On August 8, 2019, the SEC canceled a public meeting which was slated to talk about proposed changes to disclosures related to business descriptions, legal proceedings and risk factors under Regulation S-K and instead, on the same day, issued proposed rule changes. The proposed changes continue the SEC’s ongoing disclosure effectiveness initiative. My ongoing running summary of proposed and implemented rule amendments, concept releases, reports and other relevant information related to disclosure changes can be found at the end of this blog.
The proposed changes take a more principles-based approach to business descriptions and risk factors, recognizing the significant changes in business models since the rule was adopted 30 years ago. The proposed amendments to disclosures related to legal proceedings continues the current prescriptive approach. In addition, the proposed rule changes are intended to improve the readability of disclosure documents, as well as discourage repetition and disclosure of information that is not material.
Item 101 – Description of Business
Item 101(a) of Regulation S-K requires a description of the general development of the business of the company during the past five years (or three years for smaller reporting companies) and lists five specific categories of information to include in the disclosure, including for example the year the company was formed and a description of any acquisitions or dispositions of businesses.
The SEC proposes amending Item 101(a) related to a company’s description of its business, to:
(i) Make it largely principles-based by providing a non-exclusive list of the types of information that could be disclosed and only requiring that disclosure to the extent it is material to an understanding of the general development of the business. The non-exclusive list would include: (a) material bankruptcy, receivership or similar proceeding; (b) nature and effects of any material reclassifications, merger or consolidation; (c) the acquisition or disposition of any material amount of assets otherwise than in the ordinary course of business; and (d) transactions and events that affect or may affect the company’s operations, including material changes to a company’s previously disclosed business strategy;
(ii) Eliminate a prescribed timeframe for the disclosure. The SEC would rather require companies to focus on the information material to an understanding of the development of their business, irrespective of a specific timeframe; and
(iii) Permit a company, in filings made after a its initial filing, to provide only an update of the general development of the business that focuses on material developments in the reporting period, and with an active hyperlink to the company’s most recent filing that, together with the update, would contain the full discussion of the general development of the company’s business.
Item 101(c) of Regulation S-K requires a narrative description of the business done and intended to be done by the company, focusing on the segments that are reported in the company’s financial statements. Item 101(c) currently includes a list of 13 topics to cover. Like Item 101(a), the proposed amendment would make the rule largely principles-based and encourage a company to exercise judgment in evaluating what disclosure to provide and only mandate that material information be provided. The proposed rule also will provide a list of topics for a company to consider, and will maintain the focus on providing company segment information.
The proposed new list of topics include: (i) revenue generating activities, products or services, and any dependence on key products, services, product families, or customers, including governmental customers; (ii) status of development efforts for new or enhanced products, trends in market demand and competitive conditions; (iii) resources material to a company’s business; (iv) raw materials; (v) the duration and effect of all patents, trademarks, licenses, franchises, and concessions held; (vi) a description of any material portion of the business that may be subject to renegotiation of profits or termination of contracts or subcontracts at the election of the government; (vii) the extent to which the business is or may be seasonal; (viii) compliance with material government regulations, including environmental regulations (the prior list only included environmental regulations); and (ix) human capital disclosure.
The human capital category is completely new and would include any human capital measures or objectives that management focuses on in managing the business, and the attraction, development and retention of personnel (such as in a gig economy).
Item 103 – Legal Proceedings
Item 103 of Regulation S-K requires disclosure of any material pending legal proceedings, other than ordinary routine litigation incidental to the business, to which the company or any of its subsidiaries is a party or of which any of their property is the subject. Item 103 also requires disclosure of the name of the court or agency in which the proceedings are pending, the date instituted, the principal parties thereto and a description of the factual basis alleged to underlie the proceeding and the relief sought.
The SEC proposes amending Item 103 to: (i) expressly state that the required information about material legal proceedings may be provided by including hyperlinks or cross-references to legal proceedings disclosure located elsewhere in the document in an effort to encourage companies to avoid duplicative disclosure; and (ii) revise the $100,000 threshold for disclosure of environmental proceedings to which the government is a party to $300,000 to adjust for inflation.
Item 105 – Risk Factors
Item 105 of Regulation S-K requires disclosure of the most significant factors that make an investment in the registrant or offering speculative or risky and specifies that the discussion should be concise and organized logically. The disclosure of risk factors has always been principles-based with the SEC consistently discouraging the use of boilerplate items. However, despite this guidance, most companies include a lengthy laundry list of boilerplate risks.
The SEC proposes amendment Item 105 to: (i) require summary risk factor disclosure if the risk factor section exceeds 15 pages; (ii) refine the principles-based approach of that rule by changing the disclosure standard from the “most significant” factors to the “material” factors required to be disclosed; and (iii) require risk factors to be organized under relevant headings, with any risk factors that may generally apply to an investment in securities disclosed at the end of the risk factor section under a separate caption.
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 20, 2019, the SEC adopted amendments to modernize and simplify disclosure requirements for public companies, investment advisers, and investment companies. The amendments: (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. See HERE.
In December 2018 the SEC approved final rules to require companies to disclose practices or policies regarding the ability of employees or directors to engage in certain hedging transactions, in proxy and information statements for the election of directors. To review my blog on the final rules, see HERE and on the proposed rules, see HERE.
In November 2018, I published a blog on how to seek relief from the financial statement disclosure requirements pursuant to Rule 3-13 of Regulation S-X. See HERE.
In the fourth quarter of 2018, the SEC finalized amendments to the disclosure requirements for mining companies under the Securities Act and the Securities Exchange. The proposed rule amendments were originally published in June 2016. In addition to providing better information to investors about a company’s mining properties, the amendments are intended to more closely align the SEC rules with current industry and global regulatory practices and standards as set out in by the Committee for Reserves International Reporting Standards (CRIRSCO). In addition, the amendments rescinded Industry Guide 7 and consolidated the disclosure requirements for registrants with material mining operations in a new subpart of Regulation S-K. See HERE.
On June 28, 2018, the SEC adopted amendments to the definition of a “smaller reporting company” as contained in Securities Act Rule 405, Exchange Act Rule 12b-2 and Item 10(f) of Regulation S-K. See HERE and later issued updated C&DI on the new rules – see HERE. The initial proposed amendments were published on June 27, 2016 (see HERE).
In December 2017, the American Bar Association (“ABA”) submitted its fourth comment letter to the SEC related to the financial and business disclosure requirements in Regulation S-K. For a review of that letter and recommendations, see HERE.
In October 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued a report to President Trump entitled “A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities; Capital Markets” (the “Treasury Report”). The Treasury Report made specific recommendations for change to the disclosure rules and regulations, including those related to special-interest and social issues and duplicative disclosures. See more on the Treasury Report HERE.
On October 11, 2017, 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 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. See my blog HERE. On March 20, 2019, the SEC adopted final rules on this proposal.
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 went into effect on September 1, 2017 for most companies and on September 1, 2018 for smaller reporting companies and non-accelerated filers. See my blog HERE on the Item 601 rule changes and HERE related to SEC guidance on same.
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. Final amendments were approved on August 17, 2018 – see HERE.
The July 2016 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.
In September 2015, the SEC also issued a request for public comment 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. Taking into account responses to portions of that request for comment, in the summer of 2018, the SEC adopted final rules to simplify the disclosure requirements applicable to registered debt offerings for guarantors and issuers of guaranteed securities, and for affiliates whose securities collateralize a company’s securities. See my blog HERE.
As part of the ongoing Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative, 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. See my blog HERE.
Laura Anthony, Esq.
Anthony L.G., PLLC
A Corporate Law Firm
Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provide ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, OTC and exchange traded public companies as well as private companies going public on the Nasdaq, NYSE American or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For more than two decades Anthony L.G., PLLC 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, securities token offerings and initial coin offerings, Regulation A/A+ offerings, as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-3, S-8 and merger registrations on Form S-4; compliance with 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; 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 American; general corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Ms. Anthony and her firm represent both target and acquiring companies in merger and acquisition transactions, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. The ALG legal team assists Pubcos in complying with the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA 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 small-cap and middle market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, Corporate Finance in Focus. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.
Ms. Anthony is a member of various professional organizations including the Crowdfunding Professional Association (CfPA), Palm Beach County Bar Association, the Florida Bar Association, the American Bar Association and the ABA committees on Federal Securities Regulations and Private Equity and Venture Capital. She is a supporter of several community charities including sitting on the board of directors of the American Red Cross for Palm Beach and Martin Counties, and providing financial support to the Susan Komen Foundation, Opportunity, Inc., New Hope Charities, the Society of the Four Arts, the Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach County Zoo Society, the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts and several others. She is also a financial and hands-on supporter of Palm Beach Day Academy, one of Palm Beach’s oldest and most respected educational institutions. She currently resides in Palm Beach with her husband and daughter.
Ms. Anthony is an honors graduate from Florida State University College of Law and has been practicing law since 1993.
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