2023’s excitement for generative artificial intelligence (AI) prompted the SEC to respond on multiple fronts – stump speeches, rulemaking, new exam priorities and sweeps and previewing potential enforcement actions. SEC Chair Gary Gensler raised concerns regarding potential conflicts and investor harm resulting from the proliferation of AI and warned that an AI-caused financial crisis is nearly unavoidable absent regulation. The SEC adopted a number of initiatives in 2023 to respond to these perceived risks. 

ESG continues to be a hot topic for 2024 for investors and regulators alike. The specific concerns investors and regulators have – and what they expect to develop over the coming months – differ, however, across jurisdictions, including because of the different maturity of existing regulation between the EU/UK and the US.

Economic headwinds and the interest rate environment that developed over the course of 2023 increased financial stress on portfolio companies and portend heightened litigation risk in 2024 for portfolio companies and their private fund sponsors. Specifically, interest rate increases that accelerated through 2022 continued in 2023, and compounded existing economic stressors including tight liquidity and inflation coming out of 2020 and 2021, as well as increased cost and other burdens related to ESG and regulatory compliance. These pressures put portfolio companies in often unsustainable financial positions, causing them to prematurely seek liquidity events, violate debt covenants with lenders, and resort to bankruptcy, all of which has led to an increase in disputes and litigation, which we expect to continue in 2024.

In a wave of SEC rulemaking this past year, representing a “new world order” event akin to Dodd-Frank, the SEC has provided itself with a fresh set of tools to increase regulatory and enforcement scrutiny on private funds. Among other things, certain of the rules could result in fundamental changes to market practices and greater disclosure to LPs. While ongoing litigation will determine the fates of the Private Fund Adviser Rules, the Short Sale Disclosure Rule, and the Securities Lending Rule, and while other rules are awaiting final adoption, the SEC concerns underlying the rulemaking will continue regardless.   

To understand the litigation and regulatory risks that are coming in 2024 for private capital, it is helpful to look back briefly on recent events. Arguably, the single most important event over the last 18 months was the rapid increase in interest rates by the central banks in the United States, England, and Europe. From March 2022 to August 2023, the Federal Reserve increased interest rates at the fastest clip in more than 40 years, to break inflation that had reached the highest levels since the 1970s.

The SEC’s recent enforcement settlement involving a fund manager highlights the SEC’s focus on an investor’s “control purpose” triggering the requirement to file on a Schedule 13D as opposed to a short-form 13G. At issue was HG Vora Capital Management’s 5% interest in a public company, and whether it had

The SEC issued an order approving the applications of 11 different spot Bitcoin exchange-traded products to each list and trade their shares on a national securities exchange. This order represents the first time that the SEC has permitted the listing of an exchange-traded product that invests directly in a cryptocurrency

Since 2015, the SEC has brought nearly two dozen enforcement actions for violations of the whistleblower protection rules under Rule 21F-17(a) against employers for actions taken to impede reporting to the SEC. The bulk of these actions have focused on language in employee-facing agreements that allegedly discouraged such reporting. The SEC shows no sign of slowing down; indeed, the Commission has brought five enforcement actions in this past fiscal year alone, and the penalties imposed for these violations appear to be increasing. The settlements – and the risk they represent – serve as a reminder for companies to review their existing employment documents and internal policies, including confidentiality policies, to ensure that restrictive language is removed and that appropriate whistleblower carveout language is included. Conducting this review, and making any appropriate changes, will help ensure compliance with Rule 21F-17(a).

Earlier today, the SEC’s Private Fund Adviser Rules were published in the Federal Register. As with all federal regulations, publication in the Federal Register begins the countdown to the Rules’ compliance dates. These dates are listed in the table below. Please see our prior alerts for an overview of