its distinguished authors that contributed content, including a special thanks to William Lay and Talley Wood from Bass, Berry & Sims for helping draft and edit portions of the Review.
The Review is available here.