On March 23, the Division of Enforcement of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a Statement warning against insider trading during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  In particular, the SEC cautioned that insiders are “regularly learning” new material non-public information (MNPI) that may “hold an even greater value than under normal circumstances.”  The SEC also noted that unique circumstances mean more people may have access to MNPI than may typically be the case.  This is particularly true for companies that delay earnings releases and SEC filings due to the pandemic.

Recognizing the heightened risk of illegal securities trading as a result of these and other factors, the SEC urged publicly traded companies to be mindful of their established controls and policies to protect against the improper dissemination and use of MNPI.

Proactive Steps for Public Companies

In light of the SEC’s Statement and the unique circumstances that companies are facing during the pandemic, publicly traded companies should take affirmative steps to mitigate insider trading risks.


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Please join the Bass, Berry & Sims Corporate & Securities Practice Group for a series of complimentary webinars exploring various public company-related securities law issues. These programs are an extension of our Securities Law Exchange Blog and feature timely and practical guidance to SEC disclosure counsel on key topics of interest.

The COVID-19 global pandemic

The Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) recently issued interpretive guidance, effective February 25, 2020, regarding the disclosure of key performance indicators and metrics (KPIs) in Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations (MD&A).

While this guidance may not have been an area of significant focus for many companies in the recent periodic reporting cycle given that the effective date of this guidance was after the time that many calendar-year public companies filed their Annual Reports on Form 10-K, this guidance will need to be considered in connection with the preparation of upcoming Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q.

Overview of the Staff’s Recent Guidance Regarding KPIs in MD&As

The MD&A is generally required to contain discussion of a company’s financial condition, changes in financial condition, and results of operations. Also, according to Item 303(a) of Regulation S-K, the MD&A is also required to contain discussion of information not specifically referenced in the item that the company believes is necessary to an understanding of its financial condition, changes in financial condition, and results of operations. Instruction 1 to Item 303(a) also provides that the MD&A should include a discussion and analysis of other statistical data that in the company’s judgment enhances a reader’s understanding of MD&A.


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On March 2, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted amendments that, among other things, significantly reduce the subsidiary guarantor financial statement requirements in periodic reports for companies that have registered debt that is guaranteed by subsidiaries. These changes are part of the SEC’s ongoing efforts to modernize and ease disclosure burdens for public companies.  The SEC hopes that these amendments will facilitate an increase in the number of registered (versus unregistered) debt offerings.

Although the amendments do not become effective until January 2021, in light of the relief offered, many companies are preparing to voluntarily comply with the amendments in advance of the effective date (which is expressly permitted by the SEC).

This alert briefly describes the changes to existing reporting requirements for subsidiary guarantors.  The SEC’s press release announcing the changes and full text of the final rule can be found here.


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The Staff of the various Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) divisions, including the Division of Corporation Finance, issued an announcement on March 24, 2020, which provides some flexibility to registrants seeking to satisfy the record retention requirement in Rule 302(b) of Regulation S-T that the registrant retain the manually signed documents.

Rule 302(b) of Regulation S-T requires that each signatory to documents electronically filed with the SEC “manually sign a signature page or other document authenticating, acknowledging or otherwise adopting his or her signature that appears in typed form within the electronic filing.”  Such documents must be executed before or at the time the electronic filing is made.  Further, electronic filers must retain such documents for a period of five years and furnish copies to the SEC or its staff upon request.


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In a previous blog post, we discussed the availability of virtual shareholder meetings (i.e., “virtual-only” and “hybrid” meetings) as a potential alternative to the traditional in-person meeting during the 2020 proxy season in light of the emerging public health and safety crisis posed by the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). The Staff of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Corporation Finance and Division of Investment Management subsequently issued guidance for conducting virtual annual meetings under these unprecedented circumstances.

Post-Proxy Filing

The Staff confirmed that if a company has already mailed and filed its proxy materials, the company can notify shareholders of a change in the date, time or location of the annual meeting without amending its definitive proxy materials or mailing additional soliciting materials if the company issues a press release announcing the change, files the announcement as definitive additional soliciting material on EDGAR, and takes all reasonable steps necessary to inform other interested parties in the proxy solicitation process (e.g., any proxy service providers and applicable national securities exchanges) of the change. These actions should be taken promptly after the decision to hold a virtual meeting is made and, in any case, sufficiently in advance of the annual meeting. Therefore, companies that have already filed and mailed their definitive proxy materials would not need to mail additional soliciting materials (including new proxy cards) solely to switch to a “virtual” or “hybrid” meeting if they follow the steps described above for announcing a change in the meeting date, time, or location.


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Across the globe, the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) is causing governments, companies, associations and colleges and universities to take unprecedented steps to address the spread and transmission of COVID-19. These steps include imposing restrictions on travel and public life; closing physical offices or campuses; canceling conferences, meetings and other scheduled group activities; restricting the size of gatherings; and encouraging or requiring employees and students to telecommute.

With increasing COVID-19 concerns in the United States and proxy season underway, public companies, including those that have already mailed proxy materials, may need to consider alternatives to conducting in-person shareholder meetings in light of the emerging public health crisis posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, companies should assess whether or not a virtual meeting format is a viable alternative to the customary in-person meeting. Virtual meetings are generally divided into the following two categories:

  1. Virtual-only meetings conducted solely using remote communication.
  2. Hybrid meetings conducted in-person with concurrent participation by remote communication.


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We recently examined key developments at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) during 2019 and consider what to expect in the months ahead for an article in The D&O Diary.

“For public companies and securities practitioners alike, the decade ended with a bang, with changes to certain long-standing practices and several novel,” we explained

Jay Knight (far right) discusses disclosure challenges for public companies at the 2020 Securities Regulation Institute.

The Bass, Berry & Sims Corporate & Securities Practice Group kicked off the new year by participating as a sponsor of the 47th Annual Securities Regulation Institute, which is held annually in San Diego by Northwestern University. Jay Knight, head of the firm’s Capital Market Subgroup, was featured as a speaker in a well-attended panel discussing recurring disclosure challenges faced by public companies and their advisors. Each year, the conference draws SEC staffers and many of the leading practitioners of the public company industry, and the keynote speaker for this year’s conference was SEC Commissioner Jay Clayton.

Our key takeaways from the conference follow:
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One thing I appreciate about the SEC comment letter process is that it gives real life examples to what is often discussed hypothetically.  Take, for example, cybersecurity and steps management should take when a data incident occurs.  How quickly should a public company make its public disclosure of a data incident?  What should it say?  What should the process look like?

In 2018, the SEC issued helpful interpretive guidance to assist public companies in preparing disclosures about cybersecurity risks and incidents.  This was in addition to the Division of Corporation Finance’s 2011 guidance regarding disclosure obligations relating to cybersecurity risks and incidents.  In addition, our friends at corporatecounsel.net ran a helpful blog post on February 18 related to cyber response plan testing.

It is clear there is no single playbook for a data incident response, and the appropriate response is driven by the facts and circumstances of the situation.  One size does not fit all.  However, it is helpful when preparing a response plan to analyze a real life example.  That is why the SEC comment exchange recently made public between the Staff and Chegg, Inc. last fall is particularly insightful.


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