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.
Archive for the ‘Academic Research’ Category
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.
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:
In our recent NBER working paper, Financing as a Supply Chain: The Capital Structure of Banks and Borrowers, we propose a novel framework to model joint debt decisions of banks and borrowers. Our framework combines the models used by bank regulators with the models used to explain capital structure in corporate finance. This structure can be used to explore the quantitative impact of government interventions such as deposit insurance, bailouts, and capital regulation.
In our paper, CEO Job Security and Risk-Taking, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we use the length of employment contracts to estimate CEO turnover probability and its effects on risk-taking. Protection against dismissal should encourage CEOs to pursue riskier projects. Indeed, we show that firms with lower CEO turnover probability exhibit higher return volatility, especially idiosyncratic risk. An increase in turnover probability of one standard deviation is associated with a volatility decline of 17 basis points. This reduction in risk is driven largely by a decrease in investment and is not associated with changes in compensation incentives or leverage.
The board of directors is a collective body, whose members have diverse expertise in various aspects of the company’s business. Therefore, communication between directors is critical to successful board functioning. In recent years, regulators, shareholders, and directors themselves have been paying increased attention to decision-making policies that could increase the quality of board discussions. Executive sessions that exclude the management, separation of the CEO and chairman positions, board retreats, and separate committees on specific topics have been put in place to promote more effective communication. As governance experts Carter and Lorsch (2004) emphasize, “If we could offer only one piece of advice, it would be to strive for open communication among board members.”
I’ve recently posted to SSRN a book chapter called “An Economic Theory of Fiduciary Law,” which will be published in Philosophical Foundations of Fiduciary Law by Oxford University Press. The editors are Andrew Gold and Paul Miller.
The purpose of my chapter is to restate the economic theory of fiduciary law. In doing so, the chapter makes several fresh contributions. First, it elaborates on earlier work by clarifying the agency problem that is at the core of all fiduciary relationships. In consequence of this common economic structure, there is a common doctrinal structure that cuts across the application of fiduciary principles in different contexts. However, within this common structure, the particulars of fiduciary obligation vary in accordance with the particulars of the agency problem in the fiduciary relationship at issue. This point explains the purported elusiveness of fiduciary doctrine. It also explains why courts apply fiduciary law both categorically, such as to trustees and (legal) agents, as well as ad hoc to relationships involving a position of trust and confidence that gives rise to an agency problem.
Several years ago, the Delaware Supreme Court held, in Revlon v. MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, that when a “sale” or “break-up” of a company becomes “inevitable,” the duty of the board of directors is not to maintain the independence of the company or otherwise give priority to long-term considerations, but rather to obtain the highest price possible for the shareholders in the transaction (that is, to maximize short-term value). To satisfy that duty, when confronted with these situations, the board is generally supposed to conduct an auction (or, as clarified in subsequent decisions, a “market check”) that ensures that the final buyer is, in fact, the best bidder available. In the words of the court, in this “inevitable” “break-up” or “sale” scenario (which, however, the court did not precisely define), the directors’ duties shift from “defenders of the corporate bastion to auctioneers charged with getting the best price for the stockholders.”
It is hard to gainsay the observation that business law practice has evolved significantly over the last three decades. Fields as distinct as corporate, securities and mergers and acquisitions law have substantially merged with a host of traditional “business school” topics, such as accounting, finance, strategy, project management and risk analysis. Although some law schools have endeavored to keep up with these changes in business law practice, their reaction has been somewhat sluggish. Indeed, many major law firms with sophisticated business law practices have expended significant resources on training their junior associates (or retraining their experienced attorneys) through “mini-MBA” courses, business boot camps, and similar programs offered either through third parties, partnerships or in-house expertise. Nevertheless, it is our view that law schools can and should continue to work to provide this type of training to students in partnership with efforts already under way at law firms. Such efforts are certainly key components to creating sophisticated lawyers for the next century.