On June 25, 2020, SEC Chair Jay Clayton gave testimony before the Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship and Capital Markets Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services on the topic of capital markets and emergency lending in the Covid-19 era. The next day, on June 26, Chair Clayton, William Hinman, Director of the Division of Corporation Finance, Dalia Blass, Director of the Division of Investment Management and Brett Redfearn, Director of the Division of Trading and Markets issued a public statement on the same topic but expanded to include efforts to ensure the orderly function of U.S. capital markets.
Chair Clayton Testimony
Chair Clayton breaks down his testimony over five topics including: (i) market monitoring and regulatory coordination; (ii) guidance and targeted assistance and relief; (iii) investor protection, education and outreach efforts; (iv) ongoing mission-oriented work; and (v) the SEC’s fiscal-year 2021 budget request.
Market Monitoring and Regulatory Coordination
Despite the extraordinary volumes and volatility we have seen in the
On March 4, 2020, the SEC published proposed rule changes to harmonize, simplify and improve the exempt offering framework. The proposed rule changes indicate that the SEC has been listening to capital markets participants and is supporting increased access to private offerings for both businesses and a larger class of investors. Together with the proposed amendments to the accredited investor definition (see HERE), the new rules could have as much of an impact on the capital markets as the JOBS Act has had since its enactment in 2012.
I’ve written a five-part series detailing the rule changes, the first of which can be read HERE. My plan to publish the five parts in five consecutive weeks was derailed by the coronavirus and more time-sensitive articles on relief for SEC filers and disclosure guidance, but will resume in weeks that do not have more pressing Covid-19 topics.
On April 2, 2020, the SEC Small Business Capital Formation Advisory Committee
On November 7, 2019, the SEC Investor Advisory Committee held a meeting on the topics of (i) whether investors use environmental, social and governance (ESG) data in making investment and capital allocation decisions; and (ii) the SEC’s recent concept release on harmonization of securities offering exemptions. For more on ESG matters, see HERE and for my blog on the SEC’s concept release on exempt offerings, see HERE. Both SEC Chair Jay Clayton and Commissioner Allison Herren Lee made remarks before the committee. As always, it is helpful in navigating our complex securities laws and regulatory priorities to stay informed on matters involving SEC decision makers and policy setters.
The Investor Advisory Committee was created by the Dodd-Frank Act to advise the SEC on regulatory priorities, the regulation of securities products, trading strategies, fee structures, the effectiveness of disclosure, and on initiatives to protect investor interests and to promote investor confidence and the integrity of the securities marketplace. The Dodd-Frank
Over the past few years, the term “Environmental, Social and Governance” or “ESG” has been both first used and brought into daily use by capital market participants. Multiple publications have been written on the subject, Nasdaq has published an ESG Reporting Guide, the House Financial Services Committee has debated multiple bills that would require various ESG disclosures and the SEC top brass is vocal, and divided, on the subject. SEC Chair Jay Clayton and Commissioner Hester M. Peirce both believe that ESG matters are too abstract and undefined to result in meaningful disclosure while Commissioners Robert J. Jackson Jr. and Allison Herren Lee just issued a joint statement expressing disappointment in the recently proposed changes to Regulation S-K (see HERE) for omitting the topic of climate risk.
It is clear that ESG matters are an important factor for analysts and investors and thus for reporting companies to consider. It is also clear that companies have increasing pressure to
Eight years following the crash of the Chinese reverse merger boom and a slew of SEC enforcement proceedings, the SEC is once again concerned with the financial reporting by U.S. listed companies with operations based in China. In December 2018, the SEC issued a cautionary public statement from SEC Chair Jay Clayton, SEC Chief Accountant Wes Bricker and PCAOB Chairman William D. Duhnke III entitled “Statement on the Vital Role of Audit Quality and Regulatory Access to Audit and Other Information Internationally – Discussion of Current Information Access Challenges with Respect to U.S.-listed Companies with Significant Operations in China.”
Just reading the title reminded me of the boom in China-based reverse mergers around 2009-2010 followed by the trading halts or delistings of at least 50 companies in 2011 and 2012. In the summer of 2010, the SEC launched an initiative to determine whether certain companies with foreign operations—including those that were the product of reverse mergers—were accurately reporting their
Rule 3-13 of Regulation S-X allows a company to request relief from the SEC from the financial statement disclosure requirements if they believe that the financial information is burdensome and would result in disclosure of information that goes beyond what is material to investors. Consistent with the ongoing message of open communication and cooperation, the current SEC regime has been actively encouraging companies to avail themselves of this relief and has updated the CorpFin Financial Reporting Manual to include contact information for staff members that can assist.
As part of its ongoing disclosure effectiveness initiative, the SEC is also considering amendments to the financial statement disclosure process and the publication of further staff guidance. In addition to advancing disclosure changes, allowing for relief from financial statement requirements could help encourage smaller companies to access public markets, an ongoing goal of the SEC and other financial regulators. For a review of the October 2017 Treasury Department report to President Trump, including
In December 2017, the SEC posted its latest version of its semiannual regulatory agenda and plans for rulemaking with the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Prior to issuing the agenda, SEC Chair Jay Clayton had promised that the SEC’s regulatory agenda’s would be “more realistic” and he seems to have been true to his word.
The agenda is separated into two categories: (i) Existing Proposed and Final Rule Stages; and (ii) Long-term Actions. The Existing Proposed and Final Rule Stages are intended to be completed within the next 12 months and Long-term Actions are anything beyond that. The semiannual list published in July 2017 only contained 33 legislative action items to be completed in a 12-month time frame, and the newest list is down to 26 items, whereas the prior fall 2016 list had 62 items.
The Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions
The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is an executive office of the
On November 30, 2017, the SEC held its annual Government-Business Forum on Small Business Capital Formation (the “Forum”). It will be several months until the final report with recommendations from the forum is published, but the opening remarks from SEC Chair Jay Clayton and Commissioners Kara Stein and Michael Piwowar provide ongoing and consistent guidance as to the current focus of the SEC. For a review of the recommendations by last year’s forum, see HERE.
As expected, the topics of cryptocurrency and ICO’s were front and center at the Forum. In his opening remarks at the Forum, Division of Corporation Finance Director William Hinman confirmed that the SEC believes that ICO’s generally involve securities offerings and that the securities laws must be complied with. Hinman continued that the SEC is providing guidance through enforcement and public statements on the topic.
No more broken windows! In a series of speeches by various top brass at the SEC followed by the publication of the SEC Enforcement Division 2017 Report on results and priorities, the SEC has confirmed both directly and through its actions that the era of “broken windows” enforcement is over. The broken windows policy was first shepherded by Mary Jo White in 2013 and was one in which the SEC committed to pursue infractions big and small and to investigate, review and monitor all activities. The idea was that small infractions lead to bigger infractions, and the securities markets have had the reputation that minor violations are overlooked, creating a culture where laws were treated as meaningless guidelines.
Michael Piwowar has been a critic of broken windows since its inception. In a speech to the Securities Enforcement Forum in 2014, Mr. Piwowar stated, “[I]f every rule is a priority, then no rule is a priority.” He continued, “[I]f you
On September 20, 2017, SEC Chair Jay Clayton issued a statement on cybersecurity that included the astonishing revelation that the SEC Edgar system had been hacked in 2016. Since the original statement, the SEC has confirmed that personal information on at least two individuals was obtained in the incident. Following Jay Clayton’s initial statement, on September 25, 2017, the SEC announced two new cyber-based enforcement initiatives targeting the protection of retail investors, including protection related to distributed ledger technology (DLT) and initial coin or cryptocurrency offerings (ICO’s).
The issue of cybersecurity is at the forefront for the SEC, and Jay Clayton is asking the House Committee on Financial Services to increase the SEC’s budget by $100 million to enhance the SEC’s cybersecurity efforts.
This is the second in a two-part blog series summarizing Jay Clayton’s statement, the SEC EDGAR hacking and the new initiatives. Part I of this blog, which outlined Chair Clayton’s statement on cybersecurity and the EDGAR