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SEC Extends Deadline for Sarbanes-Oxley 404(b) Compliance

On October 2, 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced a nine-month deferral on Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) Section 404(b) compliance for the smallest publicly reporting companies. Under the provisions of SOX 404, public companies and their independent auditors are each required to report on the effectiveness of company internal controls.  All publicly reporting companies are currently required to disclose a report on management’s assessment of internal controls; however, only reporting companies with a public float of $75 million or above are required to disclose an attestation report provided by an independent auditor.  The extension granted by the SEC will provide non-accelerated filers, those companies with a public float below $75 million, with a reprieve from independent auditor attestations until annual reports for fiscal years ending on or after June 15, 2010 are filed.  Although the SEC has not published the final rule providing for the extension, based on prior extensions, we believe the extended deadline only applies to independent auditor attestations.  Consequently, disclosure of management attestations on internal control continues to be required.

Prior to the October 2 announcement, the deadline for the independent auditor disclosure in annual reports for the smallest publicly reporting companies was fiscal years ending on or after December 15, 2009.  The previous extension, granted in January 2008, was put in place to allow the SEC’s Office of Economic Analysis to complete a study of whether additional guidance provided to company managers and auditors in 2007 was effective in reducing the costs of compliance.  This study was published recently, less than three months before the December 15 deadline, and, as a result, the SEC determined that additional time was appropriate and reasonable so the smallest publicly reporting companies and their auditors could better plan for the required attestation.

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FDIC Issues Final Statement of Policy on Investor Qualifications for Failed Bank Acquisitions

Background

On July 2, 2009, the Board of Directors of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”) issued for public comment a proposed Statement of Policy that sets forth the qualifications for private equity investors in failed bank acquisitions (the “Proposed Policy”).  The FDIC established a 30-day comment period and sought public comment on nine topics:

  • definition of private equity investor and scope of the policy;
  • permissibility of “silo” structures;
  • capital requirements;
  • applicability of the source of strength doctrine;
  • imposition of cross-guarantee liability;
  • restrictions on bidders from bank secrecy jurisdictions;
  • post-investment holding period;
  • possible limitations on 10% investors in failed institutions; and
  • length of restriction period.

On August 26, 2009, the FDIC issued its Final Statement of Policy on Qualifications for Failed Bank Acquisitions (the “Final Policy”).   The FDIC notes that the policy statement is just that—a statement of policy and not a statutory provision imposing civil or criminal penalties and that the requirements it imposes on investors only apply to investors that agree to its terms.

In response to 61 comment letters from a broad variety of interests, in the Final Policy the FDIC reduced the proposed capital requirements, removed the proposed “source of strength” requirement, and increased the ownership threshold for cross-guarantee liability.  These changes are intended to make the failed bank acquisition opportunity more attractive for private equity investors, while retaining many of the other elements of the Proposed Policy that address the FDIC’s apparent concerns about such investors.

The Final Policy is relevant only to bidders for failed financial institutions.  Investors seeking to acquire control of banks that have not failed should refer to the Bank Holding Company Act and the relevant regulations and policy statements issued by the Federal Reserve Board including, but not limited to, the policy statement issued by the Federal Reserve Board on September 22, 2008 that eased certain limitations on private equity investments in banks and bank holding companies.  This policy statement is summarized in our prior client alert on private equity investments generally.    Investors seeking to acquire control of federal savings institutions that have not failed should refer to the Home Owners’ Loan Act and relevant regulations issued by the Office of Thrift Supervision.  These existing holding company statutes and regulations are not replaced or substituted by the Final Policy.  The Final Policy merely adds additional limitations and requirements in the context of acquiring failed financial institutions.

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Reminder Regarding Inclusion of Trust Preferred Securities in Tier 1 Capital

Although the trust preferred securities (“TPS”) market has been quiet (or non-existent) for the past few years, many bank holding companies have issued TPS in the past to take advantage of the hybrid capital treatment afforded to TPS by the Federal Reserve.  In 2005, the Federal Reserve revised its rules permitting the inclusion of a limited amount of TPS in the Tier 1 capital to provide stricter quantitative limits. Under the 2005 rule, which became effective on March 31, 2009, bank holding companies may include TPS in Tier 1 capital in an amount up to 25% of all core capital elements less goodwill and any associated deferred tax liability. Core capital elements include common shareholders’ equity, noncumulative perpetual preferred stock (including preferred stock issued pursuant to the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)), and minority interests directly issued by a consolidated U.S. depository institution or foreign bank subsidiary. Any TPS issued in excess of this limit may be included in Tier 2 capital.

Prior to March 31, 2009, bank holding companies were permitted to calculate the limit for TPS without deducting goodwill and associated deferred tax liability from Tier 1 capital. The regulators are now taking note that some bank holding companies with outstanding TPS have not revised their Tier 1 calculations to comply with the newly-effective rule. If your bank has a holding company with outstanding TPS, be sure that you are limiting the TPS component of Tier 1 capital to 25% of core capital elements less goodwill and any associated deferred tax liability.

In addition, in the current economic environment, many bank holding companies are experiencing deterioration in capital. When the core capital elements of Tier 1 capital decline, the amount of TPS that may be included in Tier 1 capital also declines, thereby further reducing a bank holding company’s leverage ratio. When calculating capital ratios, bank holding companies must remember to re-evaluate the inclusion of TPS in Tier 1 capital as capital declines.

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Obama Proposes Comprehensive Regulatory Reform

On June 17, 2009, the Obama administration publicly announced its vision of regulatory reform.  Among the key points for community banks and thrifts:

  • Combine the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) into a new federal agency, the National Bank Supervisor, which would remain an office of the Treasury Department.  The National Bank Supervisor would have all the powers of the OCC and the OTS.  The Federal Reserve and FDIC would retain their respective roles with respect to state banks.
  • Eliminate the federal thrift charter, subject to “reasonable” transition arrangements.
  • Eliminate restrictions on interstate branching by national and state banks.  States would not be allowed to prevent de novo branching into the state, or to impose a minimum age requirement of in-state banks that can be acquired by an out-of-state banking firm.
  • Thrift holding companies and Industrial Loan Company (ILC) holding companies would both be required to become Bank Holding Companies supervised by the Federal Reserve.
  • Create a new federal Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA).  The CFPA is proposed to have sole authority to promulgate and interpret regulations under existing consumer financial services and fair lending statutes, including TILA, HOEPA, RESPA, CRA, and HMDA.  The CFPA is also proposed to assume from the federal prudential regulators all responsibilities for the supervision, examination and enforcement of consumer financial protection regulations.
  • States would have the authority to adopt and enforce stricter laws, and federally chartered institutions would be subject to nondiscriminatory state consumer protection and civil rights laws to the same extent as other financial institutions.

As a reminder, we are the very beginning of regulatory reform; the final reforms are undoubtedly not going to be exactly as laid out in the President’s current proposal.

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New Supervisory Guidance on BHC's Dividends, Redemptions and Repurchases

On February 24, 2009, the Federal Reserve published a Supervisory Letter regarding the ability of bank holding companies to declare dividends and to redeem or repurchase equity securities.  The Supervisory Letter is generally consistent with prior guidance, although places greater emphasis on discussions with the regulators prior to dividend declarations and redemption or repurchase decisions even when not explicitly required by the regulations.  Although consultation with the Federal Reserve in these situations is optional, the guidance makes clear that the failure to consult with the Federal Reserve “could result in a supervisory finding that the organization is operating in an unsafe and unsound manner.”

The Federal Reserve provides that the principles discussed in the letter are applicable to all bank holding companies, but are especially relevant for bank holding companies that are experiencing financial difficulties and/or receiving TARP Capital.  To that end, the Supervisory Letter specifically addresses the Federal Reserve’s supervisory considerations for TARP Capital participants.

TARP Capital

In addition to the general guidance provided by the Supervisory Letter and the explicit restrictions on dividends, repurchases and redemptions contained in the TARP Capital documents, the Supervisory Letter also provides guidance on how the supervisory staff will analyze TARP Capital recipients.  The guidance provides that TARP recipients should “consider and communicate reasonably in advance” to supervisory staff  how the bank holding company’s proposed dividends, capital redemptions, and capital repurchases are “consistent with the requirements applicable to its receipt of capital under the program and its ability to redeem, within a reasonable period of time and with Federal Reserve consent, its outstanding capital issuance under the program.”  The Federal Reserve’s guidance specifically calls for the redemption of the TARP Capital “as soon as reasonably feasible and appropriate.”

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Federal Reserve Loosens Restrictions on Private Equity

Our September 25, 2008 Client Alert analyzes the impacts of the Federal Reserve’s new policy statement easing the limitations on private equity investments in banks and bank holding companies.

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