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  Staff Interpretation Letter 2013-4  
Identification Number 1090

This is in response to your correspondence regarding whether certain proposed actions in connection with the payment by the Company of an extraordinary cash dividend would be considered material amendments to the Company's equity compensation plans, requiring shareholder approval under Listing Rule 5635(c) and IM-5635-1 (collectively, the “Rule”). You indicated that the Company is considering paying an extraordinary cash dividend, which would equal approximately 25% of the Company's current stock price.

Under the Company's stock plans (the “Stock Plans”), the Company currently has outstanding stock options, stocks appreciation rights (“SARs”), and restricted stock units (“RSUs”) (collectively, the “Awards”). The Company also maintains an ESPP, which is designed to qualify under Section 423 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended.

The Company proposes to amend the Stock Plans to allow for adjustments of the Awards upon the payment of an extraordinary cash dividend by the Company (the “Plan Amendments”). Under the Plan Amendments, the Company would make a cash payment upon vesting of an outstanding RSU in an amount equal to the amount of the extraordinary cash dividend. Adjustments to options and SARs would vary based on the tax effect of the adjustment to the recipient. Wherever permissible under guidance issued by the IRS, the Company would reduce the exercise price of the option or SAR by the amount of the extraordinary dividend (the “Exercise Price Adjustment”). However, you stated that under this IRS guidance, where the post-adjusted exercise price of a stock option or SAR would be equal to or less than 30% of the underlying stock price immediately following the adjustment, the IRS would recharacterize the award, resulting in a change in the Award's tax status to the recipient. In these cases, the Company would reduce the Award's exercise price to the extent permissible under the IRS guidance without a change in the recipient's tax status (the “Partial Adjustment”). In addition, the Company will make a cash payment to the recipient in an amount equal to the difference between the amount of the extraordinary cash dividend and the Partial Adjustment. The Plan Amendments would be approved by the independent compensation committee of the Company's board of directors.

The Company also proposes to amend the ESPP to preserve the existing intrinsic value through a proportionate adjustment to the number of shares and purchase price for shares purchasable during the ESPP offering period when an extraordinary cash dividend is paid (the “ESPP Amendments”). The ESPP Amendments would be approved by the independent compensation committee of the Company's board of directors. You have represented that implementing the ESPP Amendments as proposed without shareholder approval would not affect the treatment of the ESPP under Section 423 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Following our review of the information provided, we have determined that the Plan Amendments you described would not be material amendments for purposes of the Rule. We note that the proposed Plan Amendments to provide cash payments to affected participants in the Plans are not subject to the Rule, which only applies to equity compensation. Further, reducing the exercise price of the outstanding stock options and SARs would not increase the intrinsic value of the Awards and such reduction would not provide any additional benefit to the recipients, other than that one-time adjustment to reflect the extraordinary dividend. Therefore, the Exercise Price Adjustment and Partial Adjustment would not result in a material increase in the benefits to the participants. In addition, the Plan Amendments would not result in: a material expansion in the class of participants; a material increase in the number of shares to be issued under the Stock Plans; or an expansion in the types of awards available. As a result, shareholder approval is not required for the Plan Amendments under the Rule.

Under Listing Rule 5635(c)(2) , shareholder approval is not required for the adoption or amendment of a tax qualified, non-discriminatory employee benefit plan, including a plan that meets the requirements of Section 423 of the Internal Revenue Code, if such plans are approved by a company's independent compensation committee. Since the ESPP and the ESPP Amendments are designed to satisfy the requirements of Section 423, and the ESPP Amendments will only be implemented with approval of the Company's independent compensation committee, shareholder approval is not required for the ESPP Amendments.

Publication Date*: 8/29/2013 Mailto Link Identification Number: 1090
material_search_footer*The Publication Date reflects the date of first inclusion in the Reference Library, which was launched on July 31, 2012, or a subsequent update to the material. Material may have been previously available on a different Nasdaq web site.
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