At the end of February, the SEC staff issued a No-Action Letter to Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc., permitting the company to exclude a shareholder proposal under Rule 14a-8(i)(5), often referred to as the economic relevance exception. This is the first no-action relief granted under the rule since the SEC issued Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14I (“SLB 14I”) on November 1, 2017, and it could have implications for other retailers seeking to exclude shareholder proposals under the rule in the future. Continue Reading SEC Staff Permits Exclusion of Shareholder Proposal Under Economic Relevance Exception

The Initial Coin Offering (“ICO”) market exploded in 2017 with almost $4 billion of investments. Securities regulators in the United States have responded first with a series of public warnings and, more recently, by bringing enforcement actions against promoters of ICOs and other digital currency investments. We survey some of the recent regulatory developments in this rapidly evolving field. Continue Reading Securities Regulators Expand Oversight of ICO Market and Digital Currency

On December 11, 2017, the SEC issued a cease-and-desist order against Munchee Inc. after finding that the company’s initial coin offering (“ICO”) constituted unregistered offers and sales of securities. Munchee sought to raise $15 million for its blockchain-based food review and social platform by selling digital tokens to users that could be used to buy and sell goods and services through an iPhone app. Munchee and others promoting the ICO told investors that the tokens could be expected to increase in value as the company implemented improvements to the app and said that the company would work to support a secondary market for the tokens.  Continue Reading Company Ends Initial Coin Offering after SEC Finds Securities Violations

On September 8, 2017, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and the New York City Pension Funds announced the second phase of their Boardroom Accountability Project, which will focus on board diversity and composition. Stringer sent a letter to the nominating and governance committee chairs of 151 portfolio companies held by the New York City Pension Funds, requesting board engagement regarding the director refreshment process and disclosure of a director qualification matrix that identifies directors’ relevant skills and experience and their gender and race/ethnicity. The list of companies included several major retailers and consisted of companies that have adopted proxy access in response to shareholder proposals from the NYC Pension Funds and those where the NYC Pension Funds’ proxy access proposals received majority support in 2017.  Continue Reading New York City Comptroller Launches Boardroom Accountability Project 2.0

When say-on-pay (i.e., shareholders with the right to vote on the remuneration of executives) was introduced under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, there was a requirement that companies conduct say-on-pay frequency votes every six years for shareholders to decide whether say-on-pay votes should be held every one, two or three years. Companies first held say-on-pay frequency votes in 2011, so for many companies the 2017 proxy season is the first time that shareholders have revisited the matter since then. Continue Reading Shareholders Show Strong Preference for Annual Say on Pay Votes

As media outlets recently highlighted Equal Pay Day on April 4, 2017, publicly held retailers should be aware that the focus on pay equity is becoming increasingly popular among activist shareholders. This proxy season, more than 20 publicly traded companies are facing shareholder proposals at their annual meetings to vote on whether they should research and report on pay gaps by gender and race. Continue Reading An Increasing Number of Proxy Challenges Focus on Equal Pay

Since the beginning of 2017, the SEC has announced three enforcement actions charging companies, activist hedge funds and related individuals with violating the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. These enforcement actions targeted parties who allegedly failed to comply with disclosure obligations in the context of hostile takeovers and shareholder activism campaigns.

Read the full alert.

A recent report by MSCI examined proxy access among the 565 United States incorporated companies in the MSCI USA Index. In two years, the percentage of companies with proxy access grew from less than 1 percent to 41.2 percent as of December 14, 2016. Additionally, of the 110 companies targeted by the New York City Comptroller’s Office and the New York City pension funds’ Boardroom Accountability Project during the 2015 and 2016 proxy seasons, 90.9 percent have adopted proxy access. Although these numbers show a substantial increase in adoption by companies, making the push for proxy access appear successful, the report notes that the companies adopting proxy access are mostly ones that already have fairly strong shareholder rights. Continue Reading Companies with Long-Tenured Directors May Be Next Targets for Proxy Access

On October 11, 2016, the SEC announced its enforcement results for the fiscal year which ended on September 30, 2016. A total of 868 enforcement actions were filed, which set a new record for the most actions in a single year. The SEC filed 61 more actions in 2016 than in 2015, representing a year-over-year increase of almost 7.6 percent. The actions resulted in total disgorgements and penalties of over $4 billion, down slightly from last year’s $4.19 billion. Continue Reading SEC Filed Record Number of Enforcement Actions in FY 2016