BDO USA –
A return of volatility to the stock market, executive misconduct, seemingly endless reports of cyber breaches, global economic concerns, demands for transparency, and historic changes brought about by the new tax law are just a few of the topics being discussed in corporate board rooms around the country. These issues and many more will make for an intriguing annual meeting season this spring.
BDO’s Center for Corporate Governance and Financial Reporting recently reports on a variety of topics that corporate management and boards of directors should be prepared to address in connection with their 2018 annual meetings.
WHAT’S ON THE MINDS OF SHAREHOLDERS?
BDO’s Center for Corporate Governance and Financial Reporting recently reports on a variety of topics that corporate management and boards of directors should be prepared to address in connection with their
2018 annual meetings.
Several issues examined this year largely reflect the race to understand broad-reaching impacts and opportunities created by the Trump Administration: The U.S. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has unleashed a host of questions as to how company strategies are being formulated around M&A, capital investment and asset disposition activities along with operational decisions designed to enhance long term shareholder value. Promises of de-regulation remain but perhaps have yet to be fully realized, as evidenced by the newly effective pay ratio disclosure. Cross-border trade ramifications abound as countries, including the U.S., UK, and others, take “protectionist” stances.
Also notable for 2018 are themes relating to corporate accountability and compliance including: board responsiveness to executive misconduct and cyber-breaches, board refreshment, implementation readiness for significant accounting standards, and other global economic concerns.
BDO USA, LLP has compiled the following list of topics that corporate management and boards of directors should be prepared to address in connection with 2018 annual shareholder meetings:
The new tax law is having far-reaching impact on tax reporting/planning and financial statement reporting. The lower corporate tax rate increases the competitiveness of doing business in the U.S., which may encourage corporations to reconsider the U.S. as a focal point for their business activities. Corporate “after tax” cash flow is expected to increase, which may impact decisions related to capital investment and employee wages. Shareholders will be eager to hear how the new law has and will impact corporate strategy. Refer to BDO’s recent Tax Reform and Your Board’s Role webinar and our most recent insights within our BDO Knows: Tax Reform site.
The reductions to the corporate tax rate and tax on repatriation of foreign earnings are expected to provide businesses with motivation to pursue mergers and acquisitions in 2018. Shareholders will want to know if management is seeking out both:
- Sell side opportunities to dispose of assets that no longer align with corporate goals but that could yet yield favorable returns. For example, an accelerated depreciation provision through 2022 for qualified tangible property is available for both newly purchased assets as well as those acquired through acquisitions. Thus, strategic buyers looking to offset their own tax burdens, or financial buyers looking for faster returns on investment, may find asset acquisitions an enticing strategy. Furthermore, the new corporate tax rate of 21% not only has enhanced after-tax earnings and cash flow but creates a more competitive global rate enhancing the attractiveness of U.S. targets for cross-border transactions.
- Buy side opportunities that can enhance strategic growth. Many are pointing to multinational repatriation as a source of funding for acquisitions. However, increased M&A activity might not be as significant as expected given pre-existing favorable market conditions of low interest rates and substantial corporate cash reserves. Companies may consider turning instead to large-scale buy backs of shares. However, companies like Apple have announced plans to reinvest in the U.S. If acquisitions are being contemplated, boards should ensure that such are properly vetted, and that management has sound integration policies in place to assimilate target businesses into a corporate culture supported by strong governance. Buyers should also be aware of other potentially troublesome elements in the new tax law, like interest expense limitations which are applied broadly to many businesses and may affect the economics of the deal.
These are just a few considerations for businesses looking to transact. For additional insights, refer to BDO’s
recent blog. Facts and circumstances will need to be reviewed carefully to fully value the merits or deterrents for each deal. Companies are further advised to clearly communicate how their investment decisions translate to shareholder value.
GLOBAL ECONOMIC CONCERNS
President Trump’s plan, announced in late February, to impose high tariffs on imported steel and aluminum prompted angry responses from U.S. allies around the globe and generated warnings of an international trade war that could harm U.S. exports. Investors are concerned how the movements by the U.S. and other countries towards national protectionism will impact U.S. businesses in foreign markets. Shareholders will want to know how boards are proactively addressing management’s operational decisions in this area.
We have touched on several other trends in the U.S. above that are each components of an inter-related global trend. Some additional key areas that may be top of mind to shareholders include:
- Changing labor markets – The significant impacts of technology advances – e.g., analytics, artificial intelligence, etc. – can lead shareholders to be asking: What are corporations doing to address these changes? What investments are needed? How is the labor market being re-educated?
- Social media exposure – On the one hand, social media provides an instant news source, making the world a more accessible space; while at the same time can result in false reporting (“fake news”) that can wreak havoc on corporate reputations.
- Geo-political risk and terrorism create uncertainty and fear in the market that may raise concerns in sectors of the globe that are deemed as “hot spots” for unrest.
- Environmental risks – extreme weather, pollution, water crisis, etc. – are creating significant challenges to companies with affected operations or operations that are potentially leading to environmental harm.
- Risks brought about by the interconnectivity of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) and cybersecurity – may represent potential global vulnerability to infrastructures: financial, healthcare, transportation, etc.
Equifax, Uber and even the SEC are just a few of the high-profile institutions to fall victim to cyber-attacks in recent months. These incidents damage company reputations and lead to tens of millions in remediation and legal costs. Given the prominence of this topic, shareholders may want to know whether the company is:
- Critically assessing cyber-breach response plans to mitigate damage from attacks.
- Emphasizing the need to report breaches in a timely fashion. Companies are taking too long to report incidents. The Equifax breach has led to lawsuits in more than 100 courts across the country, many citing the company’s slow response in reporting the breach. In May, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation is slated to take effect and companies that fail to report breaches that involve personal data will face a fine of up to 2% of global annual revenue or €10 million ($11.77 million), whichever is higher. Note: We strongly encourage directors to read the SEC’s interpretive guidance released in February 2018 in order to assist public companies in preparing timely and transparent disclosures to investors about cybersecurity risks and incidents.
- Vetting management reports on any cyber-breaches with external experts to ensure the company is getting the best advice.
- Establishing cyber-risk management requirements for third-party vendors – a major source of cyber-attacks.
- Sharing information from cyber-breaches with external entities. The 2017 BDO Cyber Governance Survey found that just one-quarter (25%) of directors say their companies are sharing information gleaned from cyber-attacks with external entities – a practice that needs to become more prevalent for the safety of national security.
Refer to BDO’s Cybersecurity Report for the latest on cyber threats.
Steve Wynn, Harvey Weinstein and Roger Ailes are just a few of the executives who have fallen in recent months following allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace. Although the damage to victims may never be able to be fully calculated, for businesses, it can cost millions, from settling with victims to lasting damage to the company brand. Given the prominence of the #MeToo activism movement in the media, shareholders may want to know that the board and management are setting the correct tone at top and creating a culture where all reports of harassment are taken seriously. In many cases, the slow response to allegations of employees highlight the need for businesses to have robust no tolerance policies and document their reactions to charges of misconduct in a timely fashion.