Yesterday, the SEC continued this year’s rulemaking spree by adopting amendments to enhance and simplify the financial disclosure provisions of Regulation S-K. The amendments are significant — they eliminate the requirement for Selected Financial Data, streamline the requirement to disclose Supplementary Financial Information, and amend MD&A requirements. Read the 196-page adopting release — a tabular summary of the changes begins on page 8.
As noted in the SEC’s press release, the amendments reflect the Commission’s preference for a principles-based approach to disclosure. Here’s an excerpt:
The changes to Items 301, 302, and 303 of Regulation S-K sharpen the focus on material information by:
– Eliminating Item 301 (Selected Financial Data); and
– Modernizing, simplifying and streamlining Item 302(a) (Supplementary Financial Information) and Item 303 (MD&A). Specifically, these amendments:
Revise Item 302(a) to replace the current requirement for quarterly tabular disclosure with a principles-based requirement for material retrospective changes;
Add a new Item 303(a), Objective, to state the principal objectives of MD&A;
Amend current Item 303(a)(1) and (2) (amended Item 303(b)(1)) to modernize, enhance and clarify disclosure requirements for liquidity and capital resources;
Amend current Item 303(a)(3) (amended Item 303(b)(2)) to clarify, modernize and streamline disclosure requirements for results of operations;
Add a new Item 303(b)(3), Critical accounting estimates, to clarify and codify Commission guidance on critical accounting estimates;
Replace current Item 303(a)(4), Off-balance sheet arrangements, with an instruction to discuss such obligations in the broader context of MD&A;
Eliminate current Item 303(a)(5), Tabular disclosure of contractual obligations, in light of the amended disclosure requirements for liquidity and capital resources and certain overlap with information required in the financial statements; and
Amend current Item 303(b), Interim periods (amended Item 303(c)) to modernize, clarify and streamline the item and allow for flexibility in the comparison of interim periods to help registrants provide a more tailored and meaningful analysis relevant to their business cycles.
In addition, the Commission adopted certain parallel amendments to the financial disclosure requirements applicable to foreign private issuers, including to Forms 20-F and 40-F, as well as other conforming amendments to the Commission’s rules and forms, as appropriate.
The amendments will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. Once effective, early application of the amended rules is permitted so long as companies provide disclosure responsive to an amended item in its entirety. Compliance with the amended rules won’t be required until a company’s first fiscal year ending on or after the date that is 210 days after publication in the Federal Register — for calendar-year companies, that will mean mandatory compliance will begin with their Form 10-K for the 2021 fiscal year that’s filed in 2022. For registration statements, companies will be required to apply the amended rules if the registration statement on its initial filing date is required to contain financial statements for a period on or after the mandatory compliance date.
With all the recent SEC rulemaking, you’d be forgiven if you forgot that the SEC just proposed these amendments back in January — and at the time, that Commissioner Allison Herren Lee issued a dissenting statement criticizing the proposal for not addressing climate risk disclosures. The final amendments also don’t address climate risk disclosures. Commissioner Lee issued a joint statement with Commissioner Caroline Crenshaw in which they voice two concerns: first, that the amendments eliminate the contractual obligations table and second, the principles-based disclosure requirements don’t address climate risk.
The last sentence of Commissioner Lee and Crenshaw’s statement says they’re ready to start working on standardized ESG disclosure: ‘There’s no time to waste in setting to ourselves to this task, and we look forward to rolling up our sleeves to establish requirements for standard, comparable, and reliable climate, human capital, and other ESG disclosures.’
-Lynn Jokela, TheCorporateCounsel.net November 20, 2020
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