Staggered boards have long played a central role in the debate on the proper relationship between boards of directors and shareholders. Advocates of shareholder empowerment view staggered boards as a quintessential corporate governance failure. Under this view, insulating directors from market discipline diminishes director accountability and encourages self-serving behaviors by incumbents such as shirking, empire building, and private benefits extraction. On the contrary, defendants of staggered boards view staggered boards as an instrument to preserve board stability and strengthen long-term commitments to value creation. This debate notwithstanding, the existing empirical literature to date has strongly supported the claim that board classification seems undesirable, finding that, in the cross-section, staggered boards are associated with lower firm value and negative abnormal returns at economically and statistically significant levels.
On February 18, both Argentina and the Exchange Bondholders Group filed petitions for writs of certiorari with the Supreme Court, seeking review of the Second Circuit’s rulings in the pari passu litigation. We discuss below the certiorari procedure, followed by comments on substantive arguments raised by Argentina and the Exchange Bondholders.
Our many prior comments on Argentina’s pari passu litigation, as well as all of the material pleadings and decisions (including the two February 18 certiorari petitions), can be found on our Argentine Sovereign Debt webpage, at http://www.shearman.com/argentine-sovereign-debt.
The small company initial public offering (IPO) is dead. In 1997, there were 168 exchange-listed IPOs for companies with an initial market capitalization of less than $75 million. In 2012, there were seven such IPOs, the same number as in 2003.
While there is no doubt that the small company IPO has disappeared, the cause of this decline is uncertain and disputed.
A number of theories have been offered for this decline, but the most prominent theory attributes the decline to increased federal regulation and market structure changes also driven by federal regulation. The explanation for this decline is important, because it has driven passage of the JumpStart Our Business Start-ups Act (the JOBS Act) as well as recently introduced Congressional legislation to mandate decimalization for a five-year period for all companies with a market capitalization of $750 million or below.
In a 17-page memorandum issued by the law firm of Wachtell Lipton (Wachtell), Empiricism and Experience; Activism and Short-Termism; the Real World of Business, the firm’s founder Martin Lipton put forward new criticism of our empirical study, The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism. Lipton’s critique is based on a review of a large number of works which, he asserts, back up empirically the view that our study questions. Following our examination of each of the studies noted by Lipton, this post responds to Lipton’s empirical review. We show that Lipton’s review fails to identify any empirical evidence that is inconsistent with our findings or backs the claim of Wachtell that our study questions.
Our study shows that the myopic activisms claim that Lipton and his firm have long asserted—the claim that that interventions by activist hedge funds are in the long term detrimental to the involved companies and their long-term shareholders—is not supported by the data. Seeking to cast doubt on the validity of our finding, Lipton’s memorandum cites twenty-seven works by academics or policymakers, and asserts that these studies demonstrate that our conclusion—that the myopic activism claims is not supported by the data—is “patently false.” In this post, we explain that this assertion is not supported by the cited studies; most of the studies are not even related to the subject of the consequences of hedge fund activism, and those that are related to it do not provide evidence contradicting our findings.
Below we begin with discussing the relevant background and then review the cited studies and explain why, in contrast to the impression Lipton’s memo seeks to make, they do not provide an empirical basis for the myopic activists view. Instead of running away from the empirical evidence, while constantly shooting back, Wachtell Lipton should accept that its myopic activists claim is not supported by the data. Indeed, as one of us plans to discuss in a separate post, despite its repeated attacks on our study, Wachtell is shifting its position toward avoiding reliance on the myopic activism claim in its opposition to hedge fun activism, and this shift should lead Wachtell and its clients to rethink their attitude to hedge funds activists.
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) litigation activity associated with failed financial institutions increased significantly in 2013, according to Characteristics of FDIC Lawsuits against Directors and Officers of Failed Financial Institutions—February 2014, a new report by Cornerstone Research. The FDIC filed 40 director and officer (D&O) lawsuits in 2013, compared with 26 in 2012, a 54 percent increase.
The surge in FDIC D&O lawsuits stems from the high number of financial institution failures in 2009 and 2010. Of the 140 financial institutions that failed in 2009, the directors and officers of 64 (or 46 percent) either have been the subject of an FDIC lawsuit or settled claims with the FDIC prior to the filing of a lawsuit. Of the 157 institutions that failed in 2010, 53 (or 34 percent) have either been the subject of a lawsuit or have settled with the FDIC.
In a new paper, Toward a Constitutional Review of the Poison Pill, we argue that the state-law rules governing poison pills are vulnerable to challenges based on preemption by the Williams Act. Such challenges, we show, could well have a major impact on the corporate-law landscape.
The Williams Act established a federal regime regulating unsolicited tender offers, but states subsequently developed a body of state antitakeover laws that impose additional impediments to such offers. In a series of well-known cases during the 1970s and 1980s, the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, held some of these state antitakeover laws preempted by the Williams Act. To date, however, federal courts and commentators have paid little attention to the possibility that the state-law rules authorizing the use of poison pills—the most powerful impediment to outside buyers of shares—are also preempted.
Our study examines this subject and concludes that there is a substantial basis for questioning the continued validity of current state-law rules authorizing the use of poison pills. We show that these rules impose tighter restrictions on unsolicited offers than state antitakeover regulations that federal courts invalidated on the grounds of preemption. Preemption challenges to these poison-pill rules could well result in their invalidation by the federal courts.
Finally, we discuss how state lawmakers could revise poison-pill rules to make them more likely to survive a federal preemption challenge. This could be done, we show, by imposing substantial limits on the length of time during which a poison pill can be used to block tender offers. Whether preemption challenges lead to invalidation of existing state-law poison-pill rules or to their substantial modification, such challenges could well reshape the market for corporate control.
Here is a more detailed overview of our analysis:
This Spring, the Supreme Court will decide whether a for-profit corporation can refuse to provide insurance coverage for birth control and other reproductive health services mandated by the Affordable Healthcare Act (or “Obamacare”) when doing so would conflict with “the corporation’s” religious beliefs. Although the main legal issue in Sibelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., et al. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., et al. v. Sibelius concerns the extent to which the guarantee of free exercise of religion under the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act may be asserted by for-profit corporations, the Court’s decision may also have important—and unsettling—implications for state corporate laws that define the fiduciary duties of boards of directors.
Our observations on the Federal Reserve’s final rule:
1. Delayed effective date and higher threshold: Foreign Banking Organizations (FBOs) eked out several small victories in the final rule—in particular, the July 2015 compliance date has been pushed to July 2016 and smaller FBOs (i.e., those with under $50 billion in US non-branch assets) are no longer required to form an Intermediate Holding Company (IHC). The changes reflect the Federal Reserve’s attempt to respond to FBOs’ concerns, especially that smaller FBOs did not pose as much risk to US financial stability.
Marked by leadership changes, high-profile trials, and shifting priorities, 2013 was a turning point for the Enforcement Division of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC” or the “Commission”). While the results of these management and programmatic changes will continue to play out over the next year and beyond, one notable early observation is that we expect an increasingly aggressive enforcement program.
Following an increase in shareholder and investor activism beyond pure executive remuneration issues in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2013, with some 25 companies targeted for public campaigns, this post provides a summary of certain principles of English law and UK and European regulation applicable to UK listed public companies and their shareholders that are relevant to the expected further increase in activism in 2014. This post covers (i) stake-building; (ii) shareholders’ rights to require companies to hold general meetings; (iii) shareholders’ rights to propose resolutions at annual general meetings; and (iv) recent developments in these and related areas through raising and answering a number of relevant questions.