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. The new rules implement Section 14(j) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) as mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act and will require the robust disclosure on hedging policies and practices including a description of any hedging transactions that are specifically permitted or disallowed. The proposed rules had initially been published on February 9, 2015 – see HERE.
Smaller reporting companies and emerging growth companies must comply with the new disclosure requirements in their proxy and information statements during fiscal years beginning on or after July 1, 2020. All other companies must comply in fiscal years beginning July 1, 2019. As foreign private issuers (FPI) are not subject to the proxy statement requirements under Section 14 of the Exchange Act, FPIs are not required to make the new disclosures.
New Item 407(i) of Regulation S-K will require a company to describe any practices or policies it has adopted regarding the ability of its employees, officers or directors to purchase securities or other financial instruments, or otherwise engage in transactions that hedge or offset, or are designed to hedge or offset, any decrease in the market value of equity securities granted as compensation, or held directly or indirectly by the employee or director. The disclosure requirement may be satisfied by providing a full summary of the practices or policies or by including the full policy itself in the disclosure.
The disclosure requirement extends to equity securities of parent and subsidiaries of the reporting company. The rules regulate disclosure of company policy as opposed to directing the substance of that policy or the underlying hedging activities. The rule specifically does not require a company to prohibit a hedging transaction or otherwise adopt specific policies; however, if a company does not have a policy regarding hedging, it must state that fact and the conclusion that hedging is therefore permitted.
The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs stated in its report that Section 14(j) is intended to “allow shareholders to know if executives are allowed to purchase financial instruments to effectively avoid compensation restrictions that they hold stock long-term, so that they will receive their compensation even in the case that their firm does not perform.”
Currently disclosure requirements related to hedging policies are set forth in Item 402(b) of Regulation S-K and are included as part of a company’s Compensation Discussion and Analysis (“CD&A”). CD&A requires material disclosure of a company’s compensation policies and decisions related to named executive officers. Item 402(b) only requires disclosure of hedging policies “if material” and only for named executive officers. Moreover, CD&A is not required at all for smaller reporting companies, emerging growth companies, closed-end investment companies or foreign private issuers.
Hedging transactions themselves may be disclosed in other SEC reports. For example, Form 4 filings by officers, directors and greater than 10% shareholders would include disclosures of hedging transactions involving derivative securities. Hedging transactions involving pledged securities would be included in disclosures related to the beneficial ownership of officers, directors and greater than 5% shareholders in SEC reports such as a company’s annual report, registration statements or proxy materials. However, there is currently no rule that specifically requires the disclosure of hedging policies and that encompasses all reporting issuers.
New Item 407(i) of Regulation S-K
The SEC determined that disclosure of hedging policies constitutes a corporate governance disclosure and, as such, should be contained in Item 407, keeping all corporate governance disclosure requirements in one rule. As indicated above, the final new Item 407(i) of Regulation S-K will:
• require the company to describe any practices or policies it has adopted, whether written or not, regarding the ability of employees, officers, directors or their designees to purchase financial instruments (including prepaid variable forward contracts, equity swaps, collars and exchange funds), or otherwise engage in transactions that hedge or offset, or are designed to hedge or offset, any decrease in the market value of company equity securities granted to the employee, officer, director or designee or held directly or indirectly by the employee, officer, director or designee;
• a company will be required either to provide a fair and accurate summary of any practices or policies that apply, including the categories of persons covered and any categories of hedging transactions that are specifically permitted and any categories that are specifically disallowed, or to disclose the practices or policies in full;
• if the company does not have any such practices or policies, require the company to disclose that fact or state that hedging transactions are generally permitted. Likewise, if a company only has a practice or policy that covers a subset of employees, officers or directors, they would need to affirmatively disclose that uncovered persons are permitted to engage in hedging transactions;
• specify that the equity securities for which disclosure is required include equity securities of the company or any parent, subsidiary, or subsidiaries of the company’s parent. Moreover, the disclosure is not limited to registered equity securities, but rather any class of securities;
• require the disclosure in any proxy statement on Schedule 14A or information statement on Schedule 14C with respect to the election of directors. Disclosure is not required in a Form 10-K even if incorporated by reference from the proxy or information statement; and
• clarify that the term “employee” includes officers of the company.
The essence of Item 407(i) is to disclose any allowable transactions that could result in downside price protection, regardless of how that hedging is achieved (for example, purchasing or selling a security, derivative security or otherwise). Accordingly, the rule specifically does not define the term “hedge” but rather is meant to cover any transaction with the economic effect of offsetting any decrease in market value.
Similarly, the Rule does not define the term “held directly or indirectly” but rather will leave it to a company to describe the scope of their hedging practices or policies, which may include whether and how they apply to securities that are “indirectly” held. To the extent that it is undefined or a person may not be covered based on the definition, again, a company would disclose that hedging is permitted as to those that are not covered.
The new Rule only requires disclosure of policies and practices and not hedging transactions themselves. CD&A requires material disclosure of a company’s compensation policies and decisions related to named executive officers. The new Rule adds an instruction to Item 402(b) related to CD&A such that the required disclosure can be satisfied by the new disclosure required by Item 407(i).
Section 14(j) specifically referred to any employee or member of the board of directors. The final rule clarified that officers are also covered in the disclosure. The Rule covers all employees, regardless of the materiality of their position. As the disclosure is about policies and practices, and does not mandate required policy or practice, the SEC saw no benefit in limiting the disclosure requirement to only certain covered persons. Consistently with the concept of allowing a company to define terms and scope in their adopted policies and practices, the definition and scope of “held directly or indirectly” will be left to a company to describe in its policy, if any, and associated disclosure.