Is Your Bank Stressed Out? OCC Follows Fed on Proposed Stress-Test Changes

On September 10, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) published proposed revisions to its information collecting regulations related to the Dodd-Frank Act’s “stress test” for large national banks and federal savings associations.

Section 165(i)(2) of the Act requires certain financial institutions, including national banks and federal savings associations that have at least $10 billion in total consolidated assets (“covered institutions”), to conduct annual “stress tests” and report the findings to the Federal Reserve System and the institution’s primary governing regulatory agency. In July, the Fed proposed changes to its stress test rules, including revisions to almost twenty schedules that must be completed by covered institutions with over $50 billion in total consolidated assets, and changes to the institutions’ filing deadlines. The OCC’s proposed revisions would bring its reporting requirements in line with the Fed’s proposed requirements. Read More

The MCDC Initiative: Round One Is Underway

The clock will strike on the first self-report deadline under the SEC’s Municipalities Continuing Disclosure Cooperation Initiative (the “MCDC Initiative”) at 12:00 a.m. EST on September 10, 2014.  Under the MCDC Initiative, underwriters and issuers of municipal securities may choose to self-report any potential, materially inaccurate statements relating to prior compliance with continuing disclosure obligations in exchange for a recommendation of “favorable settlement terms.”  Under the terms of the original SEC announcement, the deadline for both underwriters and issuers was September 10.  But the SEC announced a set of modifications to the MCDC Initiative on July 31, 2014, including a shift to a piecemeal approach whereby the deadline for underwriters went unchanged but the deadline for issuers was moved to December 1, 2014.  This decision was admonished in an August 28, 2014 letter from U.S. Representatives Steve Stivers and Krysten Sinema to SEC Chair Mary Jo White, in which they “urge[d] the SEC to extend the self-reporting deadline for dealers to match the deadline for issuers” because there “simply is no justification for separate reporting deadlines.” Read More

Does Being an ‘Expert’ Make You an Expert?

Earlier this month, Judge Victor Marrero of the Southern District of New York issued his opinion certifying a class of buyers of the common stock of a company created by a Chinese reverse merger.  McIntire v. China MediaExpress Holdings, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 113446 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 15, 2014).  In doing so, he rejected defendants’ Daubert motion challenging the qualifications and methodology of plaintiffs’ expert witness on market efficiency, Cynthia Jones, and concluded that the market was efficient enough to support the Basic presumption of reliance and to permit class certification.  Read More

How Far Does Section 10(b) Reach? The Second Circuit Says That A Domestic Transaction Is Necessary, But Not Sufficient, To Invoke U.S. Securities Laws

In a long-awaited opinion issued on August 15 in Parkcentral v. Porsche, the Second Circuit limited the extraterritorial reach of the U.S. securities laws, affirming the dismissal of securities claims brought by parties to swap agreements that were entered into in the United States but were based on the price of foreign securities.  Although the Parkcentral opinion offers an important interpretation of the Supreme Court’s 2010 opinion in Morrison v. National Australia Bank, the Second Circuit declined to set forth a bright-line rule for determining when a securities fraud claim based on domestic transactions in foreign securities is sufficiently “domestic” to be subject to U.S. securities laws, thereby leaving the door open to future litigants to confront this issue in securities cases involving foreign elements.

In Morrison, the Supreme Court found that Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act does not apply extraterritorially based on a lack of congressional intent to overcome the strong presumption against the extraterritorial application of domestic laws.  In so holding, the Court rejected a long line of Second Circuit cases that allowed the application of Section 10(b) to claims involving foreign securities so long as the claims involved either significant conduct in the U.S. or some effect on U.S. markets or investors.  The Supreme Court reasoned that the Second Circuit’s so-called “conduct test” and “effects test” improperly extended the geographic reach of the U.S. securities laws beyond Congress’s intent, and would interfere with foreign countries’ own securities regulations.  Instead, the Court adopted a new “clear test,” holding that Section 10(b) applies only to claims based on: (1) “transactions in securities listed on domestic exchanges” or (2) “domestic transactions in other securities.”

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No “Loos” Causation From Mere Announcement Of Internal Investigation

Securities fraud actions are often filed on the heels of an announcement of an internal or SEC investigation.  A recent Ninth Circuit decision, Loos v. Immersion Corp., may make it easier for company executives to sleep at night following such an announcement.  The Ninth Circuit has joined a growing number of circuits holding that the announcement of an internal investigation, standing alone, is insufficient to show loss causation at the pleading stage. Read More

Can You Hear the Whistle Blowing?: SEC Punishes Company that Did Not Address Fraud Allegations by Whistleblower

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission recently announced the latest whistleblower bounty awarded under the Dodd-Frank Act, which authorizes rewards for original information about violations of securities laws.  Whistleblowers can receive 10 percent to 30 percent of the money collected in an SEC enforcement action where the monetary sanctions imposed exceed $1 million.

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Judge Rakoff’s “Sour Grapes”: SEC v. Citigroup Settlement Approved

On August 5, 2014, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff reluctantly approved a$285 million settlement in the SEC’s enforcement action against Citigroup.  In SEC v. Citigroup, the SEC alleged that after Citigroup realized in early 2007 that the market for mortgage-backed securities was beginning to weaken, it created a billion-dollar fund to sell some of these assets to investors without disclosing either that Citigroup had exercised significant influence in selecting the assets to include in the fund and had itself retained a $500 million short position in the assets it had helped select.

Judge Rakoff initially declined to approve the proposed consent judgment because he said it lacked “sufficient evidence to enable it to assess whether the agreement was fair, adequate, reasonable, and in the public’s interest.”  He was forced to reconsider that position when the Second Circuit ruled, on appeal, that the “primary focus of the [district court’s] inquiry . . . should be on ensuring the consent decree is procedurally proper, . . . taking care not to infringe on the SEC’s discretionary authority to settle on a particular set of terms.” Read More

SEC Can’t Pass On Pot Stock Puffery

Corporations facing federal securities suits can sometimes avoid liability by claiming that their forward-looking statements were so vague or indefinite that they could not have affected the company’s stock price and are therefore not material.  Such statements are not actionable because courts consider them “puffing,” famously described by Judge Learned Hand nearly 100 years ago as “talk which no sensible man takes seriously.”  Though we cannot know today what Judge Hand would think of the civil complaint recently filed by the SEC against several marijuana-company stock promoters, it’s safe to say that this isn’t the kind of ‘puffing’ he had in mind.

The defendants in the SEC civil action are all stock promoters, most of whom operate websites where they promote stocks, including microcap or so-called “penny” stocks.  The SEC alleges that the defendants promoted shares in microcap companies related to the marijuana industry. For example, one of the companies, Hemp Inc., claims to be involved with medical marijuana.  According to the SEC, three of the defendants bought and sold more than 40 million shares in Hemp Inc. in order to give the appearance that there was an active market in the company’s stock.  In reality, the transactions allegedly consisted of wash trades and matched orders.  A wash trade occurs when a security is traded between accounts, but with no actual change in beneficial ownership, while a matched order entails coordinating buy and sell orders to create the appearance of trading activity.  As the defendants were allegedly generating trading activity, they were also allegedly promoting the stock on the Internet, touting “a REAL Possible Gain of OVER 2900%” in Hemp Inc. stock.  Wow, that is high.

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On a Roll: The SEC Continues to Deliver on its Promise to Seek Admissions of Wrongdoing

The SEC announced last week that it has obtained yet another admission of wrongdoing in connection with an agreement to settle an SEC enforcement action.  This time, Peter A. Jenson, the former COO of Harbinger Capital Partners LLC, admitted that he aided and abetted Harbinger’s CEO, Philip Falcone, in obtaining a fraudulent loan from Harbinger.  Jenson agreed to a $200,000 penalty along with a two-year suspension from practicing as an accountant on behalf of any SEC-regulated entity.  The settlement awaits court approval.

The Jenson settlement is the latest in a series of settlements in which the SEC has obtained admissions of wrongdoing since announcing changes to its “no admit/no deny” settlement policy in June 2013. Other examples include the March 2014 Lions Gate settlement, the February 2014 Scottrade settlement, and the August 2013 Falcone/Harbinger settlement that settled charges related to those Jenson settled last week.    Read More