Facebook Filing Blasts Obama-Bush Overregulation of Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank

by John Berlau on February 2, 2012 · 9 comments

in Deregulate to Stimulate, Economy, Features

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In his letter to prospective shareholders in the middle of the 201-page “Form S-1” that Facebook  filed yesterday afternoon to launch its much-anticipated initial public offering, company founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that one mission of Facebook is to “bring a more honest and transparent dialogue around government.”

In one important way, another section of the IPO already does so in communicating the incredible burdens on companies attempting to go public — burdens that create difficulties even for companies as big as Facebook and almost insurmountable for smaller firms. On page 30 of the S-1 (page 37  if counting the total number of pages), Facebook specifically singles out the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 as “risk factors” that will impose substantial costs to the company and its shareholders and divert resources from the firm’s core mission of innovation.

In bold lettering, Facebook announces, “The requirements of being a public company may strain our resources  and divert management’s attention.” The prospectus goes on to explain:

As a public company, we will be subject to the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (Exchange Act), the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Dodd-Frank Act, … and other applicable securities rules and regulations. Compliance with these rules and regulations will increase our legal and financial compliance costs, make some activities more difficult, time-consuming, or costly, and increase demand on our systems and resources.

Regarding Sarbox, Facebook registers a complaint similar to that of many entrepreneurs, investors, and scholars of the economy about the law’s burden. The filing notes that the company is “in the process of designing, implementing, and testing the internal control over financial reporting required to comply with” Sarbox’s infamous Section 404,”which process is time consuming, costly, and complicated.”

Facebook is far from the only firm — big or small — that has found Sarbox to be “time consuming, costly, and complicated.” According to John Battelle’s book The Search, considered a definitive history of Google, Sarbox was “hell for a company like Google, which made its money literally pennies at a time, from millions upon millions of micro-transactions.”

Battelle reports that Sarbox compliance significantly delayed Google’s 2004 IPO. “According to engineers involved in the work, Google had to significantly restructure its advertising report system from the ground up.”

And if Sarbox makes life difficult for humongous firms such as Facebook and Google, we can only imagine the toll it takes on smaller firm seeking to raise capital by going public. And these are the very firms that could be the next Facebook or Google or start the next retailing wave like Home Depot.

And with specific regard to Home Deport, the firm’s co-founder Bernie Marcus has said many time the company likely never could have gotten off the ground if Sarbox and other of today’s regulations had been in effect. “We could never succeed today,” Marcus bluntly told radio host Hugh Hewitt in June.

In contrast to Facebook and other IPOs this year that launched when the firms already had billion-dollar market valuations, Marcus explained that when Home Depot went public, it was nowhere near a billion-dollar company. In fact, it had just four stores to its name.

IPOs of this size were fairly typical in the pre-Sarbox world. AOL founder Steve Case, a member of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness,  recently noted in a Washington Post op-ed, “Initial public offerings of less than $50 million were 80 percent of IPOs in the 1990s but just 20 percent in the 2000s.”

Another key difference between the pre-and post-Sarbox era, is that when small firms went public, they did so to raise the capital they needed to grow. Today, when companies the size of Facebook, Groupon, and LinkedIn launch IPOs, they do so mainly so their limited number of wealthy investors can realize the value of the growth that has already occurred. As Zuckerberg wrote in his letter in the S-1, the primary purpose of the IPO is to make the stock “worth a lot and make it liquid” for existing investors and employees.

Nothing wrong with that, but because Sarbox and Dodd-Frank prevent smaller firms from having the same access to the public markets, job creation suffers. As Case notes in his op-ed: “90 percent of job creation typically happens after a company goes public — and all too often, the alternative is for a company to be sold. While job growth accelerates after an IPO, it decelerates when a firm merges or is acquired.”

The good news is a package of bills passed the House overwhelmingly – with more than 400 votes and, in some cases, the Obama administration’s endorsement – in November to allow Facebook-like innovations such as “crowdfunding,” in which smaller firms can raise some seed capital free of much of the red tape from Sarbox and Dodd-Frank. The bad news is, as House Speaker John Boehner noted in a statement today, these bills have stalled in Harry Reid’s Senate. It’s time to “friend” solutions that allow small entrepreneurs and investors to take full advantage of the Facebook age.

Trey Kovacs assisted with the post.

JD February 2, 2012 at 6:38 pm

I find it amazing that so much of this Sarbanes-Oxley bashing is coming from individuals who are clueless as to the work actually performed. SOX merely tests the controls that any competent company should “already” have in place. Of course the CEO’s don’t like SOX as it requires them to be held responsible.

The initial years of the law were expensive as everyone over documented and over tested; however, costs today are much more reasonable.

I work for a small firm that focuses on SOX compliance and the costs associated with Section 404a are nominal. We recently quoted a new public company $20k for Finance, Tax, and IT SOX services – market cap was $100 million. Even our clients with a market cap of $1 billion are paying less than $150k.

I’m not sure where all of the Politician’s and reporters obtain their numbers…

If your company is overpaying for SOX services feel free to contact me for a reasonable quote.

mdb February 3, 2012 at 8:08 am

So in other words you are a consultant that gets paid by companies to interpret the rules they can not understand. I would further venture to guess that you and/or many of your coworkers at one time worked for the regulating agencies that came up with these arcane regulations, that are easy to understand and cost little.

Please spare us your drivel.

Florian Schach Engage America February 6, 2012 at 9:46 am

JD – It sounds like you and your company are working hard to bring the cost of Sarbanes Oxley compliance under control. That is great. However, there articles highlights that Sarbanes Oxley is just the most recent of many regulatory costs a public company needs to bear. You comments also speaks about the annual cost of staying compliant, but the article speaks to the high cost to GET compliant. This burden causes many companies to rethink going public. When companies like Facebook resist going public and companies smaller than Facebook choose not to go public, they are closing the door on funding source that ultimately leads to greater investment, innovation and jobs.

Bottom line – Over-regulation continues to stand in the way of being able to do the very thing that the American government has asked corporations to do — create jobs and hire more people. The high cost of compliance (about $1 trillion a year in new regulations) alone is enough to make companies reconsider employment (http://eng.am/sTM3nH) We can’t have it both ways.

livefreeorpie February 2, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Now that the company is worth something, the regulators will come a-calling.

Mac February 4, 2012 at 8:10 pm

No doubt someone will make a career out of it.

Brian February 3, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Another author that doesnt understand accounting of Sarbanes opining of its perceived horrors.

1. All companies have increased costs as a result of going public (accountants, auditors, lawyers, etc.) not all are related to Sarbanes compliance.

2. Disclosing these increased costs is not “Facebook (or any other company) Slamming” anything, in fact they are simply complying with SEC rules and regulations designed to protect investors.

3. Many private companies have implemented much of the time consuming sections of Sarbanes because (unlike the author) they understand the law and its value.

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