SEC Clarifies Stance on Spring-Loaded Compensation Awards

By: Lucosky Brookman
SEC Clarifies Stance on Spring-Loaded Compensation Awards

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued proposed amendments to Rule 10b5-1 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 on December 15, 2021. These amendments aim to strengthen investor protections by boosting disclosure requirements related to insider trading.

The proposed amendments to Rule 10b5-1 address concerns that the existing affirmative defense has been exploited by traders, potentially leading to opportunistic trading based on material nonpublic information. Moreover, academic research indicates that corporate insiders using Rule 10b5-1 trading arrangements often outperform other executives and directors. The amendments are intended to curtail these potential abuses.

Insider trading laws, based heavily on court precedents, can be complex. Broadly, insider trading is prohibited by Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5. This framework sets out prohibitions against fraudulent and deceptive practices in the securities market. Rule 10b5-1, in particular, provides an affirmative defense for parties regularly exposed to material nonpublic information.

The proposed changes to Rule 10b5-1 introduce several new requirements. These include a 'cooling off' period before trading can commence under a plan, a prohibition on overlapping trading plans, and a limit of one single-trade plan per twelve-month period. The amendments would also require officers and directors to provide written assurances of no knowledge of material nonpublic information at the time they enter into trading plans.

Further, the SEC proposes enhanced transparency around corporate policies and practices concerning insider trading. New obligations would demand detailed disclosures on company insider trading policies, the timing of options grants, and the release of material nonpublic information. Companies would have to report options granted within 14 days of releasing such information, the market price of the underlying securities a day before and after this disclosure, and specify whether transactions were made according to a Rule 10b5-1(c) trading plan.

To provide a stronger defense against insider trading liability, the proposed amendments stipulate several new conditions for Rule 10b5-1(c)(1). Key requirements include a 120-day cooling-off period for corporate officers and directors and a 30-day period for companies before trading can begin under the adopted plan. Officers and directors must certify unawareness of any material nonpublic information when adopting a plan. Also, the defense would not apply to overlapping Rule 10b5-1 trading plans, and arrangements must be entered into and operated in good faith.

In essence, the SEC's proposed changes to Rule 10b5-1 aim to foster a more transparent and accountable trading environment. By enhancing the rule's disclosure requirements and establishing additional checks and balances, the SEC hopes to bolster investor protection and maintain the integrity of the financial market.