In a prelude of things to come for public companies, on December 4 the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sued restaurant operator The Cheesecake Factory Incorporated for making misleading disclosures regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its financial conditions and operations. After issuing warnings and guidance to public companies since the early stages of the pandemic, this is the SEC’s first time charging a public company for misleading disclosures relating to the pandemic.

Allegations Against The Cheesecake Factory

The allegations against The Cheesecake Factory are straight forward. Early in the pandemic, The Cheesecake Factory disclosed in SEC filings that its restaurants were “operating sustainably.” The SEC alleged this disclosure contradicted internal company documents, which showed that due to the pandemic the company was losing approximately $6 million in cash per week, was projected to run out of cash in 16 weeks, and had notified its landlords that it would not pay rent in April.

The inadequacy of The Cheesecake Factory’s SEC filings was further confirmed according to the SEC when the company later shared the undisclosed financial information with potential private equity investors and lenders in connection with an effort to seek additional liquidity.


Continue Reading SEC Files First Charges for Inadequate Public Company COVID-19 Disclosures

On November 2, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved amendments, originally proposed in the SEC’s June 2019 concept release and March 2020 proposing release, to its “patchwork” exempt offering framework. The amendments represent important changes for private and public companies that rely on private offerings as part of their strategies to raise capital. Largely, these changes reflect the reality of current capital markets as the amount of capital raised in exempt offerings in the United States greatly exceeds the amount raised in registered offerings. In the March 2020 proposing release, the SEC noted that exempt offerings accounted for more than double the new capital raised by registered offerings in 2019, with exempt offerings accounting for $2.7 trillion compared to $1.2 trillion in registered offerings.

Emerging companies increasingly rely on exempt offerings as the most viable source of capital to fund growth in lieu of IPOs, and as a result exempt offerings have become an integral part of capital markets. The adopted amendments attempt to streamline and eliminate complexity within the exempt offering regulatory framework, which has been pieced together over years of tweaks through the adoption of various safeharbors.

Amendment Highlights

Highlights of the amendments include:

  • Establishing a new integration framework that provides a general principle that looks to the particular facts and circumstances of two or more offerings, and focuses the analysis on whether the issuer can establish that each offering either complies with the registration requirements of the Securities Act, or that an exemption from registration is available for the particular offering.
  • Increasing the offering limits for Regulation A (to $75 million), Regulation Crowdfunding (to $5 million), and Rule 504 offerings (to $10 million), and revise certain individual investment limits.
  • Relaxing pre-offering communications by permitting certain “test-the-waters” and “demo day” activities.

Additional analysis of these and other meaningful changes is outlined below.


Continue Reading SEC Raises Threshold for Reg A+ Offerings to $75 Million; Improves “Patchwork” Exempt Offering Framework

On November 17, in response to a formal rulemaking petition that garnered support from nearly 100 public companies, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a final rule amending Regulation S-T and the Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval system (EDGAR) Filer Manual to permit the use of electronic signatures when electronically filing documents with the SEC. The amendments will be effective upon publication in the Federal Register, though the SEC indicated in its November 20 Statement that it will not take enforcement action against issuers who elect to comply with the amendments before their effectiveness so long as signatories comply with the new requirements.

Amended Rule 302(b) and Other Amendments

Rule 302(b) of Regulation S-T, as amended, will permit a signatory to an electronic filing to electronically sign the document, provided that the signatory follows certain procedures and the electronic signature meets certain requirements specified in the EDGAR Filer Manual. Under those requirements, the electronic signing process must, at a minimum do the following:

  • Require the signatory to present a physical, logical, or digital credential that authenticates the signatory’s individual identity.
  • Reasonably provide for non-repudiation of the signature.
  • Provide that the signature be attached, affixed, or otherwise logically associated with the signature page or document being signed.
  • Include a timestamp to record the date and time of the signature.


Continue Reading SEC Adopts Rules Permitting Use of Electronic Signatures and Provides Further COVID-19 Relief

Bass, Berry & Sims invites you to join us for our 2nd Annual Corporate & Securities Counsel Public Company Forum.

Although we are unable to meet in-person due to ongoing concerns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, we are excited to host this year’s forum virtually.

This complimentary program will feature timely and practical guidance on the latest developments in corporate and securities matters impacting public company in-house counsel.

Panel and breakout discussion topics will include:

  • Financial reporting and disclosure considerations.
  • Insights from public company general counsel.
  • 2021 proxy season developments.
  • Restaurant & hospitality industry trends.
  • ESG considerations.

We are also pleased to welcome Myron T. Steele, former Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, as a featured speaker. Bass, Berry & Sims partner Leigh Walton will lead a fireside chat with former Chief Justice Steele about recent areas of focus for the Delaware judiciary, including COVID-19 related emergency orders, directors’ considerations for multiple stakeholder interests when discharging fiduciary duties, and corporate governance around ESG and diversity. Their discussion will also review the impact of federal elections on corporate law.

The program will take place on December 8, 2020, from 1:00-4:00PM CT and is intended for in-house counsel, public company finance and SEC reporting personnel, compliance officers, and other interested professionals.


Continue Reading [REGISTER NOW] Corporate & Securities Counsel Public Company Forum | December 8, 2020

Over the past eight months of this pandemic, we have all seen the rise of e-commerce as a vital necessity for most companies.  For many companies, e-commerce has significantly outperformed their existing sales channels and consumers have now become acclimated to a seamless “omnichannel” shopping experience where they can purchase online and wait for delivery or pick-up curbside or in the store. A recent WSJ article proclaims that the embrace of digital commerce is here to stay even after the pandemic.

In light of the surge in e-commerce activity, it makes sense that many companies are separately calling out their e-commerce sales and growth performance in their quarterly earnings calls, SEC filings and investor presentations.

Disaggregated Revenue Disclosure Requirement

As companies continue to focus on their sales channel disclosures, one potential sleeper issue could be the new revenue recognition standard’s requirement on disclosure of disaggregated revenues.  Under ASC 606-10-50-5, a public company must “disaggregate revenue recognized from contracts with customers into categories that depict how the nature, amount, timing, and uncertainty of revenue and cash flows are affected by economic factors.”


Continue Reading How a Surge in E-Commerce Sales Could Impact Financial Reporting; A Look at ASC 606 and Disaggregated Revenue

As we have previously discussed, on August 26, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted to adopt amendments to modernize the description of business (Item 101), legal proceedings (Item 103), and risk factor (Item 105) disclosures that registrants are required to make according to Regulation S-K. For a summary of the rules and practical takeaways, see our prior blog post here. The new rules will be effective on November 9, 2020. The amendments, particularly the revisions to Item 101 (description of business), reflect the SEC’s continued movement to a principles-based, registrant-specific approach to disclosure.

As stated in the SEC’s economic analysis in its adopting release, prescriptive requirements employ bright-line, quantitative or other thresholds to identify when disclosure is required or require registrants to disclose the same types of information. Principles-based requirements, on the other hand, provide registrants with the flexibility to determine (1) whether certain information is material, and (2) how to disclose such information.

As registrants transition to a more principles-based disclosure regime under new Item 101, it will be interesting to see how disclosures change, if at all. However, a recent SEC comment letter exchange may reveal one example of how companies that were previously required to include sensitive disclosures as a result of the prescriptive requirements (e.g., the names of material customers), might now be able to modify their disclosures in order to remove these sensitive areas, to the extent they deem such information immaterial to investors.


Continue Reading Recent SEC Comment Letter Reveals the Difference Between Prescriptive-Based and Principles-Based Rules

On September 23, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved amendments, originally proposed in November 2019 and discussed in a prior blog post, to Rule 14a-8, which governs the process for a shareholder to have its proposal included in a company’s proxy statement.

The amendments to Rule 14a-8 are intended to “modernize and enhance the efficiency and integrity of the shareholder-proposal process for the benefit of all shareholders, including to help ensure that a shareholder-proponent has demonstrated a meaningful ‘economic stake or investment interest’ in a company before the shareholder may draw on company resources to require the inclusion of a proposal in the company’s proxy statement, and before the shareholder may use the company’s proxy statement to command the attention of the other shareholders to consider and vote on the proposal.”

Set forth below is a chart comparing the key amendments. Practical considerations regarding the amendments follow.


Continue Reading SEC Adopts Amendments to Shareholder Proposal Requirements, Modestly Raising Thresholds

This is a continuation of our series addressing steps companies can take to protect themselves during government enforcement actions related to COVID-19. For more information, see our previous articles addressing corporate best practices and the health care industry.

COVID-19 has affected the financial conditions and operations of all public companies, most in a negative way but some in very positive ways. Regardless of the impact, all public companies must consider the anticipated scrutiny they will receive from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the possible risk they face from SEC Enforcement if they do not proceed with caution. While the rules and landscape may continue to evolve, it seems apparent at this point that SEC scrutiny related to COVID-19 is most relevant in the following ways.

1. SEC Enforcement’s role in monitoring relief funding. In a prior article, we discussed steps health care companies can take to protect themselves against government investigations related to COVID-19. But all companies that received relief funding must be careful.


Continue Reading How Public Companies Can Protect Against SEC Scrutiny Related to COVID-19

Subscribers to our blog know that we monitor EDGAR for new SEC comment letters and enjoy bringing attention to the more interesting ones.  In today’s blog post, we bring you three new SEC comment letter exchanges.

  • In the first, the SEC asks the registrant for more information related to a COVID-19-related adjustment in its non-GAAP financial measure.
  • The second involves the SEC questioning, and eventually disagreeing with, the registrant’s materiality analysis under Staff Accounting Bulletin No. 99 (SAB 99).
  • The third letter involves an offering document produced by South Korea.

SEC Staff Wants More Information about a COVID-19 Adjustment in Non-GAAP Net Income

We’ve previously blogged about COVID-19-related adjustments in connection with the presentation of non-GAAP financial measures, including the difficulty that some public companies may have in reasonably quantifying the extent to which incremental expenses were driven by the COVID-19 pandemic as opposed to other factors.
Continue Reading Recent SEC Comment Letters of Interest Regarding COVID-19 Adjustments, SAB 99 and South Korea

On August 26, the SEC voted to adopt amendments to modernize the description of business (Item 101), legal proceedings (Item 103), and risk factor disclosures (Item 105) that registrants are required to make pursuant to Regulation S-K.  The amendments reflect the SEC’s continued movement to a principles-based, registrant-specific approach to disclosure.

As detailed below, some of the changes are rather significant, particularly the changes to the business disclosures and the requirement to have a new risk factor summary section of no more than two pages if the risk factors exceed 15 pages.  As a result, we expect most companies will need to make revisions and updates to their existing disclosures, specifically in connection with their Annual Report on Form 10-K where Items 101 and 105 of S-K are triggered. The rules are effective 30 days after their publication in the Federal Register.

The following table briefly summarizes the final amendments.  We have presented some practical takeaways following the table.


Continue Reading Practical Takeaways on SEC Amended Disclosure Requirements for Business Description, Legal Proceedings and Risk Factors under Regulation S-K