Major transactions are driving the German M&A market. After several fruitless attempts, Deutsche Telekom and Softbank enter into a business combination agreement to merge T-Mobile US with its rival, Sprint. German building materials maker Knauf agrees the $ 7 billion takeover of competitor USG, while Merck sells its OTC business to Procter & Gamble for around € 3.4 billion. Vonovia continues to drive the consolidation of the residential property market, submitting a takeover bid of around € 900 million for Swedish real estate company Victoria Park. Daimler and BMW combine their mobility businesses, including car-sharing subsidaries Car2Go and DriveNow, forming five joint ventures in total. Continue Reading

When the staff (the “Staff”) of the Division of Corporation Finance of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) released Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14I (“SLB 14I”) last fall, it seemed that the Staff was potentially signaling that it would be taking a more issuer-friendly approach in its review of no-action letter requests (“NALs”). In particular, the language in SLB 14I regarding the role of the board of directors suggested that the Staff may defer to the board’s determination of whether a shareholder proposal focuses on a significant policy issue, in the case of the “ordinary business” exception (Rule 14a-8(i)(7)), and whether the shareholder proposal is significantly related to the issuer’s business, in the case of the “economic relevance” exception (Rule 14a-8(i)(5)), as long as the NALs provided a sufficiently detailed discussion of the board’s analysis and the “specific processes employed by the board to ensure that its conclusions are well-informed and well-reasoned.” For example, SLB 14I stated that these types of “determinations often raise difficult judgment calls that the Division believes are in the first instance matters that the board of directors is generally in a better position to determine.” One could read that language to mean that including a well-developed board analysis could significantly influence the outcome for a NAL based on the “ordinary business” exception and/or the “economic relevance” exception. Continue Reading Making Sense of the SEC’s 2018 NALs on Shareholder Proposals for the Proxy Statement

In a previous post, we wrote that the UK Government announced a series of reforms to the UK Corporate Governance regime in August 2017. Some of these reforms are being addressed through the on-going consultation on revisions to the UK Corporate Governance Code (UK CGC) (see our previous post for further details). The UK CGC is the main corporate governance code in the UK and applies (on a “comply or explain” basis) to all UK companies with a premium listing in the UK.

Another of the announced reforms was the development of a corporate governance code for large private companies, backed by new reporting requirements. This was a significant proposal because corporate governance efforts in the UK have historically focussed on publicly listed companies where shareholders are often distant from executives running the company. The Government’s proposal was driven by evidence that private companies constitute a vast (and increasing) portion of the UK economy and its recent experience that their actions (including several recent large-scale failures) can have a significant impact on their employees, suppliers and other stakeholders. This reform is expected to have important implications for a wide variety of large private companies in the UK, including UK subsidiaries of multinational groups and UK portfolio companies of private equity funds.

Continue Reading UK Proposes a New Corporate Governance Code for Large Private Companies

On May 29, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an unanimous opinion in Lagos v. United States. Lagos presented the issue of whether costs incurred during and as a result of a corporate victim’s investigation (rather than a governmental investigation) must be reimbursed by a criminal defendant under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (“MVRA”). Resolving a circuit split, the Court narrowly held that restitution under the MVRA “does not cover the costs of a private investigation” commenced by a corporate victim on its own initiative and not at the Government’s invitation or request.

The Court’s decision is notable for rejecting the Government’s broad interpretation of the MVRA and for recognizing the “practical fact” that such a broad interpretation would invite “significant administrative burdens.” But the opinion is also notable for what it does not decide. The Court’s opinion expressly leaves unaddressed the question of whether professional costs incurred during a private investigation performed at the Government’s request would be covered by the MVRA.

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.

Beyond the cacophonous din of voices calling for companies to serve a “social purpose,” adopt a variety of governance proposals, achieve quarterly performance targets, and listen to (and indeed even “think like”) activists, there is now, most promisingly, a call from genuine long term shareholders for public companies to articulate and pursue a long term strategy.[1]  This latest shareholder demand directly supports the achievement of traditional corporate purposes, and seems, more than any other shareholder demand of the last decade, the most likely to increase shareholder value.  Yet in current circumstances, where all corporate defenses have been stripped in the name of “good governance,” boards and management have been given zero space in which to formulate and implement a long term strategy.  Indeed, the very fact that shareholders must demand corporations focus on long term strategy demonstrates just how effectively the governance movement has been co-opted by market forces to serve the interests of short term activists and traders to the detriment of long term investors.  It is time for long term investors to recognize that aspects of the good governance movement have in fact come at significant cost to their own investors, to be perhaps a bit more wary of partnerships with activists, and to actively create the conditions that will allow boards and management to focus on the long term.  Exhortations are not enough. The first step should be to bring back staggered boards. Continue Reading Long-Term Investors Have a Duty to Bring Back the Staggered Board (and Proxy Advisors Should Get on Board)

On May 31, 2018, Cleary Gottlieb submitted a comment letter to MSCI regarding its public consultation on the treatment of unequal voting structures in the MSCI Equity Indexes.  Cleary’s letter asserts that the approach in the proposal is highly problematic, arguing that the composition of broad equity market indexes is the wrong mechanism to address the relationship between equity interests and voting rights, and “one share, one vote” is the wrong principle.

Cleary’s letter focuses on the impact on Latin American equities.  Dual-class structures are more common in Latin America than in the United States, so MSCI’s proposal would have more significant consequences for Latin American markets than in the United States.  The proposal fails to take into account the alternative shareholder protections provided by law in many Latin American countries, and the specific characteristics of classes other than common stock in each jurisdiction.  Cleary’s letter urges MSCI to instead consider following the example of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the principal U.S. securities exchanges, which broadly defer to home country corporate governance rules.

Please click here to read the full comment letter.

On May 21, 2018, The Conference Board and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP hosted a panel discussion on the work of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB). Participants in the panel discussion included Alan Beller, Senior Counsel at Cleary Gottlieb, Tom Riesenberg, Director of Legal Policy and Outreach at SASB and Stephanie Tang, Director of Legal, Corporate Securities at Stitch Fix.

Moderator Doug Chia, executive director of The Conference Board, and the panelists outlined the history and mission of SASB, including the development and implementation of industry-specific standards for sustainability reporting. They discussed the robust processes by which these standards were developed, and how they have been received by both companies and investors. The session also focused on the standard of materiality and the issues of liability in the context of the SEC’s reporting requirements. Additionally, the panelists discussed the board of directors role and the governance considerations undertaken by management and the board of directors in the context of sustainability reporting.

A replay of the webcast is available (please note that your browser may require you to run an Adobe plugin to access this content).

Public and private businesses today face many decisions that do not arise from, and have consequences far beyond, solely financial performance.  Rather, these decisions are primarily driven by, and implicate, important social, cultural and political concerns.  They include harassment, pay equity and other issues raised by the #MeToo movement; immigration and labor markets; trade policy; sustainability and climate change; the manufacture, distribution and financing of guns and opioids; corporate money in politics; privacy regulation in social media; cybersecurity; advertising, boycotts and free speech; race relations issues raised by the pledge of allegiance controversy; the financing of healthcare; the tension between religious freedom and discrimination laws; and the impact of executive pay on income inequality, among others.  If the nature of the issues is not unprecedented, the number, diversity and polarization seem to be.  Continue Reading <i>Caremark</i> and Reputational Risk Through #MeToo Glasses

Many clients are now turning from their annual meeting to plans for off-cycle engagements with their institutional investors, including the passive strategy behemoths (Blackrock, State Street and Vanguard which tend to own, in the aggregate, around 20% of many of our mid- and large-cap clients), traditional actively managed funds, pension funds, and hedge funds.[1]  The rationale for these meetings is that postponement of outreach until a threat of a contested situation (such as a short-slate proxy contest or aggressive shareholder proposal) may be “too little, too late” and that these one-on-one meetings on “sunny days” (and even “partly cloudy days”) are critical, if not for locking up support, at least for establishing a foundation for obtaining support if and when the storm clouds arrive. Continue Reading How to Avoid Bungling Off-Cycle Engagements With Stockholders

On May 11, 2018, the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance released new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (“C&DIs”) regarding the interpretations of the proxy rules and Schedules 14A and 14C.  These replace the telephone interpretations contained in the Proxy Rules and Schedule 14A Manual of Publicly Available Telephone Interpretations and the March 1999 Supplement to the Manual of Publicly Available Telephone Interpretations (collectively, the “Telephone Interpretations”).  The C&DIs are available here.

Certain C&DIs reflect minor substantive or technical changes from the telephone interpretations.  The SEC has indicated that questions 124.01, 124.07, 126.02, 151.01, 161.03 and 163.01 reflect substantive changes from the answers provided in the Telephone Interpretations.  Additionally C&DIs 126.04, 126.05, 158.01 and 158.03 reflect technical revisions.  The remaining C&DIs have only non-substantive changes from the versions in the Telephone Interpretations.

For a comparison of the telephone interpretations against the new C&DIs in which substantive or technical changes were noted, please see here.