ESG Impact Webinar SeriesAfter months of anticipation, on March 21, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted 3:1 to propose climate change-related disclosure rules that would implement prescriptive climate-related disclosure requirements (which would be applicable for most public companies) in a wide array of climate-related areas, including with respect to governance, outlook, risk management, GHG emissions, climate-related targets and goals and financial statement disclosures. These proposed rules, which are intended to provide investors with consistent, comparable, and reliable climate-related information, would represent a major shift in the public company disclosure landscape and will require significant advance effort by public companies to facilitate compliance.

Join Bass, Berry & Sims and leading environmental, social and governance (ESG) thought leaders for the next installment in our ESG Impact Webinar series on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. Our panelists will share their experience and perspectives on what in-house counsel should consider as it relates to these proposed climate change disclosure rules. Discussion topics will include:

  • Overview of the Proposed Rules.
  • Required Disclosure under Regulation S-X.
  • Required Disclosure under Regulation S-K.
  • Phase-In Periods.
  • Practical Takeaways and Next Steps.


Continue Reading [WEBINAR] What’s Next in ESG? Understanding the Proposed SEC Climate Change Disclosure Rules

Along with equal prominence, probably one of the most often non-GAAP comments we see issued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Staff involves its objection to adjustments that it believes substitute individually tailored measurement methods for those of GAAP.  Often, the SEC Staff comments will cite to Question 100.04 of the Non-GAAP Financial Measures Compliance & Disclosure Interpretations, as follows:

Question 100.04

Question: A registrant presents a non-GAAP performance measure that is adjusted to accelerate revenue recognized ratably over time in accordance with GAAP as though it earned revenue when customers are billed. Can this measure be presented in documents filed or furnished with the Commission or provided elsewhere, such as on company websites?

Answer: No. Non-GAAP measures that substitute individually tailored revenue recognition and measurement methods for those of GAAP could violate Rule 100(b) of Regulation G. Other measures that use individually tailored recognition and measurement methods for financial statement line items other than revenue may also violate Rule 100(b) of Regulation G.   [May 17, 2016] (emphasis added)

Continue Reading SEC Staff Pushes Back on Adjusting for Normal Recurring “Public Company Expenses”

After months of anticipation, on March 21, 2022, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted 3:1 to propose climate change-related disclosure rules that would impact a company’s annual reports and registration statements.   As indicated previously by the Staff, the proposed climate-related disclosure framework is modeled partially on the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure’s (TCFD) recommendations and draws upon the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol.  (See our previous blog post discussing the Staff’s consideration of TCFD). The proposed rules, seemingly unprecedented in nature, are significantly more prescriptive rather than “principles-based” disclosure rooted in materiality, and intended to provide stakeholders with “consistent and comparable data.”

Continue Reading The SEC’s Proposed Climate Change Rules Are Out: Making Sense of 500+ Pages

Late last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved amendments to the federal proxy rules to, among other things, mandate the use of a universal proxy card in public solicitations involving director election contests. On February 24, we hosted a webinar to discuss issues relating to universal proxy rules. Access the recording of the webinar here.

We provided an overview of the universal proxy requirement and proxy contests under the new regime during the webinar. We also discussed universal proxy’s influence on activist strategies and tactics and provided practical guidance on what companies should prepare now. Key insights from the discussion are highlighted below.

Continue Reading Key Takeaways from New Universal Proxy Rules Webinar

I recently provided comments for an article in The Wall Street Journal about public company disclosures related to climate change risks. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is expected to announce a rule proposal on climate-related disclosures this year. In anticipation of that new proposal, the SEC has been sending comment letters to some companies asking for clarification about their climate change risks to help inform investors in their decision-making.

Continue Reading Insight on Disclosures Related to Climate Change Risks

The rules of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the Nasdaq Stock Market (Nasdaq) require that a majority of a listed company’s board of directors (board) must be comprised of “independent directors” and that vital board committees such as the audit, compensation and nominating/governance committees must be comprised solely of independent directors (subject to certain exceptions).

For a director to be considered independent under the NYSE and Nasdaq rules, the company’s board must affirmatively determine that the director has no material relationship with the company. Further, the NYSE and Nasdaq rules provide for specific bright-line independence tests which preclude the board from determining that a director is independent, including certain employment, family and business relationships, as well as certain interlocking compensation committee relationships. The “independence” definitions are narrow and essentially require that directors be truly free of any relationship or transaction that could interfere with the director’s exercise of independent judgment in carrying out his or her responsibilities to the company.

Because the determination of director independence is crucial for maintaining SEC and stock exchange compliance (as well as Delaware law process protections in some situations), in-house and outside securities counsel often closely scrutinize the facts and circumstances of various relationships to confirm that director independence would not be jeopardized. Companies will often produce written memoranda that carefully analyze the specifics facts and circumstances of a director to help support the board’s determination that a director or director nominee is “independent” under the applicable standards.

It is with this background that we found interesting a recent comment letter exchange in which the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Staff questioned the registrant about its disclosure that a director was deemed independent notwithstanding the fact that the director was then-serving as the company’s corporate secretary.

Continue Reading SEC Staff Comments on Director Serving as Corporate Secretary

On December 15, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed enhanced disclosure requirements and amendments to the rules regarding issuer share repurchases and Rule 10b5-1 plans. The proposals related to Rule 10b5-1 plans address perceived gaps in the current reporting obligations and concerns over insider trading, which SEC Chairman Gary Gensler first raised in early summer 2021. Likewise, the share repurchase proposals aim to “lessen the information asymmetries between issuers and investors.”

These topics have received political, media and academic commentary over the years but little SEC enforcement attention.  The key takeaway is that these proposals would be very impactful and make substantive changes to how such activities are conducted today.  The relatively short comment period (45 days from the date of Federal Register publication) means these proposals could become final rules in the first half of 2022.

Share Repurchases

The proposed rules regarding share repurchases, also known as buybacks, include, among other items, repurchase disclosure on a new “Form SR” and increased periodic disclosures by amending Item 703 of Regulation S-K.

  • New Form SR
    • Issuers would be required to furnish (but not file) Form SR before the end of the first business day after the day on which the issuer repurchases shares. (Note Section 16 reporting is within two business days and Form 8-K reporting is within four business days.) Form SR would require disclosure of the following:
      • Date of the repurchase.
      • Identification of the class of securities purchased.
      • The total number of shares purchased, including all issuer repurchases whether or not made pursuant to publicly announced plans or programs.
      • The average price paid per share.
      • The aggregate total number of shares purchased on the open market.
      • The aggregate total number of shares purchased in reliance on the safe harbor in Exchange Act Rule 10b-18.
      • The aggregate total number of shares purchased pursuant to a plan intended to satisfy the affirmative defense conditions of Exchange Act Rule 10b5-1(c).


Continue Reading SEC Proposes New Rules for Share Repurchases and Rule 10b5-1 Plans

Last month at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (commonly referred to as the COP26), the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation (IFRS Foundation) announced the formation of an International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB).

The IFRS Foundation also announced that it had reached an agreement to consolidate with the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB), an initiative of CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), and the Value Reporting Foundation (which resulted from the already merged International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) and Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) Foundation).

In light of these developments, the Corporate Reporting Dialogue (CRD), – an initiative convened in 2014 to strengthen cooperation, coordination and alignment amongst key international standard setters and framework developers – dissolved last month.  The IIRC formed the CRD as a response to “market calls for better alignment and reduced burden in corporate reporting.”  In connection with its dissolution, the CRD cited the success of its mission given the upcoming consolidation of four of its seven members with the formation of ISSB.

Continue Reading Consolidation and Globalization of ESG Standards Progress: CRD Dissolves to Support IFRS Foundation and ISSB

On November 3, Chairman Gary Gensler announced that the Staff (Staff) of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Division of Corporation Finance released SLB 14L (“new guidance”) regarding shareholder proposals.

The new guidance significantly changes the Staff’s approach when determining whether a shareholder proposal may be properly excluded from a company’s proxy statement. The new guidance rescinds SLBs 14I, 14J, and 14K (Rescinded SLBs), as well as any provisions of other prior Staff guidance that could be considered as inconsistent with the new guidance.  A few of these changes are highlighted below.

Significant Social Policy Exception

The new guidance significantly impacts Rule 14a-8(i)(7), commonly referred to as the “ordinary business exception.”  This substantive basis for exclusion permits a company to exclude a proposal that “deals with a matter relating to the company’s ordinary business operations.”  Under the new guidance, the Staff will realign its approach for determining whether a proposal relates to “ordinary business” with the standard the SEC initially set forth in 1976, which provided an exception for certain proposals that raise significant social policy issues.

According to the new guidance, the Staff believes that an “undue emphasis was placed on evaluating the significance of a policy issue to a particular company at the expense of whether the proposal focuses on a significant social policy.”

Continue Reading SEC Staff Significantly Changes Guidance on Shareholder Proposals and Rescinds Prior Guidance

As we’ve previously blogged, in November 2020, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted amendments to the Regulation S-K items related to Management’s Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) as well as certain selected financial disclosures.  The amendments became effective on February 10, 2021 (effective date) but registrants were not required to apply the amended rules until their first filing related to their fiscal year ending on or after August 9, 2021 (mandatory compliance date).

As a result, compliance with these amendments will be required for most calendar-year companies beginning with the Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2021.  However, companies with fiscal years that ended September 30, 2021, will be required to comply with the new rules in their upcoming 10-K.  Registrants will also be required to apply the amended rules in a registration statement and prospectus that on its initial filing date is required to contain financial statements for a period on or after the mandatory compliance date.

While many issuers voluntarily early adopted the amendments covering Items 301 and 302 during this last 10-K reporting cycle, based on our experience a large number of registrants chose not to early adopt the amendments to Item 303 of Regulation S-K, relating to the MD&A section, because of the short time period after their adoption before the first 10-K.  As a result, this fall will be an ideal time for many companies to analyze what impacts the new rules will have on their upcoming MD&A.

Continue Reading New MD&A Rules Are Here – A Slide Deck to Help with Internal Discussions