SEC Issues C&DI On Use Of Non-GAAP Measures

On October 17, 2017, the SEC issued two new Compliance & Disclosure Interpretations (C&DI) related to the use of non-GAAP financial measures by public companies. The SEC permits companies to present non-GAAP financial measures in their public disclosures subject to compliance with Regulation G and Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K. Regulation G and Item 10(e) require reconciliation to comparable GAAP numbers, the reasons for presenting the non-GAAP numbers, and govern the presentation format itself including requiring equal or greater prominence to the GAAP financial information.

GAAP continues to be criticized by the marketplace in general, with many institutional investors publicly denouncing the usefulness of the accounting standard. Approximately 90% of companies provide non-GAAP financial metrics to illustrate their financial performance and prospects. As an example, EBITDA is a non-GAAP number. I expect continued friction between the SEC’s enforcement of GAAP requirements and a company’s need to present non-GAAP numbers to satisfy the investment community.

New C&DI

The first of the new C&DI addresses whether forecasts provided to a financial advisor in relation to a business combination transaction would be considered non-GAAP financial measures requiring compliance with applicable rules. In particular, the SEC confirms that providing forecasts to a financial advisor in connection with a business combination transaction would not be considered non-GAAP financial measures.

Item 10(e)(5) of Regulation S-K and Rule 101(a)(3) of Regulation G provide that a non-GAAP financial measure does not include financial measures required to be disclosed by GAAP, SEC rules, or pursuant to specific government regulations or SRO rules that are applicable to a company. Accordingly, financial measures provided to a financial advisor would be excluded from the definition of non-GAAP financial measures, and therefore not subject to Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K and Regulation G, if and to the extent: (i) the financial measures are included in forecasts provided to the financial advisor for the purpose of rendering an opinion that is materially related to the business combination transaction; and (ii) the forecasts are being disclosed in order to comply with Item 1015 of Regulation M-A or requirements under state or foreign law, including case law, regarding disclosure of the financial advisor’s analyses or substantive work.

Although the disclosure of projections to a financial advisor in a business combination transaction does not implicate rules related to non-GAAP financial measures, that same disclosure in a registration statement, proxy statement or tender offer statement would need to comply with Regulation G and Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K.

In the second new C&DI, the SEC addresses the limited exemptions from the non-GAAP rules for communications relating to business combination transactions.  In particular, Rule 425 of the Securities Act requires that certain business combination communications, that would not be considered solicitation materials in other contexts, be filed with the SEC, generally as part of a registration statement on Form S-4, proxy statement or tender offer statement. Likewise, limited solicitations under Exchange Act Rule 14a-12 and 14d-2(b)(2) that are made prior to filing a proxy statement are exempted from the non-GAAP measure requirements.

Other than the limited exemptions set forth in the rules listed above, and communications to a financial advisor, business combination communications must comply with Regulation G and Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K related to non-GAAP financial measures, including a reconciliation to comparable GAAP numbers and the reasons for presenting the non-GAAP numbers.

Refresher on Regulation G and Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K

Regulation G was adopted January 22, 2003 pursuant to Section 401(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and applies to all companies that have a class of securities registered under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) or that are required to file reports under the Exchange Act. The SEC permits companies to present non-GAAP financial measures in their public disclosures subject to compliance with Regulation G and Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K.

Regulation G governs the use of non-GAAP financial measures in any public disclosures including registration statements filed under the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”), registration statement or reports filed under the Exchange Act or other communications by companies including press releases, investor presentations and conference calls. Regulation G applies to print, oral, telephonic, electronic, webcast and any and all forms of communication with the public.

Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K governs all filings made with the SEC under the Securities Act or the Exchange Act and specifically prohibits the use of non-GAAP financial measures in financial statements or accompanying notes prepared and filed pursuant to Regulation S-X. Item 10(e) also applies to summary financial information in Securities Act and Exchange Act filings such as in MD&A.

Definition of non-GAAP financial measure and exclusions

A non-GAAP financial measure is any numerical measure of a company’s current, historical or projected future financial performance, position, earnings, or cash flows that includes, excludes, or uses any calculation not in accordance with U.S. GAAP.

Specifically, not included in non-GAAP financial measures for purposes of Regulation G and Item 10(e) are: (i) operating and statistical measures such as the number of employees, number of subscribers, number of app downloads, etc.; (ii) ratios and statistics calculated based on GAAP numbers are not considered “non-GAAP”; and (iii) financial measures required to be disclosed by GAAP (such as segment profit and loss) or by SEC or other governmental or self-regulatory organization rules and regulations (such as measures of net capital or reserves for a broker-dealer).

Non-GAAP financial measures do not include those that would not provide a measure different from a comparable GAAP measure. For example, the following would not be considered a non-GAAP financial measure: (i) disclosure of amounts of expected indebtedness over time; (ii) disclosure of repayments on debt that are planned or reserved for but not yet made; and (iii) disclosure of estimated revenues and expenses such as pro forma financial statements as long as they are prepared and computed under GAAP.

Neither Regulation G nor Item 10(e) applies to non-GAAP financial measures included in a communication related to a proposed business combination, the entity resulting from the business combination or an entity that is a party to the business combination as long as the communication is subject to and complies with SEC rules on communications related to business combination transactions. This exclusion only applies to communications made in accordance with specific business combination communications, such as those in Section 14 of the Exchange Act and the rules promulgated thereunder. As clarified in SEC C&DI on the subject, if the same non-GAAP financial measure that was included in a communication filed under one of those rules is also disclosed in a Securities Act registration statement or a proxy statement or tender offer statement, no exemption from Regulation G and Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K would be available for that non-GAAP financial measure.

Regulation G and Item 10(e) requirements

Together, Regulation G and Item 10(e) require disclosure of and a reconciliation to the most comparable GAAP numbers, the reasons for presenting the non-GAAP numbers, and govern the presentation format itself including requiring equal or greater prominence to the GAAP financial information.

As with any and all communications, non-GAAP financial measures are subject to the state and federal anti-fraud prohibitions. In addition to the standard federal anti-fraud provisions, Regulation G imposes its own targeted anti-fraud provision. Rule 100(b) of Regulation G provides that a company, or person acting on its behalf, “shall not make public a non-GAAP financial measure that, taken together with the information accompanying that measure and any other accompanying discussion of that measure, contains an untrue statement of a material fact or omits to state a material fact necessary in order to make the presentation of the non-GAAP financial measure, in light of the circumstances under which it is presented, not misleading.” As clarified in C&DI published by the SEC on May 17, 2016, even specifically allowable non-GAAP financial measures may violate Regulation G if they are misleading.

As is generally the case with SEC reporting, companies are advised to be consistent over time.  Special rules apply to foreign private issuers, which rules are not discussed in this blog.

Regulation G Item 10(e)
Scope All public disclosures by Exchange Act registrants of information that contains non-GAAP financial measures, including:

  • press releases;
  • conference calls;
  • PowerPoint presentations; and
  • other media.

Limited exclusion for business combination communications.

All filings with the SEC under the Securities Act and the Exchange Act, including:

  • Securities Act registration statements;
  • free writing prospectuses (if included or incorporated by reference into a registration statement);
  • annual reports on Form 10-K;
  • quarterly reports on Form 10-Q;
  • current reports on Form 8-K; and
  • proxy statements.

Does not apply to registered investment companies.  Special rules apply to foreign private issues.  Limited exclusion for business combination communications.

Required Disclosure Whenever a registrant makes public a non-GAAP financial measure, it must:

  • present the most directly comparable financial measure calculated and presented in accordance with GAAP; and
  • reconcile the differences between the non-GAAP financial measure to the most directly comparable GAAP measure.
  • For oral, telephonic, webcast or similar disclosures, the required disclosure of a comparable GAAP measure and reconciliation can be satisfied by posting the information on the company’s website at the time of the disclosure and disclosing the website location in the disclosure.
Whenever a registrant presents a non-GAAP financial measure, it must (in addition to the requirements for Regulation G):

  • present, with equal or greater prominence, the most directly comparable financial measure calculated and presented in accordance with GAAP;
  • reconcile the differences between the non-GAAP financial measure and the comparable GAAP measure;
  • disclose the reasons why the company’s management believes that the presentation of the non-GAAP financial measure provides useful information to investors regarding the company’s financial conditions and results of operations; and
  • to the extent material, disclose the additional purposes, if any, for which the registrant’s management uses such non-GAAP financial measure.
Earnings Releases A registrant must:

  • present the most directly comparable GAAP financial measure in the release; and
  • reconcile the two measures
  • be cognizant of Rule 100(b) preventing misleading information.
Subsection (1)(i) of Item 10(e) applies to a registrant’s Item 2.02 Form 8-K (pursuant to which earnings releases are required to be furnished to the SEC). Registrants must either include in the body of the current report or in the earnings release itself:

  • disclosure as to why management believes any non-GAAP financial measure included in the release is useful; and
  • for what additional purposes, if any, management uses the measure.
SEC Non-GAAP Measure Prohibitions A registrant is not permitted to make any non-GAAP financial measure public if it contains a material misstatement or omits information needed to make the measure not misleading.

Measures of performance may be presented on a per-share basis; however, per-share presentation of measures of liquidity is prohibited.

 

A full non-GAAP income statement may not be used as it places undue prominence on the non-GAAP information.

A registrant is not permitted to:

  • exclude charges or liabilities that required or will require cash settlement from non-GAAP liquidity measures (except for EBIT and EBITDA);
  • adjust a non-GAAP performance measure to eliminate or smooth a nonrecurring, infrequent or unusual item where such item is reasonably likely to recur within two years or there has been a similar charge or gain within the prior two years; or
  • use titles or descriptions of non-GAAP financial measures that are the same as, or confusingly similar to, titles or descriptions used for GAAP financial measures.

Companies may adjust for recurring charges within the two-year look-forward/look-back window, but the adjustment may not be classified as non-recurring, infrequent or unusual.