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.

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

On Friday, September 1, 2023, a lawsuit was filed with the federal Court of Appeals in the Fifth Circuit challenging the validity and enforceability of the recently adopted Private Fund Adviser Rules under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (the “Advisers Act”).  (Please see our prior alerts for a description of the Rules’ provisions and their applicability to non-U.S. investment advisers.)  The lawsuit was filed in the form of a Petition for Review pursuant to Section 213(a) of the Advisers Act, which authorizes such a petition for persons “aggrieved” by the actions of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “Commission” or the “SEC”).

On August 24, 2023, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued its much-anticipated decision in Kirschner v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, holding that the syndicate term loans at issue were not securities. As noted in our earlier blog post, the SEC declined the court’s request to file an amicus brief, forgoing the opportunity to provide its views on the issue and influence the outcome of the appeal.[1]

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Yesterday, the five SEC commissioners voted 3-2, along party lines, to approve the Private Fund Adviser Rules. The final Rules scale back from what was initially proposed 18 months ago, in ways that are likely to be a relief to many private fund advisers. (For a summary of the initial proposal, please see our previous Alert.) Even in their current form, however, the Rules still impose many new obligations and introduce new prohibitions that are likely to significantly alter business practices, and impose new administrative burdens and costs, across many registered and exempt private fund advisers. All private fund advisers should therefore review their practices in light of the new Rules in order to assess whether and how their practices and documentation will need to change before the Rules’ compliance dates.