Articles Posted in Private Equity

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A group of related private equity (“PE”) funds were found liable for a bankrupt portfolio company’s pension plan debts in the latest and most worrisome decision in the long-running Sun Capital Partners III, LP v. New England Teamsters and Trucking Industry Pension Fund dispute. The novel decision, if upheld on appeal, will trigger a reevaluation of common PE industry practices related to co-investments and management fee offset arrangements. The decision also signals increased transaction risks for PE funds, lenders who provide financing to portfolio companies, and potential buyers of portfolio companies from PE funds.

Background of the Sun Capital Dispute

In 2006, Scott Brass Inc. (SBI) was acquired by three investment funds linked to the Sun Capital Partners Inc. group for approximately $7.8M ($3M invested by the funds and $4.8M funded by debt). SBI participated in an underfunded multiemployer (or union) defined benefit pension plan, and when SBI declared bankruptcy in 2008, the pension plan assessed $4.5M in withdrawal liabilities against SBI. The pension plan pursued payment of the withdrawal liabilities from the deep pockets of the three Sun Capital funds who owned SBI: Sun Capital Partners III, LP (SCP-III), its parallel fund Sun Capital Partners III QP, LP (SCP-IIIQ) and Sun Capital Partners IV, LP (SCP-IV).

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Read this article and additional publications at pillsburylaw.com/publications-and-presentations.  You can also download a copy of the Client Alert here.

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In February, California State Treasurer, John Chiang along with State Assemblyman Ken Cooley sponsored Assembly Bill (AB) 2833 which, if enacted, would require private equity firms to disclose fees and expenses for public pensions or retirement systems in California.

On March 17, 2016 Assemblyman Cooley submitted an amendment to the legislation that would include the University of California pension system as a pension covered by the newly proposed disclosure rules.  Additionally, the legislation has been broadened to include all Alternative Investment Vehicles (defined as private equity funds, venture funds, hedge funds or absolute return funds) and require a disclosure of:

  • Annual fees and expenses paid to an alternative investment vehicle
  • Annual fees and expenses not previously disclosed including carried interest
  • Annual fees and expenses paid by portfolio companies of the alternative investment vehicle
  • The gross rate or return of each alternative investment vehicle since inception

Finally, the legislation would require public pensions or retirement systems to have an annual meeting that is open to the public.  At the public meeting the public pension or retirement system would be required to disclose:

  • Any fees and expenses required to be disclosed as listed above, subject to the exceptions provided in the California Public Records Act Section 6254.26

The full text of the amended AB 2833 can be found here.

Our prior post on the public pension fee and expense disclosure can be found here.

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On January 11, the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) of the SEC announced its 2016 Examination Priorities (“Priorities”). To promote compliance, prevent fraud and identify market risk, OCIE examines investment advisers, investment companies, broker-dealers, municipal advisors, transfer agents, clearing agencies, and other regulated entities. In 2016, OCIE will continue to rely on the SEC’s sophisticated data analytics tools to identify potential illegal activity.

This year, private fund advisers should pay attention to the following OCIE Priorities:

  • Side-by-side management of performance-based and asset-based fee accounts: controls and disclosure related to fees and expenses
  • Cybersecurity: testing and assessments of firms’ implementation of procedures and controls
  • High frequency trading: excessive or inappropriate trading
  • Liquidity controls: potentially illiquid fixed income securities – focus on controls over market risk management, valuation, liquidity management, trading activities
  • Marketing / Advertisements: new, complex, and high risk products, including potential breaches of fiduciary obligations
  • Compliance controls: focus on repeat offenders and those with disciplined employees

Highlights for other market participants:

  • Never-Before-Examined Investment Advisers and Investment Companies: focused, risk-based examinations will continue
  • Broker-Dealers:
    • Marketing / Advertisements: new, complex, and high risk products and related sales practices, including potential suitability issues
    • Fee selection / Reverse Churning: multiple fee arrangements – recommendations of account types, including suitability, fees charged, services provided, and disclosures
    • Market Manipulation: pump and dump; OTC quotes; excessive trading
    • Cybersecurity: testing and assessments of firms’ implementation of procedures and controls
    • Anti-Money Laundering: missed SARs filings; adequacy of independent testing; terrorist financing risks
    • Registered representatives in branch offices – focus on inappropriate trading
    • Retirement Accounts: suitability, conflicts of interest, supervision and compliance controls, and marketing and disclosure practices
  • Public Pension Advisers: pay to play, gifts and entertainment
  • Mutual Funds and ETFs: liquidity controls – potentially illiquid fixed income securities
  • Immigrant Investor Program: Regulation D and other private placement compliance

For additional details, visit the SEC’s Examination Priorities for 2016. Please call an Investment Funds and Investment Management Attorney to discuss your firm’s risk areas.

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Congress has replaced the TEFRA partnership audit rules with a new regime that redistributes the burdens of the audit process between partnerships and partners on the one hand and the IRS on the other, and also eliminates many rights that individual partners might previously have had in the audit process.  Even more troubling, these new rules create the possibility that absent careful attention and planning, the economic burden of partnership tax adjustments will be both increased and redistributed among the partners, both past and present, in a manner that does not reflect their economic agreement.  While the changes aren’t effective for quite some time (returns for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017) and while there are likely to be further changes before the rules become effective, these new rules alter the landscape so drastically that partnerships and their partners will need to determine how to address them long before they become effective.

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Read this article and additional publications at pillsburylaw.com/publications-and-presentations.  You can also download a copy of the Client Alert.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) released a “Risk Alert” on November 9, 2015, the purpose of which is to raise awareness of compliance issues observed in connection with the examination of registered investment advisers and investment companies that outsource their Chief Compliance Officers (“CCO”) to unaffiliated third parties.

We encourage our registered investment adviser clients, including hedge fund and private equity managers, that have outsourced their firm’s CCO function to compliance service providers or other third parties to carefully review the following SEC risk alert summary and review their outsourcing arrangement in view of the SEC’s observations.

Outsourced CCO Initiative

The OCIE staff (the “staff”) conducted 20 examinations as part of an Outsourced CCO Initiative to evaluate the effectiveness of compliance programs and outsourced CCOs by considering a number of factors such as:

  • Whether the CCOs appropriately identified, mitigated, and managed compliance risk;
  • Whether the compliance program was designed to reasonably prevent, detect and remedy violations of federal securities laws;
  • Whether there was open communication between those with compliance responsibilities and service providers;
  • Whether the CCOs have authority to influence compliance policies and procedures of the registrants and had sufficient resources to carry out their responsibilities; and
  • Whether compliance was an important part of the registrants’ culture.

Observations of successfully outsourced CCOs

The staff observed compliance strength in outsourced CCOs with the following characteristics:

  • Regular and often in-person communication between the CCOs and registrants;
  • Strong relationships between the CCOs and registrants;
  • Registrants’ support of the CCOs;
  • CCOs having independent access to documents and information; and
  • CCOs having knowledge of the registrants’ business and regulatory requirements.

Observations of unsuccessfully outsourced CCOs

The staff observed compliance weakness in outsourced CCOs with the following characteristics:

  • CCOs providing compliance manuals based on templates not tailored to the registrants’ businesses and containing inappropriate policies and procedures;
  • CCOs visiting registrants’ offices infrequently, conducting limited annual reviews of documents or insufficient evaluation and assessment of training pertaining to compliance matters;
  • CCOs not performing critical control testing procedures and lacking documentation to evidence testing of control procedures;
  • Critical areas of the registrants’ operations were not identified by CCOs resulting in certain compliance policies and procedures not being adopted, including those necessary to address conflicts of interest;
  • CCOs using generic checklists to gather pertinent information regarding the registrants;
  • Registrants providing incorrect or inconsistent information to the CCOs about firm business practices;
  • Lack of follow-up by CCOs with registrants to resolve discrepancies; and
  • CCOs having limited authority within the registrants’ organizations to improve adherence to compliance policies and procedures and implement necessary changes in disclosure practices, such as fees, expenses and other areas of client interest.

Conclusion

The staff reminds registrants that CCOs, whether direct employees, contractors or consultants, must have sufficient knowledge and authority to fulfill their role. In addition, each registrant is responsible for the adoption and implementation of its compliance program and accountable for any deficiencies.

Finally, the staff emphasizes that all registrants, and especially those that use outsourced CCOs, may find the issues identified in the Risk Alert useful to evaluate whether (i) their business and compliance risks have been appropriately identified (ii) policies and procedures are tailored to the specific risks their businesses encounter and (iii) their respective CCOs have the necessary power to effectively perform their responsibilities. Registrants and their funds are advised to review their business practices regularly to determine whether the practices are consistent with compliance obligations under Rule 206(4)-7 under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and Rule 38a-1 under the Investment Company Act of 1940.

Please contact the Investment Funds and Investment Management Group if you would like to discuss the SEC alert or need help reviewing your outsourcing arrangement.

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The regulatory environment for SEC-registered advisers has become more complex as the result of a more aggressive and interconnected Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The connecting hub within the SEC is the Office of Compliance Inspection and Examination (OCIE), which serves as the “eyes and ears” of the SEC. The OCIE often is the first line of contact between an investment adviser and a potential referral to the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit (AMU), which is devoted exclusively to investigations involving investment advisers, investment companies, hedge funds and private equity funds.

The OCIE’s three main areas of focus for their 2015 exam priorities are (i) protecting retail investors, (ii) issues related to market-wide risks, and (iii) data analysis as a tool to identify registrants engaging in illegal activity.

Overlapping with the OCIE’s frontline examination role is the Compliance Program Initiative, which began in 2013 by sanctioning three investment advisers for ignoring problems within their compliance programs. The Compliance Program Initiative is designed to address repeated compliance failures that may lead to bigger problems. As such, any issues raised in a deficiency letter resulting from an examination are ripe for follow-up as the starting point of a subsequent examination. In the current regulatory environment—where violations of compliance policies and procedures can serve as the basis of enforcement actions—investment advisers and their compliance professionals need to pay close attention to the implementation, follow-through and updating of every aspect of their compliance program.

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Read this article and additional publications at pillsburylaw.com/publications-and-presentations.  You can also download a copy of the Client Alert.

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The SEC’s final crowdfunding rules, which are largely consistent with the proposed rules, provide broader access to capital for startups and small businesses, though concerns over cumbersome disclosure and regulatory requirements persist.

On October 30, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted to adopt final rules implementing Title III of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act), known as “crowdfunding”. The final rules, to be codified as “Regulation Crowdfunding” in furtherance of Section 4(a)(6) of the Securities Act of 1933, are expected to become effective in May 2016. A copy of the final rules can be found here.

Regulation Crowdfunding will allow smaller, non-public U.S. companies to raise up to $1 million in any 12-month period by selling securities over the Internet (including through apps and other technologies) to individual investors who are not required to meet any sophistication or wealth standards, but will be subject to relatively small investment limits.

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Read this article and additional publications at pillsburylaw.com/publications-and-presentations.  You can also download a copy of the Client Alert.

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On November 3, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that Fenway Partners, LLC (Fenway Partners), a private equity fund adviser, agreed to pay more than $10 million to settle charges that it failed to disclose conflicts of interest to a fund client and omitted material facts to investors.

SEC Findings

Fenway Partner’s current and former principals as well as the chief financial officer did not:

  • Disclose to Fenway Capital Partners Fund III, L.P. (the Fund) or its investors that Fenway Partners caused certain portfolio companies of the Fund to cancel management services agreements—subject to management fee offsets—between Fenway Partners and portfolio companies.
  • Disclose to the Fund or its investors the creation of the affiliated entity Fenway Consulting Partners, LLC (Fenway Consulting).
  • Disclose to the Fund or its investors that Fenway Consulting received $5.74 million for providing services to portfolio companies similar to those previously provided by Fenway Partners and often using the same employees—without a management fee offset against the fees paid to Fenway Partners.
  • Disclose in its capital call notice to investors in connection with a portfolio company investment that $1 million of the $4 million total capital call would be used to pay Fenway Consulting fees.
  • Disclose to the advisory board or the investors the conflict of interest concerning cash incentive plan payments to current and former Fenway Partner principals.
  • Disclose, as related party transactions, in the financial statements provided to investors, those payments received by Fenway Consulting for its services to portfolio companies.

The press release is available HERE.

A full copy of the SEC order is available HERE.

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On October 30, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted Regulation Crowdfunding. The final rule permits companies to offer and sell securities through crowdfunding. The “Regulation Crowdfunding Exemption” is created under Section 4(a)(6), Title III of the JOBS Act.

The key features of the final rules

  1. Permit individuals to purchase securities in crowdfunding offerings subject to certain limits:
    • A company is permitted to raise a maximum aggregate amount of $1 million through crowdfunding offerings in a 12-month period.
    • Individuals are permitted, over a 12-month period, to invest in the aggregate across all crowdfunding offerings up to:
      • The greater of $2,000 or 5% of the lesser of their annual income or net worth, if either their annual income or net worth is less than $100,000.
      • 10% of the lesser of their annual income or net worth, if both their annual income and net worth are equal to or more than $100,000.
    • The aggregate amount of securities sold to an investor through all crowdfunding offerings may not exceed $100,000.
  1. Require companies to disclose certain information about their business and securities offering and to file an annual report with the SEC and provide it to investors.
  2. Create regulatory framework for the broker-dealers and funding portals that facilitate the crowdfunding transactions. A funding portal is required to register with the SEC and become a FINRA member. A company relying on the Regulation Crowdfunding Exemption is required to conduct its offering exclusively through one intermediary platform at a time.

In addition, the SEC is proposing to amend the existing Securities Act Rule 147 and Rule 504. Rule 147 would be amended to, among other things, permit companies to raise money from investors within their state (intrastate offering) without registering the offers and sales with the SEC. Rule 504 would be amended to increase the aggregate amount of securities that may be offered and sold in any 12-month period from $1 million to $5 million. Bad actor disqualification would also apply in Rule 504 offerings.

A full copy of the final rules is available HERE.

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In a letter addressed to CalPERS and CalSTRS, California State Treasurer, John Chiang, has called for state legislation to require private equity firms to disclose all fees paid by California public pension funds.  According to the letter, the disclosure requirements should be applicable to the private equity investments of all public pension funds in California and apply to management fees, fee offsets, fund expenses and carried interest.

Read the full article HERE.