Tag Archives: reg. s-k

MD&A: A New Known-Trend Enforcement Case

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey


One of the “golden rules” of MD&A we discuss in our workshops is “no surprise stock drops”. (Thanks to Brink Dickerson of Troutman Sanders for the rules!) Actually, it is OK if management is surprised with a stock drop. However, it can be problematic if management previously knew of some issue that, when disclosed, causes a surprise stock drop for investors.


The classic start to a known trend enforcement case is a company announcement that results in a stock price drop. On February 26, 2014, UTi, a logistics company, filed an 8-K with news of a severe liquidity problem. UTi’s shares fell to $10.74, a decline of nearly 30% from the prior day’s close of $15.26.


The reason this is an SEC reporting issue is this paragraph from the MD&A guidance in Regulation S-K Item 303 paragraph (a)(3)(ii):


Describe any known trends or uncertainties that have had or that the registrant reasonably expects will have a material favorable or unfavorable impact on net sales or revenues or income from continuing operations. If the registrant knows of events that will cause a material change in the relationship between costs and revenues (such as known future increases in costs of labor or materials or price increases or inventory adjustments), the change in the relationship shall be disclosed. (emphasis added)


If management knows of some sort of uncertainty that could result in a material impact if it comes to fruition, they must evaluate whether they “reasonably expect” this to happen. If they do “reasonably expect” this to happen then it should be disclosed in MD&A.


When there is a surprise stock drop like the one experienced by UTi, the questions the SEC Enforcement Division will ask, to borrow from another context, are “what did management know about the problem” and “when did they know it?”


Enforcement Release, AAER 3877 revealed that the genesis of UTi’s liquidity problem was an issue in the implementation of a new IT system that created billing problems. And, it was clear from the facts, including an internal PowerPoint presentation, that management knew they had a problem well before they filed the 8-K.


However, in their 10-Q for their third quarter ended October 31, 2013, which was filed in December of 2013, UTi did not disclose the liquidity problem. In fact, they said:


Our primary sources of liquidity include cash generated from operating activities, which is subject to seasonal fluctuations, particularly in our Freight Forwarding segment, and available funds under our various credit facilities. We typically experience increased activity associated with our peak season, generally during the second and third fiscal quarters, requiring significant disbursements on behalf of clients. During the second quarter and the first half of the third quarter, this seasonal growth in client receivables tends to consume available cash. Historically, the latter portion of the third quarter and the fourth quarter tend to generate cash recovery as cash collections usually exceed client cash disbursements.


They also made no mention of the implementation problems with their new IT system. They actually said:


Freight Forward Operating System. On September 1, 2013, we deployed our global freight forwarding operating system in the United States. As of that date, based on a variety of factors, including but not limited to operational acceptance testing and other operational milestones having been achieved, we considered it ready for its intended use. Amortization expense with respect to the system began effective September 2013, and accordingly, we recorded amortization expense related to the new application of approximately $3.3 million during the third quarter ended October 31, 2013.


Hence the surprise when the 8-K disclosed the problems. Both the CEO and CFO are also named in the Enforcement Release and paid penalties.


As mentioned above, the probability standard for disclosure is “reasonably expects”. More about this complex probability assessment in our next post!


As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Disclosure Effectiveness – The Saga Continues

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey

A not so long, long time ago (OK, sorry Arlo Guthrie), and over a very reasonable period, the SEC began its Disclosure Effectiveness initiative. As you have likely heard (and can read about here), the Staff has sought comment and feedback about a variety of issues, including a lengthy release dealing with Regulation S-K and another dealing with various “financial statements of others” requirements in Regulation S-X.

The latest disclosure simplification development is a 26-page Staff report required by the FAST Act titled “Report on Modernization and Simplification of Regulation S-K”. It addresses a variety of areas ranging from properties to risk factors. Included are several interesting ideas such as requiring year-to-year comparisons in MD&A for only the current year and prior year and including hyperlinks to prior filings for prior comparisons.

The report is a thoughtful and interesting step in this challenging process.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Year End Planning Topic 3 – The New Item 16 Form 10-K Summary (and Disclosure Philosophy!)

Everyone who works with SEC periodic reports knows that making changes to disclosure is not a simple process. Reporting involves so many stakeholders and so many approval points that without an early start it is almost impossible to make improvements (or even simple changes such as formatting!).

This post is about one possible change that will need some time for consideration, adding the new Item 16 summary. With this reminder hopefully you will have enough time to consider whether this optional item makes sense for you.

This kind of summary has always been permitted, or at least never prohibited. However, in the process of making periodic reports more about communication than compliance, the FAST Act required the SEC to formally put a summary into Form 10-K, hence new Item 16. You can read the text of Item 16 in this post.

Your Communication Philosophy

If you read a lot of Form 10-K’s (and what is more fun than that?) you will see a variety of communication styles. We discuss different communication styles or “philosophies” in our workshops. We encourage companies to articulate their “philosophy” of disclosure.

To simplify a bit, some companies adopt a very “compliance” based philosophy for disclosure. In this model companies disclose what the SEC requires to be disclosed and essentially nothing more. This can be done in a fairly mechanical fashion and is usually very simple and direct, if not almost terse.

At the other end of a disclosure spectrum some companies adopt a more “communications” based philosophy where they disclose more than the bare bones requirements in an effort to tell a more complete “story” of how their company operates.

A simple example of this difference can be found in Form 10-K Item 1. This is the description of the business and the required disclosures are in Regulation S-K Item 101. Nowhere in Item 101 is there any requirement to disclose a company’s business strategy. And many companies do not say anything about the strategic orientation of their business. And yet, many companies discuss their strategy at length. Check out the differences in these two companies:

Here is a very well done example for an SRC (Golden Enterprises) of the compliance approach. Golden makes snack foods and does a simple, direct presentation. (Also, best potato chips ever!)

Here is another well-done example of a company (Square) that uses a more communications oriented approach. Square is a payment processor and supports businesses in many ways.

To be clear, there is no right or wrong way in this discussion; we are talking about a judgment you need to make. So, why do some companies disclose more than the S-K requirement?   These companies are considering disclosure as more than a compliance process. They are using the reporting process as a communications tool.

If you are going to focus more on communication the SEC’s Interim Final Rule about a Form 10-K summary could be a new element in your communication strategy. Almost every business writer will suggest that an executive level overview for a long document is a good communication strategy.

FR 72 suggested this for MD&A way back in 2003:

Many companies’ MD&A could benefit from adding an introductory section or overview that would facilitate a reader’s understanding. As with all disclosure, what companies would appropriately include in an introduction or overview will depend on the circumstances of the particular company. As a general matter, an introduction or overview should include the most important matters on which a company’s executives focus in evaluating financial condition and operating performance and provide the context for the discussion and analysis of the financial statements. Therefore, an introduction or overview should not be a duplicative layer of disclosure that merely repeats the more detailed discussion and analysis that follows.

In recent remarks the SEC staff has said they are seeing more companies using their filings as communication documents and this trend certainly fits into the SEC’s disclosure effectiveness program.

So, as you get into your annual reporting process, be sure you articulate this overall strategy for disclosure, and if you think it appropriate, put consideration of the new Item 16 summary into your thought process.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Jeepers, You Say There is More Non-GAAP News?

In the latest step in the SEC’s continuing efforts to, in the words of Corp Fin Chief Accountant Mark Kronforst, “crack down” on the inappropriate use of non-GAAP measures, on May 17, 2016 the SEC updated their Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations about the use of non-GAAP measures.

(At this point we almost want to apologize for how many recent posts we have done about non-GAAP measures, but this new guidance is important.)

You will find them at:


If you use non-GAAP measures anywhere, earnings releases, MD&A, wherever, read them!

To help you get started, here are a couple of highlights.

This first question is a broad theme in current SEC public remarks, as we have discussed them in recent posts:

Question 100.01

Question: Can certain adjustments, although not explicitly prohibited, result in a non-GAAP measure that is misleading?

Answer: Yes. Certain adjustments may violate Rule 100(b) of Regulation G because they cause the presentation of the non-GAAP measure to be misleading. For example, presenting a performance measure that excludes normal, recurring, cash operating expenses necessary to operate a registrant’s business could be misleading. [May 17, 2016]

This C&DI clarifies issues about per-share presentations:


Question 102.05

Question: While Item 10(e)(1)(ii) of Regulation S-K does not prohibit the use of per share non-GAAP financial measures, the adopting release for Item 10(e), Exchange Act Release No. 47226, states that “per share measures that are prohibited specifically under GAAP or Commission rules continue to be prohibited in materials filed with or furnished to the Commission.” In light of Commission guidance, specifically Accounting Series Release No. 142, Reporting Cash Flow and Other Related Data, and Accounting Standards Codification 230, are non-GAAP earnings per share numbers prohibited in documents filed or furnished with the Commission?


Answer: No. Item 10(e) recognizes that certain non-GAAP per share performance measures may be meaningful from an operating standpoint. Non-GAAP per share performance measures should be reconciled to GAAP earnings per share. On the other hand, non-GAAP liquidity measures that measure cash generated must not be presented on a per share basis in documents filed or furnished with the Commission, consistent with Accounting Series Release No. 142. Whether per share data is prohibited depends on whether the non-GAAP measure can be used as a liquidity measure, even if management presents it solely as a performance measure.  When analyzing these questions, the staff will focus on the substance of the non-GAAP measure and not management’s characterization of the measure. [May 17, 2016]


As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Message From Enforcement: Metrics Matter!

Metrics, measures of performance drivers outside the financial statements, have become a larger part of how companies communicate with investors in recent years. As with all communication tools, a carefully planned, balanced presentation is important. Well-designed metrics can provide greater insight into the fundamentals of a company’s operations.

As with other elements of financial reporting, metrics can be misused. A metric could be poorly designed and not really correlate with financial performance. A metric could also be misstated or manipulated.

Poorly Designed Metrics

Many tech companies have complex and hard to understand revenue models. Measures such as “daily active users” and “monthly active users” can help users understand a company’s performance. That said, the link between the metric and performance needs to be clear. The CorpFin Staff has written many comments about this issue. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. In your various quarterly earnings calls, we note your discussion of the performance of your business in terms of the “add/quit metric” and “uniform wearer losses” (based upon changes in the number of uniform wearers within particular sectors of your customer base). We further note this is your fourth consecutive quarter of negative uniform wearer losses. Please expand your MD&A to include this information as well as a discussion of any trends or uncertainties. Additionally, the add/stop metric appears to have a meaningful impact on operating margins and growth rate. Please expand your disclosure to provide a complete picture of the relationship between the add/quit metric, operating margins, and growth rate for each material sector of your customer base. Please refer to Item 303(a)(3) of Regulation S-K and Section III.B.1. of SEC Release 33-8350.


  1. We note your statement that your results are highly dependent on comparable store sales. We further note that your comparable store sales have declined over the last three years and within each year have generally declined each quarter. We also note your statements that your comparable store sales are difficult to predict in the current competitive landscape and may get marginally worse before they get better. Given the importance of this metric to your results and its significant decline over the last three fiscal years, please tell us and disclose in more detail the factors that contributed to this decline, such as any significant declines in prices, including significant increases in your promotional activity, any significant declines in the volume of items sold, any change in the mix of products being sold or any other material factors that had a significant impact on the decline in your comparable store sales. While this decline in comparable store sales may ultimately be driven by your competitive environment, we believe a more detailed discussion of changes in intermediate factors such as price and volume will provide more transparency to your investors as to how you are affected by this competition, any steps management has taken to mitigate the impact of this competition and the success of management’s strategies. Refer to Item 303(a)(3)(iii) of Regulation S-K and SEC Release No. 33-8350.


Misstated Metrics and Enforcement

When companies present metrics, they should be very careful to use a balanced approach to the information and use the metric consistently to avoid presenting potentially misleading information. We discussed many of these issues in our One-Hour Briefing about Non-GAAP Measures and Metrics. You can find the briefing at:




One really “old school” example metric would be the financial ratio gross margin. It is not a non-GAAP measure so long as it is computed using the revenues, cost of sales and gross margin lines on a company’s income statement. For retailers, it is a crucial measure of performance. Gross margin trend over time can have a significant impact on how investors view a retailer.

In a recent enforcement case the SEC fined a large outdoor products retailer and its CFO for manipulating their gross margin and then misstating why gross margin changed. The source of the issue was a fee the company charged to its wholly owned banking subsidiary. In the retailer’s financial statements the fee was used to reduce cost of sales and thus increase gross margin. Such a fee would normally be eliminated in consolidation. Here though, the company failed to eliminate this intercompany transaction. As a result, in the consolidated financial statements the net income of the financing part of the business was understated and the gross margin of the retailing part of the business was overstated. Additionally, the company did not disclose that this intercompany fee had increased their gross margin and actually attributed the increase to other causes.


Here is a quote from the enforcement order:

This in turn increased ——– merchandise gross margin percentage, a key company-specific financial metric that signaled the profitability of the company and was referenced by the company in earnings releases and analysts calls.


The end result: Enforcement!

And, a clear message, manipulating metrics can get a company into just as much trouble as manipulating the financial statements!

You can read the enforcement release at:



As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Comment of the Week – The Mystery of Market Risk Disclosures

Market Risk Disclosures are one area that many participants in our workshops seem to shy away from. This Item is one of the less well understood disclosures in Forms 10-K and 10-Q. The mechanics of writing the disclosure are, well, at best, mysterious.

With all the volatility in exchange rates, oil prices and other markets in the current environment these disclosures will likely become more important for many companies this year end. Because of this, we thought “going to go back to the basics” of this disclosure would be helpful in many companies’ year end process. So, this post includes a review of the objective of the disclosure and some tips to navigate the requirements in S-K Item 305 as you prepare the disclosure.

Since this is a comment of the week post, there are also some comments at the end of the post. If you are already comfortable with what market risk disclosures are about and how they work, you can skip to the end!

Objective of the Disclosure

To prepare these disclosures well it is crucial to understand their objective, what they are supposed to tell a reader. To understand this objective the first step is to understand what kind of risk the term “Market Risk” means. Market risk is a term that can be interpreted in a number of different ways ranging from the market for a particular product to market driven rates such as interest rates or commodity prices.

Deep in the body of Regulation S-K – Item 305, likely one of the most challenging reads in all of Regulation S-K, you find these instructions:

Instructions to paragraph 305(b): 1. For purposes of disclosure under paragraph 305(b), primary market risk exposures means:

  1. The following categories of market risk: interest rate risk, foreign currency exchange rate risk, commodity price risk, and other relevant market rate or price risks (e.g., equity price risk); and
  2. Within each of these categories, the particular markets that present the primary risk of loss to the registrant. For example, if a registrant has a material exposure to foreign currency exchange rate risk and, within this category of market risk, is most vulnerable to changes in dollar/yen, dollar/pound, and dollar/peso exchange rates, the registrant should disclose those exposures. Similarly, if a registrant has a material exposure to interest rate risk and, within this category of market risk, is most vulnerable to changes in short-term U.S. prime interest rates, it should disclose the existence of that exposure.

To paraphrase, these disclosures are not about the “market” for a product like computers or smartphones. They are about the risks a company faces from market driven prices like interest rates or commodity prices. So, while the market for smart phones could affect a company, the Market Risk Disclosures are about issues like how a change in interest rates could affect a company if the company has significant investments or borrowings.

And that brings us to the next step in understanding the objective of these disclosures. Once we know what sort of market risk we need to describe, what should we say about it?

In S-K Item 305(a)(1)(ii)(A) you will find this language:

“sensitivity analysis disclosure that expresses the potential loss in future earnings, fair values, or cash flows of market risk sensitive instruments resulting from one or more selected hypothetical changes in interest rates”

In other words, this disclosure is designed to help a reader assess how much a change in a market driven price, such as an interest rate or a commodity price, would affect the business.

Conceptually what this disclosure is about is fairly easy to understand. However, the application of S-K Item 305 is complex. It requires both qualitative and quantitative information   Our review here is fairly brief. S-K Item 305 has a maze of detailed rules. If you will be drafting or reviewing the disclosure you should refer to the actual S-K language. Also, the comments below illustrate several of the complexities in this rule.

Qualitative Disclosures

The logical place to start drafting is with qualitative disclosures. Knowing what a company’s market risks are is necessary before quantitative information will make sense to a reader. Unfortunately, in Item 305, the qualitative disclosures are sort of hard to find, as they are not the first thing listed. You can find them in paragraph (b), which says:

(b) Qualitative information about market risk.

(1) To the extent material, describe:

(i) The registrant’s primary market risk exposures;

(ii) How those exposures are managed. Such descriptions shall include, but not be limited to, a discussion of the objectives, general strategies, and instruments, if any, used to manage those exposures; and

(iii) Changes in either the registrant’s primary market risk exposures or how those exposures are managed, when compared to what was in effect during the most recently completed fiscal year and what is known or expected to be in effect in future reporting periods.

This qualitative information is really pretty simple; say what market driven prices such as interest rates, exchange rates, commodity prices or other types of prices affect the company; talk about how you manage them; and tell if they have changed. Note that the rules do not require that a company manage these risks, so if you don’t manage them, you should disclose that, along with the other information in (b) (10) above.  (Here is one place to review Item 305 in detail, as this disclosure needs to be broken down in pretty specific ways by type and source of risk.)

Quantitative Disclosures

The second part of this disclosure is quantitative, and is designed to help a reader understand how much a hypothetical change in market prices or rates could affect the business. Again, this is a very detailed requirement, but in essence starts with a choice among three alternatives:

Tabular Disclosure

S-K Item 305(a)(1)(i)(A)(1) describes a tabular presentation of information related to market risk sensitive instruments. This information includes fair values of the market risk sensitive instruments and contract terms sufficient to determine future cash flows from those instruments, categorized by expected maturity dates. In essence you are providing a reader with the input they could use to build a spreadsheet, make a price change assumption, and see how much the price change would affect the company’s income, cash flows or fair values.

Sensitivity Analysis

S-K Item 305(a)(1)(ii)(A) describes a sensitivity analysis disclosure that expresses the potential loss in future earnings, fair values, or cash flows of market risk sensitive instruments resulting from one or more selected hypothetical changes in interest rates, foreign currency exchange rates, commodity prices, and other relevant market rates or prices over a selected period of time. In essence, in this disclosure you build your own spreadsheet and assume a hypothetical change in rates or prices and compute the impact.

Value at Risk Analysis

S-K Item 305(a)(1) (iii)(A) describes value at risk disclosures that express the potential loss in future earnings, fair values, or cash flows of market risk sensitive instruments over a selected period of time, with a selected likelihood of occurrence, from changes in interest rates, foreign currency exchange rates, commodity prices, and other relevant market rates or prices. This is actually a complex econometric modeling process, and we won’t discuss it any further in this post. If your treasury or risk management group already uses this technique to assess risk it may well be a good disclosure option.

Again, this is very complex disclosure. You can choose one of the three alternatives for different risks, however you must disclose the most significant impact based on future earnings, fair values, and cash flows. Therefore, you must calculate the impact of a price change on income, cash flows and fair value to determine which has the greatest change, and thus is disclosed. Of course, If future earnings had the greatest impact last year, and this year the greatest impact is in fair value, then you would need to recast the prior year. These are only some of the judgments necessary to prepare this disclosure.
One last note, as you can see this disclosure is very forward looking, and is another reason the 1995 Private Securities Litigation Reform Act safe harbors are so important!
Example Comments

Last but not least, as this is a comment of the week post, here are some comments. Notice the focus on simple compliance with the S-K Item 305 disclosure requirements!

Foreign Currency Fluctuations, page 37

  1. We note from your disclosure on page 28 and in Note 26 that a substantial portion of your cash is held by foreign subsidiaries and 46% of your net sales to unaffiliated customers for fiscal 2014 were attributed to your foreign subsidiaries, respectively. We believe your market risk disclosures should be enhanced to provide a more robust discussion of the effects of foreign currency risk on your results of operations and financial condition. Additionally, your discussion of this market risk does not appear to comply with the guidance outlined in Item 305 of Regulation S-K. Please revise to expand your discussion of foreign currency risk to comply with one of the disclosure alternatives in Item 305(a) of Regulation S-K.

Quantitative and qualitative disclosure about market risk, page 70

  1. Please tell us how you considered the disclosures required by Item 305(a) of Regulation S-K with respect to your term loan.

Item 7A. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosure About Market Risk

Foreign Currency Risk, page 125

  1. Please tell us what consideration you gave to providing a sensitivity analysis for each currency (e.g., British Pounds and Euro) that may have an individually significant impact on future earnings.

Item 7A – Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk, page 30

  1. We note your quantitative disclosure of interest rate risk associated with your investments in cash and cash equivalents and investment securities. We also note that your disclosure does not address market risk for other financial instruments such as the senior unsecured notes. Please revise to include qualitative and quantitative information about market risk in accordance with one of the three disclosure alternatives within Item 305 of Regulation S-K and that addresses the interest rate risk for the senior unsecured notes.