Excerpt from Current Issues and Rulemaking Projects Outline (November 14, 2000)
Section VIII.A.1. Current Disclosure, Legal and Processing Issues – Disclosure, Legal and Processing Issues – Disclosures about “Targeted Stock”
Some registrants have issued classes of stock that they characterize as “targeted” or “tracking” stock because they are referenced in some manner to a specific business unit, activity or assets of the registrant. The staff is concerned that the style and content of disclosures about the operations referenced by a class of common stock may give the inaccurate impression that the investor has a direct or exclusive financial interest in that unit.
Notwithstanding the title given to a particular class of stock, an investor in any of a registrant’s classes of common stock has a financial interest only in the residual net assets of the registrant, allocated among the shareholder classes in accordance with the formulae stipulated in the corporate charter. Assets and income attributed to units referenced by each class typically are available to all of the registrant’s creditors, and even other classes of shareholders, in the event of liquidation. While dividends declared on each class may not exceed some measure of the performance of the referenced business unit, no dividends need be declared at all. Moreover, the dividend declaration policies typically are subject to change and need bear no relationship to the relative performance of the referenced businesses. Methods and assumptions that can significantly affect measurement of the referenced unit’s performance typically can be changed at any time without the consent of the security holders.
b. Characterizations of the security as “tracking” a business unit
If no term of the targeted stock requires or assures that potential distributions will correlate with the performance of the business unit nominally associated with the security, implications that the market value of the security will “track,” or is otherwise linked with, a business unit are subject to challenge. The staff has asked registrants to explain in their filings why the formula for determining the amount available for dividends (or any other term or feature of the security) can be expected to link in some fashion the market value of a class of common stock with the value or performance of any subpart of the registrant, or state clearly that management does not intend to imply such a linkage.
c. Recommended approach to disclosure about targeted stock
While the staff encourages robust disclosure about the registrant’s operating segments, presenting information about the referenced businesses as if distinct from the registrant may confuse investors about the nature of the security. We believe companies should integrate discussions and quantitative data about the referenced business units more closely within a comprehensive discussion of the registrant’s financial condition and operating results. While schedules or condensed financial information demonstrating the calculation of earnings available for each class of the registrant’s common stock are relevant, more extensive presentations can be misunderstood and should be reconsidered. If a company chooses to present more than condensed financial data, the staff has recommended that companies present no greater detail than “consolidating financial statements” that include the referenced businesses together with the financial statements of the registrant. That presentation would show explicitly how management and the board have allocated and attributed revenues, expenses, assets, liabilities, and cash flows, but will not necessarily reflect earnings applicable to the different classes of stock due to features of the allocation formula that are incompatible with GAAP.
d. Use of separate full financial statements for a referenced business unit
Notwithstanding our recommendation to the contrary, some issuers of targeted stock have chosen to present complete separate audited financial statements of the referenced units. In this case, the staff believes that financial statements of the referenced unit furnished to investors should be accompanied always by financial statements of the registrant, as issuer of the security. Most auditors will permit use of their report on the financial statements of the referenced business only in those circumstances. EPS of one class of stock should not be presented alone or within the separate financial statements of the referenced business security because that business did not issue the security. EPS with respect to any class of the issuer’s securities should be presented only with the issuer’s consolidated financial statements or with its related consolidated information.
e. Consequences of formula-based financial statements
In some cases, separate financial statements presented in an issuer’s filing do not appear to be an actual business or division, but rather an elaborate depiction of the earnings allocation formula for a class of stock, as if those legal terms defined an accounting entity. For example, sometimes that formula results in the depiction of one of the issuer’s businesses as if it had a financial interest in another of its businesses. Financial statements prepared in accordance with the dictates of management, the board and the corporate charter for the purpose of measuring earnings available to a class of shareholders do not necessarily present fairly the financial condition, cash flows and operating results of an actual business unit within the registrant.
The staff has raised a number of questions in these circumstances: Do financial statements based on these formulae comply with GAAP? Does the association of the auditor with these presentations give unwarranted comfort to investors about the fairness to the different shareholder groups of management’s assignment of revenues and expenses and its allocation of capital and other costs? Are the financial statements "special purpose" financial statements that are prepared on a basis of accounting prescribed in a contractual agreement, requiring special considerations for disclosure and auditor association?
f. Non-GAAP measures of performance
In some cases, the terms of the targeted stock stipulate explicitly that the performance of the unit will be measured on a basis that departs from GAAP. Any measurement, classification, allocation or disclosure that departs from GAAP but is necessary to measure or explain amounts available for dividends on stock referenced to the unit should be depicted separately from presentations that are purported to be in accordance with GAAP. An amount should not be labeled as "net income" unless it is calculated in accordance with GAAP. If the financial statements of the unit are purported to be in accordance with GAAP, management should ensure that all information essential for a fair presentation of the entity's financial position, results of operations, and cash flows in conformity with GAAP is set forth in the financial statements. Failure to include all such information should result in a qualification of the auditor's report on the unit's financial statements.
g. Cost allocations
The units referenced by the targeted stock may share many common costs, such as general and administrative and interest costs. As required by SAB Topic 1B, a complete description of any allocation methods used for cash, debt, related interest and financing costs, corporate overhead, and other common costs should be provided in the notes to the financial statements that purport to be prepared in accordance with GAAP. The amounts likely to be reported by the entity were it a stand-alone entity should be disclosed. In some cases, the staff has questioned whether allocations have been biased. For example, operating results and EPS of operations that are valued on the basis of earnings could be unfairly inflated as a result of excessive allocations of common costs to operations that are valued on the basis of revenue growth. If the methodologies and assumptions underlying the allocations of debt and corporate expenses may change without security holder approval, that fact should be stated clearly. If the financial statements of the business unit before and after the issuance of the tracking stock will not be comparable, that fact should be disclosed. On occasion, the staff has questioned whether a change in the method of attributing revenue or expense from one shareholder group to another would be reported as a change in reporting entity or, if deemed a change in estimate or principle, how the auditor will determine whether a change is a “better” method of calculating earnings attributable to a particular shareholder group.
h. Other disclosure issues
Other areas of disclosure that are of particular significance for issuers of targeted stock include the following:
• Policies for the management of cash generated by and capital investment in the referenced units, and for the pricing of “transactions” between the referenced units.
• Conflicts of interest.
• Effects of corporate events (mergers, tender offers, changes in control, adverse tax rulings, liquidation) on rights of the security holders.
• Terms under which one class may be converted into another class.
• Effects of changes in relative market values of the registrant’s outstanding classes of stock on rights of the security holders.