As most of my readers know, the FASB has amended ASC 718 to expand the exception to liability treatment that applies to shares withheld to cover taxes to include withholding up to the maximum individual tax rate. This has led many companies to consider changing their tax withholding practices for stock compensation.
Plan Amendment Likely Necessary
As noted in my blog entry “Getting Ready for the New Share Withholding” (May 5, 2016), companies that are interested in taking advantage of the expanded exception face an obstacle in that virtually all stock plans include a prohibition on using shares to cover taxes in excess of the minimally required statutory withholding. Where companies want to allow shares to be withheld for tax payments in excess of this amount, the plan must first be amended to allow this.
Shareholder Approval Not Necessary
In the aforementioned blog entry, I had noted that it wasn’t clear if shareholder approval would be required for the plan amendment, particularly if the shares withheld will be recycled back into the plan. I have good news on this question: both the NYSE and Nasdaq have amended their shareholder approval FAQs to clarify that this amendment does not require shareholder approval, even if the shares will be recycled.
Here are the updated FAQs:
- NYSE (Question C-1, pg 5)
- Nasdaq (ID number 1269, it should be the last question on the second page. Or do a keyword search for the word “withholding” and the relevant FAQ should come right up.)
For a while, there was still a question as to whether the NYSE required shareholder approval when shares withheld from restricted stock awards would be recycled. In late December, John Roe of ISS arranged for the two of us to meet with John Carey, the Senior Director at NYSE Regulation, to get clarification on this. Just prior to our meeting, the NYSE updated their FAQs to clarify that shareholder approval is not required even in the case of share withholding for restricted stock awards, even when the shares will be recycled.
ISS Still Not a Fan of Share Recycling
It should come as no surprise that, where the withheld shares will be recycled, ISS isn’t a fan of amendments to allow shares to be withheld for excess tax payments. Now that it’s clear shareholder approval isn’t required for the amendment, this likely isn’t a significant concern for most companies, unless they are submitting their plan for shareholder approval for some other reason. It isn’t a deal-breaker, but it could enter into ISS’s qualitative assessment of the plan. This would particularly be an issue if ISS’s recommendation is tied to more than the plan’s EPSC score.
Not a Modification for Accounting Purposes
There also has been some question as to whether the amendment would be considered a modification for accounting purposes if applied to outstanding awards. Based on the FASB’s recent exposure draft to amend the definition of a modification under ASC 718 (see “ASC 718 Gets Even Simpler,” November 22, 2016), the FASB doesn’t seem to think modification accounting is necessary. The comment period on the exposure draft ended on January 6. There was little opposition to the FASB’s position: only 14 comment letters were received, one letter clearly opposed the change, 12 supported the change, and one was “not opposed” but not enthusiastic. Given that response, hopefully the FASB will finalize the proposed update quickly so that this question is settled.