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For the First Time, The SEC Rewards Cooperation By Entering Into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement

In January 2010, the SEC announced "a series of measures to further strengthen its enforcement program by encouraging greater cooperation from individuals and companies in the agency’s investigations and enforcement actions." One of those measures included the use of Deferred Prosecution Agreements ("DPA"). On Tuesday May 17, the SEC announced that it has entered into its first such agreement, settling an FCPA matter with Tenaris S.A., a global manufacturer of steel pipes. In announcing the settlement, the Commission provided some guidance as to what cooperation was provided by Tenaris in order to earn such the first DPA.…

SEC Completes Its Study Regarding Reducing the Costs to Smaller Issuers For Complying with §404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act

On Friday, April 22, 2011, the SEC released its study and recommendations regarding how the Commission could reduce the burden of complying with Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for companies whose market capitalization is between $75 and $250 million, while maintaining investor protections for such companies. The SEC recommended leaving the Section 404 requirements in place, but stated that further guidance regarding compliance should be provided. The 113-page Study, which was mandated by Section 989G(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act, was prepared by the Staff of the Office of the Chief Accountant of the SEC. A copy of it is available here.…

In Report to Congress, Independent Consultant Recommends Improvements For SEC, But Warns More Funding Will Be Needed, Too

On March 10, 2011, the Boston Consulting Group ("BCG") submitted a Report to Congress examining the internal operations, structure and need for reform at the SEC. As part of its work, BCG reviewed extensive documentation and conducted over 425 interviews. The Report (available here) recommended a series of initiatives designed to optimize the SEC’s resources, but also recommended that Congress consider whether such improvements allow the Commission to meet congressional expectations. If not, Congress will either need to adjust the SEC’s funding or change its role to fit available funding, the Report concluded. 

The Report, mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act, recommended that the SEC:

• reprioritize its regulatory activity, which would include focusing on activities that the Commission deems critical to commerce or to strengthen the SEC itself, scaling back or stopping activities, or delegating them to self-regulatory organizations ("SROs");

• reshape its organization by, among other things, taking into account the reprioritization described above and seeking flexibility on certain offices mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act;

• invest in enabling infrastructure, particularly in the area of information technology and human resources; and

• enhance its role as an overseer and co-regulator with SROs by strengthening its oversight of them and centralizing its contacts with them.

BCG noted however, that its recommendations would only take the Commission "so far," due to constraints its faces: notably civil service laws limit the ability of the agency to attract, retain and manage personnel. The Report noted that, even with these changes, the SEC may …

New Study Shows Number of Securities Class Action Settlements Decreased in 2010, While The Median Settlement Amount Increased

On March 10, 2011, Cornerstone Research announced the results of its latest study: "Securities Class Action Settlements – 2010 Review and Analysis." The Annual Report, which provides detail on settlement summary statistics and an analysis of case characteristics, reviewed the 86 court-approved settlements in 2010, finding that the number of settlements fell to its lowest in ten years and that the total dollar value of settlements fell 17%. However, the median settlement amount increased over 40% in 2010.

One of the co-authors of the report, Professor Laura Simmons of the College of William & Mary, stated in the Press Release: "I don’t expect the sharp drop in the number of settlements to reoccur in the near future; however, the broad-based shift toward higher settlement amounts may persist in upcoming years."

Additional findings announced by Cornerstone include:

• settled cases where there was a corresponding SEC action prior to the class action settlement increased to 30% in 2010 (compared to 20% in 2009), and those cases tend to result in higher settlement amounts;

• the number of class actions involving companion derivative actions fell slightly in 2010 when compared to 2009, but still remain higher than the average number of cases since the passage of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act; and

• approximately 70% of the settlements announced in 2010 were related to violations of generally accepted accounting principals (a 5% increase over 2009) and those cases "continued to be resolved with statistically significant larger settlement amounts" than cases that …