SEC Climate-Related Disclosure One-Hour Briefings

In this blog post we overviewed the SEC’s new climate-related disclosure rules and mentioned that we would be providing two One-Hour Briefings delving into the details of the rules.  Those briefings, both scheduled for April 18, 2024, are now available for registration:

The SEC’s Revolutionary New Climate Disclosure Requirements – A Deep Dive Into Governance, Strategy, and Risk Disclosures – April 18, 2024 – 1:00 PM EDT

The SEC’s Revolutionary New Climate Disclosures – New Greenhouse Gas Disclosure, Attestation, and Financial Statement Disclosure Requirements– April 18, 2024 – 3:00 PM EDT

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

SEC Adopts Final Rules for Climate-Related Disclosures

In a long-anticipated development, on March 6, 2024, the SEC adopted final rules requiring climate-related disclosures.  The rules add:

    • Non-financial disclosures about climate-related risks, how such risks are managed and related board oversight;
    • Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emission disclosures along with phased-in attestation requirements for large-accelerated and accelerated filers;
    • Financial statement disclosures about “capitalized costs, expenditures expensed, and losses incurred as a result of severe weather events and other natural conditions, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, drought, wildfires, extreme temperatures, and sea level rise, subject to applicable one percent and de minimis disclosure thresholds”;
    • Disclosures about carbon offsets and renewable energy credits or certificates (RECs) if material; and
    • Information about the impact on the estimates and assumptions used to produce the financialstatements from risks and uncertainties associated with severe weather events and other natural conditions and other related issues, if material.

To help companies and advisors implement these new requirements, PLI’s SEC Institute will offer several programs.

We will present two One-Hour Briefings delving into the final rules at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on April 18, 2024.  The first briefing will focus on governance related disclosures and the second briefing will focus on GHG emission and financial statement disclosures.  We will put links to the briefings in this blog as soon as they are available.

Our Midyear Forums will include in-depth discussion of the details of the rules.

We will also have a special conference in the early fall focused on understanding and implementing these extensive new disclosures.  We will put a link to this conference in this blog as soon as it is available.

You can read more in the related Fact Sheet and the Final Rule Release.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

FASB’s Redesigned Website

On January 23, 2024, the FASB launched a redesigned website.  According to the related Media Advisory from the Financial Accounting Foundation, the new website features “streamlined navigation, a simpler menu structure, more attractive and intuitive design, a more robust search algorithm, and more prominent placement of the most important information stakeholders are looking for.”

New websites are in process for the GASB and the FAF.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Chief Accountant Statement on Investor Protection and Auditors

On February 5, 2024, SEC Chief Accountant Dr. Paul Munter issued a Statement titled “An Investor Protection Call for a Commitment to Professional Skepticism and Audit Quality.”  The Statement reminds auditors and audit committees that their ultimate responsibility is to investors.

In the introduction to the Statement Dr. Munter notes that the PCAOB inspection process has found an increase in audit deficiencies over the last several years:

“The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) reported a troubling increase in deficiency rates found in its recent inspections.  In its 2022 inspections of audits performed in 2021, the PCAOB inspections program found that insufficient audit evidence was obtained to support the auditor’s opinion in 40% of inspected audits. In its 2021 inspections, this same deficiency rate was 34%, up from 29% in its 2020 inspections. This is a troubling trendline in PCAOB inspections results.”

He then goes on to state:

“While we believe strongly that most auditors are talented professionals, dedicated to performing high-quality audits, the issues and trends identified in PCAOB inspections in recent years demand the attention and renewed commitment of the entire profession to deliver on its mission of protecting investors.”

The Statement then focuses on two principal areas:

Management’s Role and Auditors’ Exercise of Professional Skepticism in Response to Changing Conditions 

After a discussion focused on several audit issues, including frequent inspection findings and the importance of professional skepticism, the Statement emphasizes that audits are not like other business services:

“Applying professional skepticism can sometimes come at a cost, whether it is budget overruns, conflicts with management, or pressure from within the audit firm to maintain client relationships. But the audit engagement is not a standard business relationship between service provider and client, with profit as the primary goal and indicator of success. Instead, as the Supreme Court recognized, the auditor’s ultimate responsibility is to the investing public.”

The Importance of the Audit Committee in Prioritizing and Promoting Audit Quality

In this section of the Statement Dr. Munter focuses on important aspects of audit committee oversight of the audit process:

“Academic studies highlight the risk that, in some cases, in executing their mandate, audit committees may look to protect the interests of the issuer and its management over the interests of investors.  This risk can arise out of an audit committee’s association or coziness with the issuer or its management or through management’s influence over the audit committee’s supervision of the auditor. We remind audit committees of their role as critical gatekeepers for investor protection through oversight of a high-quality audit and the benefit of having an audit committee that is independent of management.”

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

SEC Clarifies Current Share Repurchase Disclosure Requirements

On December 19, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated the SEC’s May 3, 2023, share repurchase disclosure rules (Chamber of Com. of the USA v. SEC, No. 23-60255 (5th Cir.).   As a result of this decision, CorpFin issued this Announcement on February 9, 2024, clarifying that companies should follow the pre-amendment disclosure requirements in S-K Item 703 to provide monthly information about share repurchase transactions.  The following example from Proctor and Gamble’s June 30, 2023 Form 10-K follows the prior rules:

Note that this disclosure is included in Item 5 of Form 10-K.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

SEC Adopts SPAC Rules and Adds an Enforcement Exclamation Point!

On January 24, 2024, the SEC adopted final rules that create substantial reporting and process changes for SPACs.  The rules were originally proposed on March 30, 2022.  The new rules affect both SPAC IPO and de-SPAC  transactions.  (A de-SPAC transaction occurs when a SPAC merges with an operating company.)  In his Statement on the final rules, Chair Gary Gensler said that the new rules would “better align the protections investors receive when investing in SPACs with those provided to them when investing in traditional IPOs.”

You can find an overview of the voluminous new rules, which create a new Subpart 1600 in Regulation S-K, in this Press Release and the related Fact Sheet.  Highlights of the changes for SPAC IPOs include additional disclosures about SPAC sponsors, SPAC sponsor compensation, conflicts of interest and dilution.  For de-SPAC transactions, new disclosures include additional details about the target company and information about whether the board of the SPAC determined the transaction was advisable for the company and shareholders.  The new rules provide that the 1995 Private Securities Litigation Reform Act safe harbors for forward-looking statements will not be available for SPACs and also change underwriter liability in de-SPAC transactions.

The rules will be effective 125 days after publication in the Federal Register.  Certain information will be tagged with Inline XBRL, but this requirement is not effective until 490 days after publication in the Federal Register.

On January 25, 2024, the day after adopting the new rules, the SEC announced settled charges against Northern Star Investment Corp II, a SPAC, for failing to disclose discussions with a potential acquisition target in its IPO registration statement and de-SPAC transaction Form S-4.  As you can read in the SEC’s Order, the company entered into a cease and desist order and paid a fine of $1.5 million.

You can learn more about the new rules and SPACs in general at two upcoming programs:

A One-Hour Briefing about the final rules on February 14, 2024 – SPAC Developments: SEC Amendments to SPAC IPO and de-SPAC Related Rules, and

Our SPAC Life Cycle: Business, Legal, and Accounting Considerations Forum on April 15, 2024, will discuss the new rules in depth.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.