SEC Approves IEX Proposal to Launch National Exchange, Issues Interpretation on Automated Securities Prices

On June 17, 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) approved the application of Investors’ Exchange LLC (“IEX”) to register as a national securities exchange. Prior to transitioning its operation to a national securities exchange, IEX must satisfy certain standard conditions specified in the SEC’s order, such as “participating in a variety of national market system plans and joining the Intermarket Surveillance Group.”

Additionally, the SEC issued an updated interpretation to the Order Protection Rule under Regulation NMS. The SEC’s updated interpretation determined that a small delay or “speed bump” when accessing automated securities prices will not “prevent investors from accessing stock prices in a fair and efficient manner consistent with the goals of the Order Protection Rule.” Release.

SEC Proposes Rules to Modernize Property Disclosures for Mining Registrants

On June 16, 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced that it had proposed rules to update the disclosure requirements for mining properties. The proposed revisions are meant to align disclosure requirements with “current industry and global regulatory practices and standards.” The proposed rules would, among other updates, revise Regulation S-K to include in a new subpart the SEC’s mining property disclosure requirements. The proposed rules would also rescind Industry Guide 7. Release.

SEC Issues Order Increasing the Net Worth Test Under Rule 205-3 Under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 to $2.1 Million

Section 205(a)(1) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (the “Advisers Act”) generally prohibits an investment adviser from entering into, extending, renewing, or performing any investment advisory contract that provides for compensation to the adviser based on a share of capital gains on, or capital appreciation of, the funds of the client. Rule 205-3 under the Advisers Ac exempts an investment adviser from this prohibition in certain circumstances when the client is a “qualified client.”  The definition of “qualified client” includes an assets under management standard set as $1,00,000 and a net worth test that set at (in the case of a natural person, with assets held jointly with a spouse), more than $2,000,000.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) amended Section 205(e) of the Advisers Act to provide that, by July 21, 2011 and every five years thereafter, the SEC shall adjust for inflation the dollar amount thresholds included in rules issued under Section 205(e), rounded to the nearest $100,000.  Rule 205-3 now states that the SEC will issue an order on or about May 1, 2016, and approximately every five years thereafter, adjusting for inflation the dollar amount thresholds of the rule’s assets-under-management and net worth tests based on the Personal Consumption Expenditures Chain-Type Price Index (published by the United States Department of Commerce).  Based upon this requirement, no change in the assets under management test is required, but the dollar amount of the net worth test would increase to $2,100,000.

Accordingly, on June 14, the SEC issued an Order, effective as of August 15, 2016, that:

  1. for purposes of Rule 205-3(d)(1)(i) under the Advisers Act, a “qualified client” means a natural person who, or a company that, immediately after entering the contract has at least $1,000,000 under the management of the investment adviser; and
  2. for purposes of Rule 205-3(d)(1)(ii)(A) under the Advisers Act, a “qualified client” means a natural person who, or a company that, the investment adviser entering into the contract (and any person acting on his behalf) reasonably believes, immediately prior to entering into the contract, has a net worth (together, in the case of a natural person, with assets held jointly with a spouse) of more than $2,100,000.

SEC Adopts Trade Acknowledgment and Verification Rules for Security-Based Swap Transactions

On June 8, 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission publicized the implementation of “rules that will establish timely and accurate trade acknowledgment and verification requirements for security-based swap (SBS) entities that enter into SBS transactions.”  Press release.

SEC Finds that Private Equity Fund Adviser Acted as Unregistered Broker

On June 1, 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced that a private equity fund advisory firm and its owner agreed to pay more than $3.1 million to settle charges that they engaged in brokerage activity, charged fees without registering as a broker-dealer and committed other securities law violations.

An SEC investigation found that Blackstreet Capital Management, LLC (“Blackstreet”) and its principal performed in-house brokerage services rather than using investment banks or broker-dealers to handle the acquisition and disposition of portfolio companies for a pair of advised private equity funds. Of particular interest is the SEC highlighted that “Blackstreet fully disclosed to its funds and their investors that it would provide brokerage services in exchange for a fee” and that the limited partnership agreements of the advised funds “expressly permitted” the adviser “to charge transaction or brokerage fees.”  However, this did not suffice.

In the press release announcing the Order, Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the SEC Enforcement Division, emphasized that the rules are clear that “before a firm provides brokerage services and receives compensation in return, it must be properly registered within the regulatory framework that protects investors and informs our markets.”

Of note, the Order did not address whether or not Blackstreet offset transaction fees payable by the advised funds against its management fee. This is significant because in April 2013 the Chief Counsel of the SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets gave a speech in which he stated that “to the extent [a private equity fund] advisory fee is wholly reduced or offset by the amount of [a] transaction fee, one might view the fee as another way to pay the advisory fee, which, in my view, in itself would not appear to raise broker-dealer registration concerns.”  Since the Order does not disclose whether or not there was a fee offset in the case presented, it is unclear whether the current SEC staff holds the view expressed by the Chief Counsel in 2013.

 

SEC Adopts Amendment to Form 10-K

On June 1, 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved an interim final rule implementing Section 72001 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The rule allows Form 10-K registrants to provide a summary of business and financial information contained in the annual report, provided that each item in the summary includes a cross-reference by hyperlink to the material contained in the Form 10-K to which such item relates.  The rule will become effective once published in the Federal RegisterRulePress Release.

U.S. Treasury Department Issues White Paper on Online Marketplace Lending Industry

On May 10, 2016, the Department of the Treasury issued a white paper on online marketplace lending that maps the current market landscape, reviews industry insights and offers policy proposals for the road ahead.  Based on approximately 100 responses from online marketplace lenders, financial institutions, investors and other key industry figures, the Treasury, in consultation with the CFPB, FDIC, Federal Reserve Board, FTC, OCC, SBA and SEC, made several notable recommendations and observations.

The white paper explores policies that would expand regulatory oversight, including standardized representations and warranties in securitizations, pricing methodology standards, the implementation of a registry for tracking data on transactions and the reporting of loan-level performance, among others.  In addition, the Treasury mentions potential cybersecurity threats, anti-money laundering, the uneven protections and regulations in place for small business borrowers and the growth of the mortgage and auto loan markets as some of the emerging trends to monitor.  The Treasury is also considering the role of federal agencies in regulating these areas, including the formation of an interagency working group for online market place lending.  Press ReleaseWhite Paper.

The SEC is Seeking Comment on a Joint Agency Proposed Rule Relating to Incentive-based Compensation Arrangements

On May 6, 2016, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Treasury (OCC), the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Board), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued and sought comment on a joint proposed rule to implement section 956 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) relating to the prohibition on and the disclosure of information of incentive-based compensation arrangements.  The deadline for comments is July 22, 2016.  Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Request for Comment.

SEC Issues Order Modifying and Extending the Pilot Period for the National Market System Plan to Address Extraordinary Market Volatility

On April 21, 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued an order extending the pilot period of the National Market System Plan to Address Extraordinary Market Volatility, otherwise known as the limit-up-limit down (“LULD”) plan.

In issuing this order, the Securities and Exchange Commission also modified the LULD plan with respect to the reference price for securities that do not trade in the opening auction on the primary listing exchange. The modified plan now provides that in these circumstances a security’s reference price will be the previous trading day’s closing price or, if no closing price exists, the last reported sale on the primary listing exchange.

The pilot period will expire on April 21, 2017. Release.

SEC’s Division of Investment Management Issues Letter Regarding Independent Verification Required by Rule 206(4)-2 Under the Advisers Act

On April 25, 2016, the Staff of the Division of Investment Management of the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a no-action letter that provides that it would not recommend enforcement action to the Commission under Section 206(4) of, and Rule 206(4)-2 under, the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 if an investment adviser does not obtain a surprise examination by an independent public accountant (as is generally required) where it acts as a sub-adviser in an investment advisory program for which a “related person” “qualified custodian” is the primary adviser (or an affiliate of the primary adviser), and the primary adviser is responsible for complying with Rule 206(4)-2.  A “related person” of another generally is a person who is directly or indirectly controlling or controlled by the other person or under common control with such person.  A “qualified custodian” is a bank, a registered broker-dealer, a registered futures commission merchant and certain foreign financial institutions.”

The Staff’s position was based, in particular, on the following:

  1. the sole basis for the sub-adviser having custody is its affiliation with the qualified custodian and the primary adviser;
  2. the primary adviser will comply with Rule 206(4)-2 (including by having client funds and securities in the investment advisory program verified by a surprise examination conducted by an independent public accountant registered with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) pursuant to an agreement entered into by the primary adviser);
  3. the sub-adviser does not: (i) hold client funds or securities itself; (ii) have authority to obtain possession of clients’ funds or securities; or (iii) have authority to deduct fees from clients’ accounts; and
  4. the sub-adviser will continue to be required to obtain from the primary adviser or qualified custodian annually a written internal control report prepared by an independent public accountant registered with and subject to regular inspection by the PCAOB as required by Rule 206(4)-2(a)(6).