Archives For sarbanes-oxley

Last month I noted that the Senate was about to repeat its SOX mistake with another ill-fated foray into regulating corporate governance.  I focused on provisions for mandatory majority voting, separation of the board chair and CEO jobs, risk committees, say-on-pay, and pay-performance disclosures.  

Now Annette Nazareth summarizes (HT Bainbridge) the provisions in the bill that passed the Senate and awaits reconciliation. She notes that the bill “would federalize significant governance and executive compensation matters that have historically been a matter of state law.” Alas, the Senate never voted on an amendment proposed by Delaware’s Carper that would have eliminated (D-Del) that would have eliminated the majority voting provision and a provision for proxy access.

Although none of the provisions Nazareth discusses is individually earth-shaking, they cumulatively touch many major aspects of corporate governance formerly left to contract and state law.  This bill thus clearly adds to the framework for federal takeover of internal governance that SOX established. The overall effect is that it will be increasingly difficult to demark an area left exclusively for state law. This leaves little “firebreak” to protect against judicial incursions in the spaces not yet covered by explicit federal provisions.  This could ultimately profoundly affect the relationship between federal and state law regarding business associations. 

A generation ago the Supreme Court could say that “no principle of corporation law and practice is more firmly established than a State’s authority to regulate domestic corporations, including the authority to define the voting rights of shareholders.” CTS Corp. v. Dynamics Corp. of America, 481 U.S. 69, 89 (1987). 

Erin O’Hara and I have argued that this separation between federal and state spheres does and should affect the scope of implied preemption of state law by federal statutes.  Thus, when the Court held that state securities actions were preempted by the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act, it emphasized “[t]he magnitude of the federal interest in protecting the integrity and efficient operation of the market for nationally traded securities.” Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Dabit, 547 U.S. 71, 78 (2006). See also my article on Dabit. However, we noted that “[m]any federal ‘securities’ laws reach deep into the kind of internal governance issues covered by the [internal affairs doctrine].” Thus, corporate internal affairs are only “relatively safe from federal preemption” and internal affairs is not “a constitutional boundary, as shown by the continuing forward march of federal corporation law.”

Under the Dodd bill, the forward march picks up the pace.  

Yet from a policy standpoint the march is very much backward. In my April post I observed that “[a]s financial markets have become far deeper and more competitive since the 30s, it makes little sense for regulators to actually trust them less.” Thus, the Senate has ignored not only the lessons of SOX but the developments in corporate governance and markets that make its governance provisions less necessary than ever.

Usha Rodrigues and Mike Stegemoller have penned an interesting article, “Placebo Ethics,” assessing the effect of one of SOX’s disclosure provisions: The required immediate disclosure of waivers from a company’s code of ethics, found in Section 406 of the law.  The article is concrete, informative, empirical and well-written.

The article’s abstract summarizes the heart of the paper:

Out of 200 randomly selected firms, we found only one waiver over 4 years disclosed pursuant to Section 406. However, by exploiting an overlap in disclosure regulations [between SOX 406 and Item 404 of Regulation S-K requiring disclosure of related-party transactions in year-end proxy statements], we were able to cross check our sample companies’ waiver disclosure. We find 30 instances where companies appear to be violating the law, and another 74 where companies evade illegality by watering down their codes to an arguably impermissible degree – their codes of ethics do not forbid the same Enron-style conflicts of interest that led to the adoption of Section 406 in the first place. Finally we study all waivers filed by all public companies with the SEC in the four years following SOX’s passage – and find only 36 total. Event studies reveal that the market generally does not react to these transactions, suggesting that companies only use waivers to disclose innocuous, immaterial information.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff here, including the conclusions that 15% of the sample firms are apparently violating the law and that the waivers that are disclosed are viewed by the market as irrelevant.  It is also interesting that 37% of the sample “evade illegality by watering down their codes to an arguably impermissible degree.”  It is this latter claim on which I want to focus.

I talked a bit about this issue in my Hydraulic Theory of Disclosure article.  In the article I said this about the waiver disclosure requirement:

The implicit assumption is that disclosure to shareholders will deter inappropriate waivers, inducing better compliance with the underlying code of ethics.  But that assumption must be animated by a further assumption that some conduct will be relatively static—that codes of ethics will not themselves be re-written and relaxed in response to the rule. In fact, however, the more likely outcome is that codes of ethics will be (and have been) re-written in order to minimize the need for waivers, in the event actually stemming rather than improving the flow of information . . . .  In other words, disclosed waivers are (privately) costly, and it may be less (privately) costly to amend codes of ethics than to seek and publicize waivers. Underlying behavior of the sort requiring waivers may not change, or it may even deteriorate. And either way less of it will be disclosed.

Rodrigues’ and Stegemoller’s (R&S’s) concluision seems to be 1) that immediate disclosure of related-party transactions would be a good thing, 2) that SOX 406 intended this but was poorly-executed to achieve the result, and 3) that companies’ failure to disclose waivers of their codes of ethics for related-party transactions is a violation of SOX 406, even where the code does not explicitly prohibit such transactions.

While the abstract quoted above is somewhat circumspect about the illegality of these “in spirit” violations of SOX 406, the article itself is a bit more hard-nosed:

It may be that, by omitting related-party transactions from their codes of ethics, companies are in violation of Section 406(c)(1), because prohibiting related-party transactions is “reasonably necessary” to promote “ethical handling of actual or apparent conflicts of interest between personal and professional relationships.” At the very least, these codes violate the intention, or “spirit” of Section 406’s disclosure requirements. As discussed in Part III, Section 406’s waiver provision was specifically enacted to address Enron’s related-party transactions with its CFO, Andy Fastow. Yet the majority of our sample companies do not forbid related-party transactions in their codes.

Instead, companies tend to have generic “conflicts of interest” provisions. And even when the provisions address related-party transactions, they use “weasel wording” that makes it hard to find an actual violation.

As R&S note, most ethics codes do not prohibit related-party transactions outright, so neither waivers of these codes, nor, therefore, disclosure of waivers, is required.  While seemingly proving my prediction that the effect of SOX 406 would be watered-down codes of ethics and, thus, less disclosure of information (assuming the watering down came in response to SOX 406), R&S focus instead on the illegality point, with which I have some trouble.

Basically, R&S argue that ethics codes that do not prohibit related party transactions are, in fact, impermissible under SOX, but I find their reasoning to be a stretch, and certainly there is no case law or SEC ruling (that I know of or that they cite) supporting the claim.  The R&S argument goes, in essence: a) a firm has an ethics code, waivers of which must be disclosed immediately; b) the code “should” prohibit related-party transactions but it does not on its face; c) there is a related-party transaction; d) there is no disclosure of a waiver; e) 406 is violated because the code of ethics “should” have prohibited this transaction, thus it “should” have required a waiver, and thus the absence of disclosure of a waiver is a violation of 406.  This seems like a pretty big stretch to me.  It might be that firms are interpreting 406 liberally, but it’s a long way from that to saying they are breaking the law.  Rather, I would say that failure to disclose waivers in this case is not an example of a firm flouting its obligation under SOX, it is instead an example of the predictable (and predicted) hydraulic effect of imperfect regulation.

This would still count as a failure of SOX 406, in my book (whether that’s a bad thing or not is another matter), but not because of non-enforcement, as R&S suggest, but rather because of the perverse incentive created by SOX 406 that induces firms to enact less-restrictive ethics codes.

In the end, I see the article as a vindication of my prediction.  My point was to suggest that SOX 406 would have the opposite effect of the one it intended–less internal prohibition (or policing) by firms of “unethical” conduct and less disclosure of such conduct.  I hasten to note that this study doesn’t say anything about whether SOX had anything to do with the watered-down ethics codes; for all I know they were already watered down (and thus the accuracy of my prediction is unconfirmed by the article).  But that would have been the thing to look at, it seems to me:  The role of SOX in inducing firms to engage in disfavored conduct to avoid new disclosure obligations that they would not otherwise have engaged in.

Despite this critique, I think the article is the best sort of empirical legal scholarship.  My conclusion might diverge from R&S’s (I would not suggest, as they do, a rule simply requiring disclosure of all related-party transactions over a certain size), but the evidence they uncover is important and their presentation of it is straightforward, well-written and informative.

I’m delighted to report that the Liberty Fund has produced a three-volume collection of my dad’s oeuvre.  Fred McChesney edits, Jon Macey writes a new biography and Henry Butler, Steve Bainbridge and Jon Macey write introductions.  The collection can be ordered here.

Here’s the description:

As the founder of the Center for Law and Economics at George Mason University and dean emeritus of the George Mason School of Law, Henry G. Manne is one of the founding scholars of law and economics as a discipline. This three-volume collection includes articles, reviews, and books from more than four decades, featuring Wall Street in Transition, which redefined the commonly held view of the corporate firm.

Volume 1, The Economics of Corporations and Corporate Law, includes Manne’s seminal writings on corporate law and his landmark blend of economics and law that is today accepted as a standard discipline, showing how Manne developed a comprehensive theory of the modern corporation that has provided a framework for legal, economic, and financial analysis of the corporate firm.

Volume 2, Insider Trading, uses Manne’s ground-breaking Insider Trading and the Stock Market as a framework for many of Manne’s innovative contributions to the field, as well as a fresh context for understanding the complex world of corporate law and securities regulation.

Volume 3, Liberty and Freedom in the Economic Ordering of Society, includes selections exploring Manne’s thoughts on corporate social responsibility, on the regulation of capital markets and securities offerings, especially as examined in Wall Street in Transition, on the role of the modern university, and on the relationship among law, regulation, and the free market.

Manne’s most auspicious work in corporate law began with the two pieces from the Columbia Law Review that appear in volume 1, says general editor Fred S. McChesney. Editor Henry Butler adds: “Henry Manne was an innovator challenging the very foundations of the current learning.” “The ‘Higher Criticism’ of the Modern Corporation” was Manne’s first attempt at refuting the all too common notion that corporations were merely devices that allowed managers to plunder shareholders. Manne saw that such a view of corporations was inconsistent with the basic economic assumption that individuals either understand or soon will understand the costs and benefits of their own situations and that they respond according to rational self-interest.

My dad tells me the sample copies have arrived at his house, and I expect my review copy any day now.  But I can already tell you that the content is excellent.  Now-under-cited-but-essential-nonetheless corporate law classics like Some Theoretical Aspects of Share Voting and Our Two Corporation Systems: Law and Economics (two of his best, IMHO) should get some new life.  Among his non-corporations works, the classic and fun Parable of the Parking Lots (showing a humorous side of Henry that unfortunately rarely comes through in the innumerable joke emails he passes along to those of us lucky enough to be on “the list”) and the truly-excellent The Political Economy of Modern Universities (an updating of which forms a large part of a long-unfinished manuscript by my dad and me) are standouts.  And the content in the third volume from Wall Street in Transition has particular relevance today, and we would all do well to re-learn the lessons of those important contributions.

The full table of contents is below the fold.  Get it while it’s hot! Continue Reading…

A Sarbox Update

Josh Wright —  4 December 2009

From Larry Ribstein:

A few years later, Henry Butler and I wrote a book decrying SOX, and discussing the evidence that was accumulating against it, as well as the SOX suit. Here’s an excerpt from the book abstract:

If the suit is successful, Congress likely will have an opportunity to repair the constitutional defect. Although political reality suggests that Congress will not abandon SOX, it may respond to the mounting criticism by fixing its most egregious faults.

The pro-SOX media and pundits scoffed at the suit. But as I pointed out back in 2008 when some DC Circuit judges appeared receptive to plaintiff’s argument, the suit “may actually have some legs.”

The appellate court rejected the suit, but the Supreme Court agreed to hear it. I joined an amicus brief arguing for unconstitutionality.

Now the pundits have retrenched a little to the position that even if the PCAOB goes, the rest of the act will be saved despite the absence of a severability clause. But the pundits have been surprised how far this suit has gotten already, and they may well be surprised again.

Meanwhile, Congress is thinking about amending the law to exempt small firms. This bill gives some indication of what might happen to SOX if the whole thing has to go back to Congress.

As I said back in 2006:

SOX wasn’t just a bad law, but a uniquely bad law, passed under uniquely bad conditions without any of the safeguards that normally accompany major legislation.  And even if repeal or drastic shrinkage is impossible, it’s still necessary to make the case as a warning against future SOX’s.  One way to do that is to establish SOX as a paradigm of bad law. In other words, to make Sarbanes and Oxley the Edsel Fords of corporate governance regulation.

I’ve been watching the SOX debacle play out for seven years. It will be interesting to see how this ends.

Is available here. Here is the description:

Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in response to major corporate and accounting scandals–and many consider the act to be the most significant change in corporate governance and securities regulations in the past seventy years.

SOX requirements have brought about far-reaching changes for public corporations, private corporations, and nonprofits. Every manager and director should be aware of how the business landscape will be affected.

The Complete Guide to Sarbanes-Oxley answers in nontechnical language such questions as:

  • What does SOX mean to me now?
  • Do I have to worry about it?
  • How much legal and accounting help do I need?
  • What information technology requirements will I face?

If you’re a business owner, you need The Complete Guide to Sarbanes-Oxley!

Interested readers may also want to take a look at Butler & Ribstein’s AEI analysis of the Sarbanes-Oxley Debacle as well as Kate Litvak’s latest empirical examination of the affect of SOX on the cross-listing premium.

Kate Litvak (UT Law, and friend of TOTM) , whose excellent paper (discussed around the blogosphere here and here), “The Effect of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act on Non-US Companies Cross-Listed in the US,” has been selected as the best paper for the forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Corporate Finance associated with the Boundaries of Regulation conference. This is quite an impressive accomplishment for a junior scholar doing interdisciplinary work in a highly technical field like finance, or for that matter, anybody else. Congratulations Kate!

Rent a CFO?

Darian Ibrahim —  26 February 2007

This recent article in the NYT (log in required) caught my eye. It discusses the growing market for temporary financial services to companies. Since SOX this market has grown by 68% to $8.9 billion, and is expected to grow another 10% this year. The companies looking for temporary help include nonprofits, public corporations, and start-ups.

While the post-SOX boom suggests that public companies are the largest user of these services, the article also notes that start-ups have been renting CFOs for the past fifteen years. This practice makes a lot of sense from the entrepreneur’s perspective. Start-ups are short of cash and may be unable to keep a permanent finance person on staff. But when it comes time to solicit angel or venture capital funding, bringing in an expert can help entrepreneurs with financial projections in a business plan and during negotiations over valuation, all at an hourly rate. This hire-as-needed model works well for lawyers – why not for finance types? The article was quite rosy on the idea, but I wonder if there are any downsides? Perhaps liability concerns for the temp (the article mentions the possible need for a D&O policy)?

Securities fraud class-actions are down. In an op-ed in yesterday’s WSJ, Joseph Grundfest observed that both the number of such actions and the dollar value of total damages claims have dropped dramatically since mid-2005. Why has this decline occurred? Grundfest considers several possible reasons.

First, the decline might be due to the criminal prosecution of Milberg Weiss, the leading securities fraud plaintiff firm. Grundfest rejects that explanation:

[T]here is no shortage of plaintiff class-action lawyers in America, and the barriers to entry in class-action securities fraud are quite low. The lawyers who abandoned Milberg in droves haven’t forgotten how to file class action complaints, and their incentives to sue every firm in sight remain as strong as ever.

Next, Grundfest considers whether the decline is due to recent “strong equity markets, combined with low volatility.” He rejects that explanation because “the change in the litigation market is rather sudden in comparison to a relatively smooth shift in the larger stock market patterns” and because “current activity levels are low even when measured by pre-boom standards” (i.e., even when compared to levels preceding the boom-bust period of the late 1990s).

Finally, Grundfest considers a theory he deems more plausible: there are fewer securities fraud class actions because there is less fraud, and there is less fraud because the government (post-Enron, WorldCom, and Sarbanes-Oxley) has more effective tools for prosecuting fraud:

From this perspective, class-action securities litigation is in decline because there is a new, tougher and superior enforcement mechanism in place. The SEC and the Department of Justice now insist that any corporation suspected of a sufficiently serious fraud conduct an internal investigation that will finger the executives responsible. The corporation must also cooperate in prosecuting these executives. This enforcement technique is stunningly effective, if often overbearing. It eliminates the government’s need to conduct expensive and lengthy investigations and provides the authorities with extraordinary leverage over every executive suspected of wrongdoing. Private litigation doesn’t have an equivalent deterrent effect because it can’t threaten executives with jail and because damages are almost always paid by corporations and insurers, not the executives who cause the fraud.

I’m wondering what others think about this theory. It would be interesting to see whether both accounting fraud and non-accounting fraud claims have decreased by similar proportions. The recent government enforcement efforts have been focused on accounting fraud, so if we’re seeing a greater decrease in accounting fraud claims than in non-accounting fraud claims, then Grundfest’s “supply side” story may be plausible. If non-accounting fraud claims have been decreasing by a similar proportion, then it would seem the decrease should be attributed to something else.

In any event, I’d be reluctant to infer from Grundfest’s statistics that increased prosecutorial activity is desirable. I’d echo Larry Ribstein’s query:

Does the dip in securities litigation suggest that the corporate criminal prosecutions have been worth these costs? … [E]ven if we do have less fraud to litigate, I’d wonder whether it’s been worth the price. Do we have less risk-taking? A zero fraud world is not necessarily paradise.

Grundfest, of course, is well-aware that stepped up prosecutorial activity can have serious negative effects. Not too long ago, he wrote eloquently about the downsides of such prosecutorial activity in the New York Times. Some highlights:

The Supreme Court has overturned Arthur Andersen’s conviction for obstruction of justice in the Enron case. But to Andersen, the court’s ruling doesn’t matter, the original trial at which it was convicted didn’t matter and the verdict at any coming trial won’t matter. Andersen was destroyed when it was indicted.

… Andersen’s demise did serve as a stern reminder to corporate America that prosecutors can bring down or cripple many of America’s leading corporations simply by indicting them on sufficiently serious charges. No trial is necessary.

… Prosecutors are aware of their power, as are potential corporate defendants. Both sides have therefore reached an entente cordiale in which no major corporation has been forced out of business since Andersen’s demise. Instead, corporations have entered into deferred-prosecution agreements, paid huge penalties, and undertaken fundamental internal reforms, all under conditions that allow the corporation to survive.

… The upside of this arrangement is clear. Corporations now have an even more powerful incentive to abide by the law, to root out wrongdoing, and to cooperate with governmental authorities. Unbridled prosecutorial discretion will not end fraud in corporate America, but wrongdoing will certainly decline as executives learn that they are expendable if a prosecutor simply threatens the corporation.

… The downside is just as clear. The prosecutor’s decision to indict is largely immune from judicial review. The prosecutor acts as judge and jury. Traditional due process safeguards, like the right to confront witnesses, can’t protect the potential corporate defendant. The innocent can therefore be punished as though they are guilty, and penalties imposed in settlements need not bear a rational relationship to penalties that would result at a trial that will never happen.

Henry Manne is back with another article in the WSJ.  This time Manne goes toe-to-toe with the “corporate democrats.”
Profs Ribstein (“Shareholder democracy is just one of the burdens that public corporations have to bear these days”)  and Bainbridge (“it’s a brilliant spanking of the shareholder activists, which I highly commend to your attention”) have already chimed in on this one.  Still, it is worth posting a few key paragraphs:

The hidden agenda of many corporate democrats is even more apparent when they argue that large corporations are indeed like small republics and should, therefore, like all governments, be democratized or constitutionalized. This is usually no more than an assertion that the large size of an otherwise private enterprise is sufficient to convert what would otherwise be a private ordering into something suffused with a public interest — in other words, an argument for more socialism. The very success of a private concern becomes the reason for destroying its privateness — a neat rhetorical trick if it was not so patently absurd.

Sometimes this argument is made a bit more logical by saying that large size necessarily means that external costs will be visited on the rest of society. This is the basis for the currently popular claim that so-called “stakeholders” should have a real voice in how the corporation conducts its affairs. But even if there are occasional costly externalities associated with corporate activities, rearranging corporate governance, which is obviously functioning adequately for investors now, is an irresponsible and costly way to solve that real political problem.

We need corporate activists today more than ever, but we need them to lobby and argue for repeal of our many costly and ill-serving bits of corporate regulation. They might start with Sarbanes-Oxley, then go back in time to cover the Williams Act and state anti-takeover provisions, the Investment Company Act of 1940, the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 and the Securities Act of 1933. I know this is pie-in-the-sky idealism, but it does not change the fact that, on balance, the world would be a far better place without these laws or anything like them.

I don’t have anything to add to this other than a recommendation to go read it in full.

Two in the WSJ

Josh Wright —  16 December 2006

Airlines and Antitrust.

Kenneth Starr on Sarbox. The punchline:

Even the statute’s co-author, Rep. Mike Oxley, has conceded that Sarbanes-Oxley was hastily written and enacted. In its rush to “do something” about corporate scandals, Congress overstepped the bounds of its authority. It is time to call Congress back, both to help our economy and reaffirm that our constitutional system imposes clear limits on the government’s urgent desire to “do something.” Congress must be reminded that the “solution” is at times worse than the problem.

UDPATE: Ribstein comments on Starr’s constitutional case against the PCAOB.

Holman Jenkins reports that a group of economists led by Milton Friedman and Harry Markowitz are getting behind the idea of putting an end to the expensing of options. It is a great column. Jenkins goes on to discuss options backdating and makes the following points, which will sound unfamiliar to TOTM readers:

  • “In no generic sense can one say executives “inflated” their pay or “stole” from shareholders. Backdated packages were not more “lucrative” — it’s fallacious to assume that the alternative package consisted of an identical number of options at a less advantageous price.”
  • “Backdating did not provide “guaranteed” or “risk free” profits. It did not “undermine the incentive purpose” of options.”
  • “It seems likely that companies, after all, did correctly report the number of options and their price to shareholders. Let it be remembered, too, that millions of these options were cancelled or expired unexercised.”

Geoff made exactly these points in this space months ago (and also more recently, here). Personally, I am thrilled to see a column that focuses on the real questions surrounding backdating: (1) Why do firms backdate? (2) What are the consequences of backdating? and (3) What is the theory of harm, if any, upon which we are going to base civil and criminal prosecutions? It is remarkable, but not incredibly surprising, how little attention has been paid to these questions in favor of the Gretchen Morgenstern-style rants that Professor Ribstein enjoys dismantling weekly.

Geoff’s earlier post frames the backdating issue in terms of the important economic (and legal) questions involved. For example, Geoff makes the following basic (and sadly overlooked) points:

  1. Backdated options have incentive effects too.
  2. Regulatory quirks involving accounting rules may have provided firms the incentive to backdate.
  3. If we are to believe that some 2,000 companies engaged in some form of backdating, many did not appear to be hiding it.
  4. There may be no harm whatsoever resulting from backdating. To borrow from Geoff: “It’s not like the options cruise along for a period of time out of the money (and priced by the market accordingly) and then are miraculously turned into at the money or in the money options the moment they are exercised. Rather, the day the options are issued, they are issued with a strike price AS IF they had been issued on an earlier date when the market price was lower. But there’s no lie here – it’s just a convenient way of providing more compensation.”
  5. And finally, there are a number of instruments available to compensate executives with or without backdating. I’m not sure if anyone really believes that in the absence of backdating the actual level of compensation would decrease, despite the fact that this assumption seems necessary to the theory of harm most frequently discussed.

Assuming for the moment that backdating is as rampant as the Lie study, media reports, and sudden wellspring of law firm and litigation consultant “backdating” teams suggests, it might be prudent to ask: “why?” and something along the lines of “so what?” The only answers to the “so what” question have been assertions about shareholder exploitation and comparisons to Enron. As to “why backdating,” there seems to be little interest in figuring out what economic and institutional conditions led to the widespread adoption of option backdating and whether the practice is an efficient element of a compensation contract or something more sinister. Rather, we get mostly claims that backdating is a function of widespread fraud or compensation committee naiveity. As I explain below the fold, I don’t think either of these theories get us very far in terms of explaining backdating. Continue Reading…

According to this CFO.com article, London Stock Exchange listed companies are concerned that the acquisition of the LSE by a U.S. exchange will subject the companies to SOX (recall that Nasdaq’s $4.2 billion unsolicited bid for the LSE was rejected but it has since acquired 24% of LSE shares). And LSE companies should be concerned considering the high costs of SOX compliance but questionable benefits. However, according to the article:

Callum McCarthy, chairman of Britain’s Financial Services Authority, stated that the FSA and the Securities and Exchange Commission agree that U.S. ownership of the LSE would not “in and of itself” mean that U.S. regulations would apply to LSE-listed or -quoted companies . . . .

The statement could have certainly gone further in comforting LSE companies. They can, however, take more comfort from market realities. If the Nasdaq were to acquire the LSE, it would do everything possible to keep it outside the reach of SOX. A primary objective of Nasdaq acquiring a foreign exchange is to be able to provide a non-SOX listing option so that it can get a piece of the increasing number of deals now being done outside of the U.S. in large part due to SOX. As the W$J recently noted (see here):

In 2000, nine of every 10 dollars raised by non-U.S. companies through new stock offerings were raised in the U.S. Last year the reverse was true: nine of every 10 dollars were raised abroad.