Morrison & Foerster LLP
New York NY
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To mark the new year, registered investment advisers and funds should take a look back at the activity undertaken by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and its staff during 2019 and carefully consider steps to be taken to implement new and amended regulations adopted by the SEC throughout the year. The start of a new year is also a good time to evaluate what remains on the SEC's regulatory agenda.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently released its 2019 Report on Examination Findings and Observations. The report intends to reflect key findings and observations identified in FINRA's recent examinations of broker-dealers. The report also describes practices that FINRA has deemed to be effective and that could help firms to improve their compliance and risk management programmes.
The Securities and Exchange Commission recently charged a Switzerland-based securities dealer for offering and selling unregistered security-based swaps to US investors using bitcoins and for failing to transact its swaps on a registered national exchange. This case illustrates that the use of new technology and terminology does not exempt investment-product dealers from having to comply with US federal securities laws.
The Supreme Court recently granted a writ of certiorari to address whether the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may obtain disgorgement in civil injunctive actions filed in the federal courts. How the court resolves this question may have a significant impact not only on the SEC's enforcement programme, but also on a wide array of other federal regulators that rely on courts invoking similar equitable authority to fashion remedies.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority recently censured and fined a Florida-based broker-dealer, including for failing to reasonably supervise sales of complex securities such as structured products and leveraged, inverse and inverse-leveraged exchange-traded funds. This case illustrates the need for broker-dealers to establish and enforce proper surveillance systems and written procedures to ensure the suitability of their sale recommendations.
The North American Securities Administrators Association recently issued a report that provided a warning as to the risks of leveraged or inverse exchange-traded funds. The report urges broker-dealers to tailor their supervisory procedures if they allow exchange-traded fund (ETF) transactions in these products. Among other things, the report concludes that broker-dealers should carefully consider whether to permit purchases of leveraged or inverse ETFs in retail customer accounts.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently proposed amendments to the description of business, legal proceeding and risk factor disclosures that are required pursuant to Regulation S-K. While the SEC's concept release dealt with a wide variety of topics, these latest proposals represent a more measured approach towards modernising and simplifying such disclosure requirements.
Blockstack Token LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Delaware public benefit corporation Blockstack PBC, recently became the first company to have an offering of digital assets qualified by the Securities and Exchange Commission under Regulation A. Although Blockstack's is the first Regulation A token offering to be qualified, it demonstrates the potential for other blockchain-based companies to use Regulation A as a viable capital-raising tool.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently requested public comment on ways to simplify, harmonise and improve the registration exemptions under the Securities Act. In its concept release, the SEC identified numerous topics to be addressed, such as evaluating the framework and coverage of existing registration exemptions. Any developments in this area will be of interest to the structured products industry.
The Securities and Exchange Commission recently issued an interpretive release designed to reaffirm, and in some cases clarify, the standard of conduct that investment advisers owe to their clients. While the interpretive release includes no new regulation, it clarifies the type of disclosure, policies and procedures that advisers should adopt to ensure that they continue to operate in a manner that is consistent with their fiduciary obligations.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently proposed amendments to the 'accelerated filer' and 'large accelerated filer' definitions adopted under the Securities Exchange Act 1934. The SEC believes that it can promote capital formation for smaller reporting issuers by more appropriately tailoring the types of issuer that are included and revising the transition thresholds for accelerated and large accelerated filers.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently adopted rule amendments to modernise and simplify certain disclosure requirements in Regulation S-K and related rules and forms. These amendments were adopted pursuant to a 2015 Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) directive and are based in part on the SEC's report to congress under the FAST Act. The amendments will require issuers' immediate attention as they prepare for upcoming filings.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently announced settlements with 79 investment advisers who self-reported violations of the Investment Advisers Act in connection with the SEC Division of Enforcement Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative. The advisers collectively agreed to return more than $125 million in fees and prejudgment interest to clients.
The Securities and Exchange Commission recently proposed a rule and related amendments under the Securities Act that would permit issuers to engage in oral or written communications with potential investors that are, or are reasonably believed to be, qualified institutional buyers or institutional accredited investors, either prior to or following the filing of a registration statement, to determine whether such investors have an interest in a contemplated securities offering registered under the Securities Act.
In a recent interpretative letter, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) provided guidance to a registered broker-dealer as to the use of pre-inception index performance data relating to a proprietary index. The letter restates and updates FINRA's prior guidance as to the use of back-tested index information, including its historic position that the use of this type of information is inappropriate in communications provided to retail investors.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently issued its 2019 Risk Monitoring and Examination Priorities Letter. The letter addresses a variety of issues that all broker-dealers must address, whether they offer structured products or not. The letter clarifies that sales of complex products, including structured products, must be reviewed to see whether they comply with FINRA's suitability rules.
The Securities and Exchange Commission recently amended the Securities Exchange Act to implement Section 955 of the Dodd-Frank Act. Among other requirements, companies that are not foreign private issuers, listed closed-end investment companies, smaller reporting companies or emerging growth companies must now comply with the new hedging disclosure requirement in proxy or information statements with respect to the election of directors during fiscal years beginning on or after 1 July 2019.
The end of 2018 was notable for two Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enforcement actions against private equity fund managers for violations of the Investment Advisers Act. The actions demonstrate the SEC's continued focus on private equity fund managers' use of operating partners or consultants and the particular issue of how the expenses of such operating partners or consultants are allocated.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Division of Corporation Finance recently provided guidance for issuers regarding the approach that the division will take in processing filings, submissions and other requests for action by its staff. Issuers should carefully consider their plans with respect to registration statements, particularly given that it is possible that another government shutdown could commence if an appropriations bill funding the SEC's operations is not enacted prior to the current deadline.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently published its 2019 Risk Monitoring and Examination Priorities Letter. Unlike previous letters, the 2019 letter focuses primarily on priorities that FINRA considers to be materially new. The first highlighted priority, online distribution platforms, will be of particular interest to the growing number of companies providing financial services through online platforms.
Not just for banks: Congress passes legislation providing relief from Dodd-Frank era regulations restricting capital formationUSA | 26 June 2018
President Trump recently signed into law the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act. While much of the act was designed to provide smaller financial institutions and community banks with relief from regulations implemented under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Title V includes provisions designed to encourage capital formation. Among other things, the act expands the scope of the blue sky registration exemption.
According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, its recent release proposing an interpretation of the standard of conduct for investment advisers is intended to "reaffirm – and in some cases clarify – certain aspects of the fiduciary duty that an investment adviser owes to its clients under section 206" of the Investment Advisers Act 1940. However, the proposed interpretation, if adopted, appears to expand the parameters of the fiduciary duty standard and could require advisers to take on additional regulatory obligations.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently issued proposed amendments to Rule 2111's quantitative suitability provisions. According to FINRA, the proposal is designed to more effectively counter the problem of 'churning' or excessive trading in customer accounts. The proposal arrives shortly after the Securities and Exchange Commission's proposal of Regulation Best Interest and illustrates how these two regulators must coordinate in order to avoid inconsistent sets of rules.
FINRA updates FAQs on new mark-up and mark-down disclosure rules for transactions in fixed-income securitiesUSA | 03 April 2018
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has updated its guidance on its recent amendments to Rule 2232. The new requirements apply to transactions with retail customers in corporate and agency debt securities. Beginning on the effective date, FINRA will require confirmation disclosure of additional transaction-related information, including mark-ups and mark-downs. The goal of these new rules is to help retail customers to better understand and compare the costs of these transactions.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently issued a public statement regarding exchanges and other secondary trading platforms that list or facilitate the trading of coins and tokens online. The statement emphasises that platforms offering the trading of digital assets that are securities must register with the SEC as a national securities exchange or operate under an exemption from such registration.
In an unusual step that appears to indicate renewed, if not intensified, scrutiny of public companies' cybersecurity practices by the Securities and Exchange Commission, its five commissioners have unanimously issued guidance covering a range of cybersecurity topics, including disclosure obligations, board oversight and risk management controls. Among other things, companies are advised to make cybersecurity training and compliance a priority company-wide.
In a recent principles-based grant of relief, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) focused on the business activities of the particular issuer, instead of whether a particular asset is a qualifying asset, in determining the availability of the Section 3(c)(5)(C) exemption. Mortgage real estate investment trusts should consider obtaining confirmation from the SEC regarding their own particular business activities in order to avoid any potential future uncertainty.
In the recently released Congressional Budget Justification, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) highlighted a number of priorities. The request notes that the Division of Corporation Finance remains focused on measures designed to promote capital formation. It also references the SEC's intent to "propose amendments to further facilitate capital formation through exempt and registered offerings" and refers to proposed amendments to modernise disclosures applicable to real estate companies.
The Securities and Exchange Commission recently issued a final rule which provides that certain communications relating to security-based swaps (SBS) will not constitute 'offers' for the purposes of Section 5 of the Securities Act 1933. The final rule makes clear that the publication or distribution of certain price quotes relating to SBS, and of certain research reports discussing SBS, will not constitute offers of the related SBS for purposes of Section 5 and thus should not require registration.
The Security and Exchange Commission Division of Investment Management has released a series of frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding the new liquidity rule. The FAQs relate to sub-advised funds and exchange-traded funds that meet redemptions through in-kind transfers of securities, positions and assets other than a de minimis amount of cash and are a timely reminder that the compliance date for the liquidity rule is fast approaching.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently published an update to its regulatory agenda for 2018 as part of a broad rulemaking agenda published by the Office of Management and Budget, which lists the rules that agencies and departments intend to propose or finalise within one year. It appears that the SEC will focus on new regulations that streamline or reduce regulation while delaying consideration of rules that could add regulatory burden.
The Securities and Exchange Commission Division of Corporation Finance recently released a staff legal bulletin which provides new guidance on how staff will evaluate arguments for the omission of a shareholder proposal from their proxy materials and the submission of a proposal by a representative on behalf of a shareholder, among other things. Given the significance of the topics addressed, Senior Special Counsel Matt McNair took time to answer questions regarding the guidance.
Rule 3-13 of Regulation S-X allows the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to permit the omission of financial statements otherwise required by the SEC rules or their substitution by financial statements of a comparable character. The chief accountant of the SEC Division of Corporation Finance has now reminded registrants that the SEC is willing to consider and process Rule 3-13 waiver requests. Under a pilot programme, SEC staff should respond within five days.
The House Financial Services Committee recently approved 23 bills. These included various bills to facilitate capital formation and reduce certain regulatory requirements, such as the Regulation A+ Improvement Act and the Corporate Governance Reform and Transparency Act 2017. The chair of the committee stated that the bills "will provide smaller businesses with greater access to the capital markets so those businesses can grow and create jobs".
A seasoned investment banker established a hedge fund and solicited terminally ill patients to open brokerage accounts as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. Upon the death of a patient, the investment banker exercised the survivor's option and assigned the profits to the hedge fund. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed charges against those behind this investment strategy for possible securities law violations, which were recently dismissed by an SEC administrative law judge.
A New York state administrative law judge recently upheld the denial of a securities rating agency's request for a refund of sales tax. The judge rejected the agency's argument that it had paid the sales tax on behalf of its customers, finding that it did not demonstrate that the tax had not been collected from its customers. The decision seems to elevate form over substance, as it seems logical to conclude that it was the agency that bore the cost of (and actually paid) the sales tax.
In a series of recent no-action letters, the Securities and Exchange Commission published guidance to address concerns by US broker-dealers and investment advisers about how to comply with EU Markets in Financial Instruments Directive rules that limit the use of soft dollars. The long-awaited guidance provides some clarity for financial institutions faced with the dilemma of how to comply with conflicting US and EU regulatory requirements.
Congressmen Ted Budd and Gregory Meeks recently introduced a bipartisan bill, HR 3903, in the US House of Representatives. The bill proposes amendments to the Securities Act 1933, as amended, to increase initial public offering and follow-on activity. The proposed legislation extends three JOBS Act provisions currently available to emerging growth companies to all issuers.
Securities and Exchange Commission Chief Accountant Wesley Bricker recently gave a speech at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants National Conference on Banks and Savings Institutions. Bricker dedicated a portion of the speech to discussing the importance of broker-dealer compliance, as well as regulatory and financial reporting requirements relating to initial coin offerings.
Stephen Deane of the Office of the Investor Advocate recently gave a speech addressing two proposed updates issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) in 2015 that refer to materiality as a legal concept – or rather, rely on the courts to provide the definition of 'materiality'. The FASB held a public roundtable on the proposed updates in March 2017, but they remain under consideration.
SEC approves NYSE proposed rule change requiring advance notice of dividend and stock distribution announcementsUSA | 12 September 2017
The Securities Exchange Commission recently approved the New York Stock Exchange's (NYSE's) proposed rule change amending several sections of its NYSE Listed Company Manual. The changes require listed companies to provide notice to the NYSE at least 10 minutes before making any public announcement about a dividend or stock distribution made at any time, rather than just during the hours of operation of the immediate release policy, which had been the case previously.
Currently pending amendments to Form ADV have a compliance date of October 1 2017 and, as of that date, an adviser filing an initial Form ADV or an amendment to an existing Form ADV must use the revised Form ADV. The staff of the Division of Investment Management recently gave some breathing room to advisers who do not have enough information to respond to new questions required by the recent amendments to Form ADV.
The Security and Exchange Commission's Division of Economic and Risk Analysis recently presented a report to Congress regarding the effects of the Dodd-Frank Act on access to capital for consumers, investors and businesses, and market liquidity. Although the report is principally focused on liquidity, it does provide some interesting statistics regarding the primary issuance of equity securities.
The ranking member of the House Committee on Financial Services, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, recently introduced the Bad Actor Disqualification Act 2017. This draft legislation directs the Securities and Exchange Commission to implement more rigorous and public processes for granting waivers that restore certain benefits to bad actors. These benefits include reduced oversight, reduced disclosure requirements and limited liability.
Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Jay Clayton recently spoke at the US Chamber of Commerce Centre for Capital Markets Competitiveness. During the panel, Clayton discussed a variety of issues, including bad actors and retail fraud, enforcement, proxy reports and disclosure effectiveness, company lifecycles, the effectiveness of the US capital markets, compliance costs and cybersecurity.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently announced that the Division of Corporation Finance will permit all companies to submit draft registration statements relating to initial public offerings for review on a non-public basis. All issuers may submit a registration statement in draft form for an initial registration, as well as for offerings made within the first year after a company has become an SEC reporting company.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently announced a new policy that essentially extends the confidential submission accommodation made available to emerging growth companies to all issuers. As of July 10 2017, the SEC will review a draft initial Securities Act registration statement and related revisions on a non-public basis.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently announced the Securities Exchange Commission's approval of a variety of its proposed rule amendments relating to the upcoming move of the US securities markets to the T+2 settlement cycle. FINRA has also issued an investor alert to help to explain to investors the impact of the upcoming market-wide changes.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently released for comment three regulatory notices that propose amendments to various FINRA rules affecting capital formation. This initiative is part of the comprehensive self-evaluation and improvement initiative that FINRA announced several months ago called the FINRA 360 initiative. The initiative, FINRA's recent request for comment on its engagement efforts and these regulatory notices certainly reflect a new tone.
The District Court for the District of Columbia recently entered a final judgment in National Association of Manufacturers v Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), affirming the prior holding of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the so-called 'Conflict Minerals Rule' violates the First Amendment. The SEC has since issued guidance on the effect of this decision.
The Securities and Exchange Commission recently approved the adoption of a new Financial Industry Regulatory Authority rule which, among other things, permits brokers to place holds on disbursements of funds or securities from the accounts of "specified adult" customers. This includes those 65 and older or those 18 and older who the broker "reasonably believes has a mental or physical impairment that renders that individual unable to protect his or her own interests".
The US District Court for the District of Salt Lake City recently granted the Securities and Exchange Commission's request for a preliminary injunction against Traffic Monsoon after complaining that its operation as a web traffic exchange violated the Exchange Act. This represents the first time that a US district court has affirmatively held that Section 929P(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act supersedes Morrison v National Australia Bank Ltd.
The Securities and Exchange Commission recently adopted an amendment to Rule 15c6-1 under the Securities Exchange Act to shorten the standard settlement cycle for most broker-dealer transactions from three business days after the trade date to two business days. This is designed to enhance efficiency, reduce risk and ensure a coordinated and expeditious transition by market participants to the shortened standard settlement cycle.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed changes to the private placement filer form that FINRA members must complete when submitting private placement filings. The proposed changes will assist FINRA in evaluating the private placement activities of its members and assessing whether members are conducting a reasonable investigation for private placements in which they participate.
A number of bipartisan bills designed to promote capital raising for companies were recently approved by the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. The approved bills include the Fair Access to Investment Research Act 2017, the Supporting America's Innovators Act 2017 and the Securities and Exchange Commission Overpayment Credit Act.
SEC grants limited relief from custody rule for advisers relying on clients' standing letters of instructionUSA | 21 March 2017
In a letter to the Investment Adviser Association, the staff of the Division of Investment Management said that investment advisers acting pursuant to a standing letter of instruction or other similar asset transfer authorisation (SLOA) established by a client with a qualified custodian will be deemed to have custody of client assets for Custody Rule purposes. Nonetheless, the staff will not recommend enforcement action if an adviser, acting pursuant to an SLOA, did not obtain a surprise examination of custody accounts.
A recent cease-and-desist order from the Securities and Exchange Commission illustrates the types of activity and compliance issue that should be causes for concern for registered investment advisers (RIAs) when recommending non-traditional exchange traded funds. The order stated that the RIA wilfully violated the anti-fraud provisions of the Advisers Act and the requirements to maintain policies and procedures designed to prevent violations of the act.
In a recent case, a former investment adviser lost a petition to review and vacate a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) administrative law judge's decision relating to the improper use of backtested information. The case is an illustration of how the improper presentation of backtested information can lead to trouble under the SEC's rules and regulations.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently banned the managing member and chief compliance officer of a registered investment adviser from the securities industry for illegally 'cherry-picking' investments among the adviser's managed accounts. The SEC has alleged that the principal made more than $1.3 million in profits from cherry-picking stocks to be allocated to his account versus client accounts.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently approved the National Securities Clearing Corporation's (NSCC's) proposed rule change to accommodate a second business day after the trade date (T+2) settlement cycle. The technical rule changes will help to support the NSCC's prompt and accurate clearance and settlement of securities transactions made by its members. The SEC also approved NYSE Arca, Inc's proposed rule change to accommodate a T+2 settlement cycle.
The Depository Trust Company (DTC) recently adjusted its eligibility procedures to comply with the Internal Revenue Code. For securities to become and remain DTC eligible securities, issuers must now comply with the new procedures. An officer of the issuer must attest to the applicability of compliance and issuers must provide the DTC with dividend equivalent payments.
The New York City Department of Finance recently took the unusual step of disavowing, through an Audit Division pronouncement, two finance letter rulings that permitted the application of the securities broker-dealer sourcing provisions under the New York City unincorporated business tax to an unregistered broker-dealer.