On July 13, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced a major enforcement action related to a proposed merger between a special purpose acquisition company (“SPAC”) and a privately held target company (“Target”).  This followed numerous warnings by the SEC staff over several months of enhanced scrutiny of such transactions under the federal securities laws.[1]  The respondents, except for the Target’s CEO, settled the action by collectively agreeing to civil penalties of approximately $8 million and to certain equitable relief described below. [2]
Continue Reading SEC Brings SPAC Enforcement Action and Signals More to Come

On April 29, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) announced settled charges against eight public companies that filed notifications of late filings on Form 12b-25 (more commonly known as “Form NT”) without disclosing in those filings a pending restatement or correction of financial statements.

These settlements are a reminder that filing a Form

Last week, the SEC Division of Examinations issued a risk alert describing observations from recent examinations of investment advisers that manage and offer ESG investment options.  The Risk Alert highlights observed deficiencies in several key areas that we expected the Staff to scrutinize using its traditional regulatory arsenal:  advisers’ practices inconsistent with ESG disclosures, unsubstantiated

Last week, John Coates, the Acting Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance (“Corp Fin”), released a statement discussing liability risks in de-SPAC transactions.

The statement focused in particular on the concern that companies may be providing overly optimistic projections in their de-SPAC disclosures, in part based on the assumption that such disclosures are protected by a statutory safe harbor for forward-looking statements (which is not available for traditional IPOs).  Director Coates’s statement questions whether that assumption is correct, arguing that de-SPAC transactions may be considered IPOs for the purposes of the statute (and thus fall outside the protection offered by the statutory safe harbor).  He therefore encourages SPACs to exercise caution in disclosing projections, including by not withholding unfavorable projections while disclosing more favorable projections.
Continue Reading Acting Director of SEC’s Corp Fin Issues Statement on Disclosure Risks Arising from De-SPAC Transactions

On March 3, 2021, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Division of Examinations (the “Division”)—formerly the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations—released its 2021 Examination Priorities (“2021 Priorities”).  The 2021 Priorities generally retain perennial risk areas as the Division’s core focus, but do include several new and emerging risk areas reflecting broader policy shifts under new SEC leadership.

The 2021 Priorities include:  retail investors; information security and operational resilience; financial technology (“Fintech”), including digital assets; anti-money laundering; transition from the London Inter‑Bank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”); several areas covering registered investment advisers and investment companies; market infrastructure; and oversight of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board programs and policies.  Although not formal priorities, the Division will also focus on climate-related risks and environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) matters in light of recent market developments and broader attention in these areas.
Continue Reading Turning the Page: Highlights of the SEC’s Division of Examination’s 2021 Priorities

Over the past few years, many boards have expanded their oversight and consideration of human capital management (HCM) to encompass issues beyond executive hiring and compensation. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, technology and the culture change brought by a new generation of workers had already commenced an irreversible shift in paradigm that established HCM as a board-level issue with vital strategic and risk oversight implications.
Continue Reading Fulfilling the Board’s Expanded Oversight Role in Human Capital Management

Stakeholder attention to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues continued to grow throughout 2020 driven by the COVID-19 pandemic (health and safety), the Black Lives Matter movement (diversity and inclusion) and worldwide wildfires (climate change), to name a few. Prodded by investors and other stakeholders, companies have increasingly realized the importance to their businesses of managing human capital and monitoring human rights, whether in respect of their own workforces or their supply and customer chains. Further, disclosure and engagement around companies’ human capital management (HCM) practices have become more important and even the Securities and Exchange Commission, which had in the past largely avoided specific ESG disclosure mandates, has weighed in and now requires disclosure regarding human capital resources in annual reports on Form 10-K.
Continue Reading ESG Considerations for Incentive Compensation Programs

A curious feature of the past three years has been the intertwined controversies over earnings guidance, corporate “short-termism” and the quarterly disclosure system. The discussion has been illuminating, and, while further regulatory attention now seems unlikely, the perils of neglecting the long-term will likely continue to color how analysts, regulators and investors view public companies and their disclosures.
Continue Reading The Short-Termism Debate

Diversity has long been a focus for both companies and stakeholders, but 2020 in particular saw diversity come to the forefront of stakeholders’ agendas. Against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its disparate impacts on human capital, alongside increased focus on racial equity and justice and related unrest, we have seen key players across the board push to broaden the scope and impact of diversity issues in the corporate space.
Continue Reading Emphasis on Diversity Initiatives Broadens in Scope and Focuses on Impact