Risk Factors: “Active Shooters” Join the Parade of Horribles
Given the times in which we live, I guess it’s not surprising that some companies have added “risk factor” disclosure about the potential implications of an active shooter to their SEC filings. Here’s an excerpt from a WSJ article:
A handful of public companies have begun quietly warning investors about how gun violence could affect their financial performance. Companies such as Dave & Buster’s Entertainment Inc., Del Taco Restaurants Inc. and Stratus Properties Inc., a Texas-based real-estate firm, added references to active-shooter scenarios in the “risk factor” section of their latest annual reports, according to an analysis of Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The Cheesecake Factory Inc. has included it in its past four annual reports.
So, what do these risk factors look like? Here’s what The Cheesecake Factory said in its 2019 10-K (pg. 25):
Any act of violence at or threatened against our restaurants or the centers in which they are located, including active shooter situations and terrorist activities, may result in restricted access to our restaurants and/or restaurant closures in the short-term and, in the long-term, may cause our customers and staff to avoid our restaurants. Any such situation could adversely impact customer traffic and make it more difficult to fully staff our restaurants, which could materially adversely affect our financial performance.
Dave & Buster’s 10-K included identical language. The language in Del Taco’s 10-K , and Stratus’s 10-K was a little different. While I understand why companies are doing this, I’m not sure this kind of thing is what risk factor disclosure is intended to capture. Our tendency (mine too) to throw any item that’s been added to our national anxiety closet into a risk factor isn’t very helpful to investors. The problem is that not all disclosure adds value – some just creates “noise.”
In the U.S., we’ve learned that an active shooter is the kind of random event could happen to anyone, and the effect of such an event on any business would be terrible. So to me, it’s sort of like getting struck by a killer asteroid. I think this is the kind of thing that Judge Easterbrook was getting at in this excerpt from his 1988 opinion in Weilgos v. Commonwealth Edison:
Issuers need not “disclose” Murphy’s Law or the Peter Principle, even though these have substantial effects on business. . . Securities laws require issuers to disclose firm-specific information; investors and analysts combine that information with knowledge about the competition, regulatory conditions, and the economy as a whole to produce a value for stock.
But let’s face it – you’re not going to change your approach here and neither am I. That’s because while we can debate risk factor metaphysics, the reality is that the explosive growth in event-driven securities class actions is a big part of our personal anxiety closets too.
-John Jenkins, TheCorporateCounsel.net August 12, 2019
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