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by Laura Anthony, Esq.

SEC Proposes Rules To Modernize And Simplify Disclosures

On October 11, 2017, as part of the ongoing SEC Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative, the SEC published proposed rule amendments to modernize and simplify disclosure requirements for public companies, investment advisers, and investment companies. The proposed rule amendments implement a mandate under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (“FAST Act”).

The FAST Act, passed in December 2015, contains two sections requiring the SEC to modernize and simplify the requirements in Regulation S-K.  Section 72002 requires the SEC to amend Regulation S-K to “further scale or eliminate requirements… to reduce the burden on emerging growth companies, accelerated filers, smaller reporting companies, and other smaller issuers, while still providing all material information to investors.” In addition, the SEC was directed to “eliminate provisions… that are duplicative, overlapping, outdated or unnecessary.” In accordance with that requirement, On July 13, 2016, the SEC issued proposed rule change on Regulation S-K and Regulation S-X to amend disclosures that are redundant, duplicative, overlapping, outdated or superseded. See my blog on the proposed rule change HERE.  This proposal is slated for action in this year’s SEC regulatory agenda.

Section 72003 required the SEC to conduct a study on Regulation S-K and, in that process, to consult with the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee (the “IAC”) and the Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies (the “ACSEC”) and then to issue a report on the study findings, resulting in the report issued on November 23, 2016.  Section 72003 specifically required that the report include: (i) the finding made in the required study; (ii) specific and detailed recommendations on modernizing and simplifying the requirements in Regulation S-K in a manner that reduces the costs and burdens on companies while still providing all material information; and (iii) specific and detailed recommendations on ways to improve the readability and navigability of disclosure documents and to reduce repetition and immaterial information. The proposed amendments seek to implement the various findings and recommendations in the November report.

As further discussed in this blog, the proposed amendments would: (i) revise forms to update, streamline and improve disclosures including eliminating risk factor examples in form instructions and revising the description of property requirement to emphasize a materiality threshold; (ii) eliminate certain requirements for undertakings in registration statements; (iii) amend exhibit filing requirements and related confidential treatment requests; (iv) amend Management Discussion and Analysis requirements to allow for more flexibility in discussing historical periods; and (v) incorporate more technology in filings through data tagging of items and hyperlinks.

Proposed Amendments

A. Description of Property (Item 102)

Item 102 requires disclosure of the location and general character of the principal plants, mines, and other materially important physical properties of the company and its subsidiaries.The instructions to Item 102 require the company to disclose information reasonable to inform investors as to the suitability, adequacy, productive capacity and utilization of facilities. The proposed amendment will emphasize materiality and require a company to disclose physical properties only to the extent that such properties are material to the company.

B. Management’s Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) (Item 303)

Item 303(a) requires a company to discuss their financial condition, changes in financial condition, and results of operations using year-to-year comparisons. The discussion is required to cover the period of the financial statements in the report (i.e., 2 years for smaller reporting companies and emerging growth companies and 3 years for others). Where trend information is relevant, the discussion may include 5 years with a disclosure of selected financial data.

The proposed amendment would allow the company to eliminate the earliest year in its discussion as long as (1) the discussion is not material to an understanding of the current financial condition; and (ii) the company has filed a prior Form 10-K with an MD&A discussion of the omitted year. The proposed amendment will also eliminate the reference to a five-year look-back in the instructions, but rather a company will be able to use any presentation or information that it believes will enhance a reader’s understanding. The amendments will flow through to foreign private issuers as well with conforming changes to the instructions for Item 5 of Form 20-F.

C. Directors, Executive Officers, Promoters and Control Persons (Item 401)

Item 401 requires disclosure of identifying and background information about a company’s directors, executive officers, and significant employees. The proposed amendments will clarify the instructions to Item 401 to clarify that the information is not required to be duplicated in various parts of a Form 10-K and/or proxy statement, but need only appear once and may be incorporated by reference in other parts of the documents.

D. Compliance with Section 16(a) (Item 405)

Section 16(a) of the Exchange Act requires officers, directors, and specified types of security holders to report their beneficial ownership of a company’s equity securities using forms prescribed by the SEC, such as an initial Form 3, amendments on Form 4 and annual Form 5. Item 405 requires the company to disclose each person who failed to timely file a Section 16 report during the most recent fiscal year or prior years. Section 16 reporting persons are required to deliver a copy of their reports to the company, though in practice, this is rarely done.  The proposed amendments remove this requirement and allow the company to review EDGAR filings for compliance with Section 16(a).

In addition, the proposed amendment would eliminate the need to include the heading at all if there are no delinquencies to report, rather than include the heading with a statement such as “none” and remove the checkbox on the cover page of Form 10-K related to the disclosure. The proposed amendment includes several changes to make the instructions and title of this section conform to the SEC’s “plain English” requirements.

E. Corporate Governance (Item 407)

The proposed amendment will update the instructions and information required under Item 407 to remove reference to an obsolete audit standard and rather just refer broadly to applicable PCAOB and SEC requirements. EGC’s and smaller reporting companies are both exempted from the Item 407 requirements, and the proposed amendment clarifies the instruction language accordingly.

F. Outside Front Cover Page of the Prospectus (Item 501(b))

The proposed amendments are designed to streamline the front cover page of a prospectus and give a company flexibility in designing the page to tailor to their business and particular offering. The proposed changes include (i) eliminating instructions related to changing or clarifying a name that may be confused with a well-known company; (ii) allowing for a statement  that the offering price will be determined by a particular method or formula that is more fully explained in the prospectus with a cross-reference to the page number; (iii) requiring the disclosure of the principal trading market and company symbol, even if such trading market is not a national exchange; and (iv) streamlining the “subject to completion” legend.

G. Risk Factors (Item 503(c))

A company is required to disclose the most significant factors that make an offering speculative or risky. Although the disclosure is intended to be principals-based, many examples are included in the instructions. The proposed amendments would move Item 503(c) to Subpart 100 to clarify that risk factors are also required in a Form 10 and Exchange Act periodic reports and not just offering-related disclosures.  The proposed amendment would also eliminate the risk factor examples from the instructions.

H. Plan of Distribution (Item 508)

Item 508 requires disclosure about the plan of distribution for securities in an offering, including information about underwriters. The term “sub-underwriter” is referred to in the rule; however, it is not defined. The proposed rules will define a “sub-underwriter” as “a dealer that is participating as an underwriter in an offering by committing to purchase securities from a principal underwriter for the securities but is not itself in privity of contract with the issuer of the securities.”

I. Undertakings (Item 512)

Item 512 provides undertakings that a company must include in Part II of its registration statement, depending on the type of offering. The proposed amendments simplify the undertakings requirements and eliminate provisions that are duplicative because the requirement already exists, or that are obsolete due to changes in the law. For example, Items 512(d), 512(e) and 512(f) are all obsolete and should be eliminated. Item 512(c) related to unsold rights offerings that are then offered to the public, can be eliminated as other provisions of the law would require the company to update the (or complete a new) registration statement regardless.

J. Exhibits (Item 601)

The proposed amendment makes several changes to the exhibit filing requirements to streamline and reduce the volume of documents, many of which may not be material, which are required to be filed. The proposed amendments also make at least one addition to the exhibit requirements and in particular, a company must disclose a subsidiaries LEI number if one has been issued. For information on a LEI, see HERE.

The proposed amendment add exhibits related to Item 202 disclosures (registered capital stock, debt securities, warrants, rights, American Depository Receipts, and other securities) to Exchange Act periodic reports on Form 10-K and 10-Q. Such exhibits are currently only required in registration statements, Form 8-K and Schedule 14A.

The proposed amendment also clarifies that schedules and exhibits to exhibits need not be filed unless they are, in and of themselves, material to an investment decision. Although historically the SEC did not object to the omission of schedules and exhibits to exhibits with personally identifiable information, the rules generally require the filing of a confidential treatment request for most omissions. The proposed amendments allow a company to omit schedules and exhibits to exhibits as long as a brief description of the omitted documents is included. In addition, a copy of the omitted items must be provided if requested by the SEC, though a confidential treatment request could also be made at that time. Likewise the proposed amendments will allow a company to redact information that is both (i) not material, and (ii) competitively harmful if disclosed.

K. Incorporation by Reference

Currently rules related to incorporation by reference are spread among a variety of regulations, including Regulation S-K, Regulation C, Regulation 12B and numerous forms. The proposed amendments would revise Item 10(d), Rule 411, and a number of SEC forms to simplify and modernize these rules while still providing all material information. Rule 12b-23 is proposed to be rescinded. The amendments streamline the rules and further allow for incorporation by reference to eliminate duplicative disclosure. The proposed rules will require a hyperlink to information that is incorporated by reference if the information is available on EDGAR.

The proposed rules specifically do not add or change the rules related to cross-references or other incorporation within the financial statements to other disclosure items. There is a concern as to the impact on auditor review requirements if such links or changes are added.

L. Forms

The proposed amendments include several amendments to forms to conform with and implement all the changes in the rules.

M. XBRL

The proposed amendments would require all of the information on the cover pages of Form 10-K, Form 10-Q, Form 8-K, Form 20-F, and Form 40-F to be tagged in Inline XBRL in accordance with the EDGAR Filer Manual.

Further Reading on the FAST Act

I’ve blogged several times on the FAST Act since its initial passing on December 15, 2015. An initial discussion and summary of the FAST Act can be read HERE. A summary of the SEC guidance on the FAST Act as relates to savings and loan companies can be read HERE.

On January 13, 2016, the SEC issued interim final rules memorializing two provisions of the FAST Act. In particular, the SEC revised the instructions to Forms S-1 and F-1 to allow the omission of historical financial information and to allow smaller reporting companies to use forward incorporation by reference to update an effective S-1. A summary can be read HERE. On May 3, 2016, the SEC issued final amendments to revise the rules related to the thresholds for registrations, termination of registration, and suspension of reporting under Section 12(g) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The amendments mark the final rule making and implementation of all provisions under the JOBS Act, and implement further provisions under the FAST Act. A summary can be read HERE.

On August 25, 2016, the SEC requested public comment on possible changes to the disclosure requirements in Subpart 400 of Regulation S-K. Subpart 400 encompasses disclosures related to management, certain security holders and corporate governance. The request for comment was required by Section 72003 of the FAST Act. For a summary see HERE.

On August 17, 2017, the SEC issued guidance on financial statement requirements for confidential and public registration statement filings by both emerging growth companies (EGC) and non-emerging growth companies. The new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (C&DI’s) follow the SEC’s decision to permit all companies to submit draft registration statements, on a confidential basis.  For a summary see HERE  and HERE.

As required by Section 72003 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (the “FAST Act”), on November 23, 2016, the SEC issued a Report on Modernization and Simplification of Regulation S-K including detailed recommendations for changes. For a summary see HERE.

Further Background on SEC Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative

I have been keeping an ongoing summary of the SEC ongoing Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative. The following is a recap of such initiative and proposed and actual changes.

On March 1, 2017, the SEC passed final rule amendments to Item 601 of Regulation S-K to require hyperlinks to exhibits in filings made with the SEC. The amendments require any company filing registration statements or reports with the SEC to include a hyperlink to all exhibits listed on the exhibit list. In addition, because ASCII cannot support hyperlinks, the amendment also requires that all exhibits be filed in HTML format. The new Rule goes into effect on September 1, 2017, provided however that non-accelerated filers and smaller reporting companies that submit filings in ASCII may delay compliance through September 1, 2018.  See my blog HERE on the Item 601 rule changes.

On November 23, 2016, the SEC issued a Report on Modernization and Simplification of Regulation S-K as required by Section 72003 of the FAST Act. A summary of the report can be read HERE.

On August 25, 2016, the SEC requested public comment on possible changes to the disclosure requirements in Subpart 400 of Regulation S-K.  Subpart 400 encompasses disclosures related to management, certain security holders and corporate governance. See my blog on the request for comment HERE.

On July 13, 2016, the SEC issued a proposed rule change on Regulation S-K and Regulation S-X to amend disclosures that are redundant, duplicative, overlapping, outdated or superseded (S-K and S-X Amendments). See my blog on the proposed rule change HERE. This proposal is slated for action in this year’s SEC regulatory agenda.

That proposed rule change and request for comments followed the concept release and request for public comment on sweeping changes to certain business and financial disclosure requirements issued on April 15, 2016. See my two-part blog on the S-K Concept Release HERE and HERE.

As part of the same initiative, on June 27, 2016, the SEC issued proposed amendments to the definition of “Small Reporting Company” (see my blog HERE). The SEC also previously issued a release related to disclosure requirements for entities other than the reporting company itself, including subsidiaries, acquired businesses, issuers of guaranteed securities and affiliates. See my blog HERE.  Both of these items are slated for action in this year’s SEC regulatory agenda.

As part of the ongoing disclosure effectiveness intiiactive, in September 2015 the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies met and finalized its recommendation to the SEC regarding changes to the disclosure requirements for smaller publicly traded companies. For more information on that topic and for a discussion of the reporting requirements in general, see my blog HERE.

In March 2015 the American Bar Association submitted its second comment letter to the SEC making recommendations for changes to Regulation S-K. For more information on that topic, see my blog HERE.

In early December 2015 the FAST Act was passed into law.  The FAST Act requires the SEC to adopt or amend rules to: (i) allow issuers to include a summary page to Form 10-K; and (ii) scale or eliminate duplicative, antiquated or unnecessary requirements for emerging-growth companies, accelerated filers, smaller reporting companies and other smaller issuers in Regulation S-K. The current Regulation S-K and S-X Amendments are part of this initiative. In addition, the SEC is required to conduct a study within one year on all Regulation S-K disclosure requirements to determine how best to amend and modernize the rules to reduce costs and burdens while still providing all material information. See my blog HERE. These items are all included in this year’s SEC regulatory agenda.

The Author

Laura Anthony, Esq.
Founding Partner
Legal & Compliance, LLC
Corporate, Securities and Going Public Attorneys
330 Clematis Street, Suite 217
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Phone: 800-341-2684 – 561-514-0936
Fax: 561-514-0832
LAnthony@LegalAndCompliance.com
www.LegalAndCompliance.com
www.LawCast.com

Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provides ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, OTC and exchange traded issuers as well as private companies going public on the NASDAQ, NYSE MKT or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For nearly two decades Legal & Compliance, LLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service. The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-8 and S-4; compliance with the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; Regulation A/A+ offerings; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers, ; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including NASDAQ and NYSE MKT; crowdfunding; corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Moreover, Ms. Anthony and her firm represents both target and acquiring companies in reverse mergers and forward mergers, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. Ms. Anthony’s legal team prepares the necessary documentation and assists in completing the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA and DTC for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the OTC Market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, the securities law network. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.

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