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On December 15, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed a new rule “intended to improve the quality, relevance and timeliness of information related to issuer share repurchases.” Specifically, the new rule would:
SEC Chair Gary Gensler noted the purpose of these amendments is to “lessen the information asymmetries between issuers and investors through enhanced timeliness and granularity of disclosure” and the rule proposal stated that the new rules would provide investors with “more detailed and timely disclosure to monitor and evaluate issuer share repurchases, and their effects on the market for the issuer’s securities.”
Although companies typically disclose overall plans for share repurchases when the plan is authorized by its board of directors, they rarely disclose the specific dates when repurchases are executed under the plan. Currently, there is no disclosure requirement that mandates current disclosures related to repurchase activity by a company.
Item 703 currently requires disclosure on a quarterly basis of any purchase made by or on behalf of an issuer or by someone controlling or acting on behalf of the issuer (referred to as an affiliated purchaser). The disclosure is required in the issuer’s Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q for the first three quarters of its fiscal year and in its Annual Report on Form 10-K covering the fourth quarter. The same disclosure is required in Form 20-F for foreign private issuers on an annual basis. Item 703 currently requires issuers to disclose in tabular format: (a) the number of shares purchased during the relevant period (reported on a monthly basis), (b) the average price paid, (c) whether the shares were purchased pursuant to an announced plan, (d) the remaining amount that may be purchased on announced plans and (e) the nature of the repurchase transaction.
The proposed amendments would require issuers to furnish a new Form SR one business day after the date the issuer or any affiliated purchaser executes a purchase of the issuer’s equity securities that are registered under Section 12 of the Exchange Act.
Proposed Form SR would require the following disclosure in tabular format, by date, for each class securities that are repurchased:
In addition, the rule proposal contemplates that Form SR would be “furnished” rather than filed, which would mean companies would not be subject to liability under Section 18 of the Exchange Act and the information would not be deemed incorporated by reference into a prospectus or other filings under the Securities Act, and therefore, would not be subject to Section 11 liability.
The proposed amendments revise and expand the disclosure requirements in Item 703 in conjunction with the disclosures required under the proposed Form SR. The proposed amendments are intended to provide investors with more detailed and timely information that they can use to evaluate issuer share repurchases. Specifically, the proposed amendments would require the following additional disclosures:
The proposed amendments would require issuers to tag information disclosed pursuant to the new Form SR and Item 703 in inline XBRL in accordance with Rule 405 of Regulation S-T and the EDGAR Filer Manual. The proposed requirements would include detail tagging of quantitative amounts disclosed within the required tabular disclosures and block text tagging and detail tagging of narrative and quantitative information disclosed in the footnotes to the tables required by such forms.
The rules, if adopted as proposed, would fundamentally alter the disclosure requirements in connection with a company’s share repurchases, potentially impacting how a company executes share repurchase transactions and its willingness to do so. The rule appears to be premised on the Commission’s concerns regarding the use by executives of share repurchases for a number of “opportunistic and harmful” purposes, such as decreasing outstanding shares to boost EPS in an effort to meet or beat forecasts and/or trigger EPS-tied incentive compensation payouts targets. The Commission focuses less on the use by many companies of share repurchases for ordinary capital management purposes and in a manner that is consistent with maximizing shareholder value.
We expect public comment on the rule proposal will focus on the appropriateness of a next-business day filing requirement in Form SR. For many companies, a one-day filing requirement could create a significant administrative burden as many companies implementing a share repurchase program enter the market to repurchase securities on successive days and structure their repurchases to fall within the limits of the Rule 10b-18 anti-manipulation safe harbor. Under the proposed rules, a new Form SR would need to be filed each day of repurchase, which could also impact the overall effectiveness of a company’s share repurchase program. A Form SR filing on the day after a repurchase program has commenced would immediately announce a company’s plans, which would tip off other market participants whose opportunistic trading activity could serve to increase the overall cost and reduce the effectiveness of the company’s repurchase program. It is also unclear how the Form SR disclosure requirement would be satisfied in connection with a company’s entry into an accelerated share repurchase program as the information required for the Form SR may not be available on the next business day. The next-business day Form SR disclosure requirement will also impose new obligations on brokers who assist companies with share repurchase transactions as they will need to assist in gathering the information necessary to complete the Form SR filing.
We also expect public comment on the new Item 703 requirement for disclosure of the rationale behind a company’s share repurchase program and the process or criteria the company used to determine the number of shares to repurchase. These disclosures could require companies to reveal information about its share repurchase strategy. It is also unclear from the rule proposal how investors would use this information and what the additional information included as part of the Item 703 table provides to investors that is not included in the disclosure that many companies include in their MD&A.
Also, on December 15, 2021, the Commission proposed a new rule to address the structure of Rule 10b5-1 plans and the disclosures related to the adoption and modification of such plans by insiders and companies. As many companies use Rule 10b5-1 plans in connection with share repurchase transactions, the progression of these new rules, particularly a proposed cooling off period after the adoption or modification of a Rule 10b5-1 plan and new extensive disclosure requirements, will be important to watch. For more details, see SEC Proposes Significant Changes to Rule 10b5-1 and Introduces New Disclosure Requirements.
The comment period for the new rule is 45 days, beginning from the date the rule is first published in the Federal Register, which we expect to occur shortly.