SEC Adopts Amendments to Simplify Disclosure Requirements
In August the SEC voted to adopt amendments to certain disclosure requirements in Regulations S-K and S-X (the “S-K and S-X Amendments”) as well as conforming changes throughout the federal securities laws and related forms. The amendments are intended to simplify and update disclosure requirements that are redundant, duplicative, overlapping, outdated or superseded with the overriding goal of reducing compliance burdens on companies without reducing material information for investors. The new amendments finalize and adopt the proposed rules that had previously been issued on July 13, 2016. See my blog on the proposed rule change HERE. The final rule changes were substantially, but not entirely, as proposed.
The Regulation S-X and S-K Amendments come as a result of the Division of Corporation Finance’s Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative and as required by Section 72002 of the FAST Act. The proposing release also requested public comment on a number of disclosure requirements that overlap with, but require information incremental to, U.S. GAAP to determine whether further changes should be made.
The S-K and S-X Amendments cover:
- Duplicative requirements, including duplications between financial footnote requirements and disclosures in the body of a registration statement or report;
- Overlapping requirements which may not be completely duplicative. The S-K Amendments consider whether to delete certain disclosure requirements that are covered in GAAP or other financial reporting or integrate such disclosures into a single rule source;
- Outdated requirements which have become obsolete due to the passage of time or changes regulations, business or technology; and
- Superseded requirements which are inconsistent with recent legislation or updated rules and regulations.
The amendments are set to go effective thirty (30) days after publication in the federal register. As of the date of this blog, the amendments have not been published. There have been a few blogs and some commentary as to the reason for the delay, but regardless of the reason, the delay has caused some question as to whether certain changes will need to be implemented in the upcoming 10-Q’s to be filed for companies with a September 30 quarter-end. In particular, the new amendments will require companies to present a change in shareholders’ equity as part of its quarterly financial statements, which statement was previously only required in annual reports.
Responding to the marketplace questions, on September 25, 2018, the SEC published a new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretation (C&DI) on the matter. New question 105.09 clarifies that the amendments are effective for all filings made 30 days after publication in the federal register. However, despite this effective date, the SEC would not object if the first quarterly statement of changes in shareholder’s equity is included in a company’s Form 10-Q filed for the quarter that begins after the effective date of the amendments.
Some of the amendments change the location of information in a filing which can have a material impact. Location changes involve:
- Prominence Considerations – the location of a disclosure may provide for a certain level of prominence of the information.
- Financial Statement Considerations – some amendments relocate disclosure from outside to inside the financial statements, thus subjecting the information to audit and internal review, internal controls over financial reporting and XBRL tagging. Furthermore, forward-looking statement safe-harbor protection is not available for information inside the financial statements. Conversely, some amendments relocate disclosures from inside to outside the financial statements.
- Bright-line Disclosure Threshold Considerations – some amendments removed bright-line disclosure requirements.
Redundant or Duplicative Requirements
The Regulation S-K and S-X Amendments eliminate a laundry list of 25 redundant and duplicative disclosures. Most of these changes are technical and nuanced related to particular Regulation S-X GAAP and other financial statement disclosures—for example, foreign currency, financial statement consolidation, income tax disclosures, contingencies and interim accounting adjustments. As these eliminations are duplicative, they will not change the financial reporting or disclosure requirements.
Similar to redundant and duplicative disclosures, the SEC has identified numerous disclosure requirements that are related to, but not exactly the same as, GAAP, IFRS and other SEC disclosure obligations. The Regulation S-K and S-X Amendments delete, scale back or integrate the overlapping disclosures to eliminate the overlap.
The proposed rule release categorized changes as either deleting a disclosure requirement or integrating a requirement with another rule. Some of the proposed changes involved a change in disclosure location, with considerations outlined above in my discussion of disclosure location.
A complete detail of all the Regulation S-K and S-X Amendments related to overlapping disclosures is beyond the scope of this blog; however, a few items deserve discussion.
In general, many of the changes proposed by the SEC relate to interim financial reporting. In some cases where items are fully required to be reported in a Form 8-K, annual report or management discussion and analysis (MD&A), the SEC has eliminated the same or similar requirement from interim financial statements. For example, the SEC eliminated significant business combination pro forma financial statement requirements from interim financial statements for smaller reporting companies and Regulation A filers. The pro forma financial statements are already sufficiently required by Item 9.01 of Form 8-K. However, at this time the SEC retained the financial reporting in interim reports for a significant business disposition or discontinued operation.
In some cases, the SEC eliminated disclosures in financial statements, leaving only the disclosure in the body of the filing. For example, the SEC eliminated segment financial information from the footnotes, leaving it only in the MD&A.
In other cases, the SEC eliminated disclosure in the body of a document in favor of a financial statement disclosure. For example, the SEC eliminated a discussion of warrants, rights and convertible instruments from the body of a Form 10 or S-1, noting that a complete disclosure, including dilution, is required in financial statements.
Not all of the proposed amendments were included in the final S-K and S-X Amendments. For example, rules related to the financial disclosure requirements related to repurchase and reverse repurchase agreements have overlapping provisions. However, the comments to the proposed elimination of these overlapping requirements prompted the SEC to retain the provisions as is, and refer the requirements to FASB for potential incorporation into U.S. GAAP. Similarly, although most of the proposed amendments related to derivative accounting were included in the final rule release, the requirement to disclose where in the statement of cash flows the effect of derivative financial instruments is reported remains, again with a referral to FASB to consider incorporation with U.S. GAAP. Likewise, disclosures related to equity compensation plans remain unchanged but were referred to FASB for potential incorporation with U.S. GAAP.
The SEC has identified disclosure requirement that have become obsolete as a result of time, regulatory, business or technological changes. The Regulation S-K and S-X Amendments amend and sometimes add, but not delete, disclosure as a result of outdated requirements.
Again, most of the outdated requirements are technical (for example, income-tax disclosures) in nature and beyond the scope of this blog. Some are common sense; for example, a reference to information being available in the SEC public reference room has been amended to include only a reference to the SEC Internet address for EDGAR filings. Another common-sense change is the elimination of the requirement to post the high and low bid or trading prices for each quarter for the prior two fiscal years in an annual 10-K. The SEC reasons that the daily market and trading prices of a security are readily available on a number of websites. Moreover, these websites allow for the download and collation of trading prices over periods of time and provide much more robust information than currently contained in a 10-K.
The constant change in accounting and disclosure requirements and regulations have created inconsistencies in Regulation S-K and S-X. The SEC has effectuated amendments to eliminate such inconsistencies. For example, certain provisions in Regulation S-X still refer to development-stage companies, a concept that was eliminated by FASB in June 2014.
The SEC also took this opportunity to clean up some nonexistent or incorrect references that resulted from regulatory changes over time.
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 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. 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.. 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 and HERE related to SEC guidance on same.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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