May 14, 2020

Short Selling

Short Selling

Nibbling at the Edges—Regulation of Short Selling: Policing Fails to Deliver and Restoration of an Uptick Rule
     Douglas M. Branson, 65(1): 67–94 (November 2009)
For several decades, most commentators' mantra on short selling has been promotion of informational efficiency, which translated into minimal regulation. Individual investors, the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission ("SEC"), and other groups of observers believe that escalating amounts of short selling, including naked short selling, have been a substantial cause of market volatility, investors' wholesale retreat from the stock markets, and severely declining market indexes and share prices, particularly in financial stocks. This Article reviews recent SEC proposals and enactments, including restoration of an uptick or similar "sales price restriction" rule, or installation of circuit breakers adding restrictions on short selling of stock following a precipitous price decline in the stock, and enactment of formerly temporary regulations requiring market participants (broker-dealers mostly) to close fails to deliver after three days rather than thirteen days. Open fails to deliver often are evidence of naked short selling and stock price manipulation, which the SEC has battled since adoption of Regulation SHO in 2004. The Article concludes that these are Main Street versus Wall Street issues. Damping down market volatility is more important to Main Street traders than is promotion of high degrees of informational efficiency, while for professional traders, hedge funds, and high volume short sellers, informational efficiency is more important. The SEC's objective is not to serve one goal rather than the other but to regulate so as to achieve a balance between the two policy objectives.

SEC Enforcement Actions and Issuer Litigation in the Context of a "Short Attack"
     Charles F. Walker and Colin D. Forbes; 68(3): 687-738 (July 2013)
Issuers faced with a short attack—short selling of the issuer’s stock combined with the spread of negative rumors—may contemplate defensive strategies such as litigation and contacting government regulators, in addition to the investor and public relations efforts that are typically utilized in the wake of negative media coverage. Precedent calls for caution in these circumstances, as the record shows that the results of such strategies are mixed, with the SEC often turning its investigative focus to the issuer, and with costly litigation frequently resulting in compromise. This article begins with a discussion of the recent history of regulatory and legislative efforts to address concerns around short attacks and “naked” short selling. It then turns to a discussion of the SEC enforcement cases and private litigation relating to short attacks, and concludes that the SEC has appropriately brought enforcement cases only in clear-cut instances of fraud, while policing the margins through enforcement of the technical requirements of Regulation SHO. The article shows that the SEC enforcement record in this area, and the proof issues generally attendant to these cases, present important considerations for issuers who perceive themselves under siege in a short attack.

Massey Prize for Research in Law, Innovation, and Capital Markets Symposium—Foreword
     70(2): 319-320 (Spring 2015)

Financial Innovation and Governance Mechanisms: The Evolution of Decoupling and Transparency
     Henry T. C. Hu; 70(2): 347-406 (Spring 2015)
Financial innovation has fundamental implications for the key substantive and information-based mechanisms of corporate governance. “Decoupling” undermines classic understandings of the allocation of voting rights among shareholders (via, e.g., “empty voting”), the control rights of debtholders (via, e.g., “empty crediting” and “hidden interests”/ “hidden non-interests”), and of takeover practices (via, e.g., “morphable ownership” to avoid section 13(d) disclosure and to avoid triggering certain poison pills). Stock-based compensation, the monitoring of managerial performance, the market for corporate control, and other governance mechanisms dependent on a robust informational predicate and market efficiency are undermined by the transparency challenges posed by financial innovation. The basic approach to information that the SEC has always used—the “descriptive mode,” which relies on “intermediary depictions” of objective reality—is manifestly insufficient to capture highly complex objective realities, such as the realities of major banks heavily involved with derivatives. Ironically, the primary governmental response to such transparency challenges—a new system for public disclosure that became effective in 2013, the first since the establishment of the SEC—also creates difficulties. This new parallel public disclosure system, developed by bank regulators and applicable to major financial institutions, is not directed primarily at the familiar transparency ends of investor protection and market efficiency.

As starting points, this Article offers brief overviews of: (1) the analytical framework developed in 2006−2008 for “decoupling” and its calls for reform; and (2) the analytical framework developed in 2012−2014 reconceptualizing “information” in terms of three “modes” and addressing the two parallel disclosure universes.

As to decoupling, the Article proceeds to analyze some key post- 2008 developments (including the status of efforts at reform) and the road ahead. A detailed analysis is offered as to the landmark December 2012 TELUS opinion in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, involving perhaps the most complicated public example of decoupling to date. The Article discusses recent actions on the part of the Delaware judiciary and legislature, the European Union, and bankruptcy courts—and the pressing need for more action by the SEC. At the time the debt decoupling research was introduced, available evidence as to the phenomenon’s significance was limited. This Article helps address that gap.

As to information, the Article begins by outlining the calls for reform associated with the 2012−2014 analytical framework. With revolutionary advances in computer- and web-related technologies, regulators need no longer rely almost exclusively on the descriptive mode rooted in intermediary depictions. Regulators must also begin to systematically deploy the “transfer mode” rooted in “pure information” and the “hybrid mode” rooted in “moderately pure information.” The Article then shows some of the key ways that the new analytical framework can contribute to the SEC’s comprehensive and long-needed new initiative to address “disclosure effectiveness,” including in “depiction-difficult” contexts completely unrelated to financial innovation (e.g., pension disclosures and high technology companies). The Article concludes with a concise version of the analytical framework’s thesis that the new morphology of public information—consisting of two parallel regulatory universes with divergent ends and means—is unsustainable in the long run and involve certain matters that need statutory resolution. However, certain steps involving coordination among the SEC, the Federal Reserve, and others can be taken in the interim.