In November 2013 I delivered the 29th Annual Francis G. Pileggi Distinguished Lecture in Law in Wilmington, Delaware. My lecture, entitled “Delaware’s Choice,” presented four uncontested facts from my prior research: (1) in the 1980s, federal courts established the principle that Section 203 must give bidders a “meaningful opportunity for success” in order to withstand scrutiny under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution; (2) federal courts upheld Section 203 at the time, based on empirical evidence from 1985-1988 purporting to show that Section 203 did in fact give bidders a meaningful opportunity for success; (3) between 1990 and 2010, not a single bidder was able to achieve the 85% threshold required by Section 203, thereby calling into question whether Section 203 has in fact given bidders a meaningful opportunity for success; and (4) perhaps most damning, the original evidence that the courts relied upon to conclude that Section 203 gave bidders a meaningful opportunity for success was seriously flawed—so flawed, in fact, that even this original evidence supports the opposite conclusion: that Section 203 did not give bidders a meaningful opportunity for success.
Posts Tagged ‘Antitakeover’
Takeovers remain the most controversial corporate governance mechanism. According to pro-takeover commentators, takeovers are generally beneficial for corporate governance. Takeovers can displace poorly performing managers and facilitate corporate restructuring. From this perspective, regulation should encourage takeovers. On the opposite side of the debate, those who oppose hostile takeovers argue that they can disrupt well-functioning companies and encourage short-termism. From this point of view, policies that hamper takeovers are favored.
In our paper The Case for an Unbiased Takeover Law (with an Application to the European Union), we reject a categorical pro- or anti-takeover position. While hostile and friendly takeovers may be efficient in the aggregate, individual takeovers and individual companies’ exposure thereto are efficient or inefficient depending on a variety of factors. These factors include the production functions of companies, the conditions in the relevant industry, the problems confronting the corporation and the best response to those problems. Because these all may differ from company to company and over time, so also may the appropriate stance to takeovers differ. Consequently, we posit that takeover regulation should sanction the efforts by individual companies to devise a takeover regime appropriate to their own, mutable circumstances. In other words, takeover regulation should be limited to a set of optional rules.
In the paper, Takeover Defenses as Drivers of Innovation and Value-Creation, forthcoming in the Strategic Management Journal, I analyze the role of anti-takeover provisions in ameliorating agency conflicts of managerial risk aversion in certain types of companies.
The desirability of anti-takeover provisions (ATPs) is a contentious issue. ATPs can lead to shareholder wealth-destruction by insulating managers from disciplinary takeovers and enabling them to engage in empire building. However, without ATPs, managers of hard-to-value (HTV) firms, which might trade at a discount due to valuation-difficulties, are exposed to ‘opportunistic takeovers’ (which aim to take advantage of low stock prices), potentially causing managerial myopia and under-investment in innovative projects. Thus, in HTV firms, ATPs might serve as credible commitments to encourage managers to make value-creating investments, but in easier-to-value firms, they might lead to inefficient governance.
Early corporate law scholarship argued both that anti-takeover devices are inefficient (they reduce the value of the firm) and that firms adopt efficient governance terms before they make their initial public offering. Some of this scholarship asserted that firms go public without anti-takeover devices and adopt them later when agency costs are higher. However, subsequent research revealed that most firms adopt anti-takeover devices before completing their initial public offerings. For example, over eighty-six percent of firms that have gone public in 2012 have a staggered board of directors, and both Google and Facebook chose dual-class capital structures that allow the founders to retain voting control disproportionate to their economic stake.
The literature offers a number of explanations for this apparent puzzle. Capital market imperfections may prevent initial public offering prices from reflecting differences in corporate governance terms. Firms may choose inefficient terms due to bad legal advice or because of frictions in the market for financing prior to the initial public offering. Anti-takeover protections could be efficient after all, at least for some firms, because they correct for myopic investors or some other problem. Finally, managers may choose anti-takeover provisions to signal something about their firms. In an essay forthcoming in the Journal of Corporation Law I offer a very different explanation, one based on the tax code.
My argument begins with a variant of one of the existing explanations for anti-takeover protections. The heart of the argument is that managers are not driven solely by a desire for material gain but derive some happiness or utility from the control they exercise over their firm. To the extent that managers derive happiness from control, they may not choose governance terms that maximize the dollar value of the firm. However, unless there is some contracting failure, they will still choose efficient terms — terms that maximize the total value of the firm (the dollar value plus the control value).
In our paper, Concentrating on Governance, forthcoming in the Journal of Finance, we develop a unified account of the costs and benefits of external governance and explore the economic determinants of the resulting trade-offs for shareholder value. The importance of corporate governance is broadly recognized, but there is a great deal of disagreement on whether existing governance mechanisms ultimately benefit or hurt shareholders. Our novel perspective explains shareholder governance trade-offs, why they arise, and how they vary across firms and industries.
The classical agency view is that it is costly for shareholders to yield power to managers because managers pursue private benefits of control whenever their jobs are protected from takeovers or shareholder initiatives. A challenge to the agency view comes from the alternative bargaining view, which suggests that it is in the interest of shareholders to yield power to managers, a popular argument among M&A lawyers and practitioners.
In a major decision issued last week, William Chandler of Delaware’s Court of Chancery ruled that corporate boards may use a “poison pill”—a device designed to block shareholders from considering a takeover bid—for as long a period of time as the board deems warranted. Because Delaware law governs most U.S. publicly traded firms, the decision is important—and it represents a setback for investors and capital markets.
The ruling grew out of the epic battle between takeover target Airgas and bidder Air Products. Air Products made a takeover bid for Airgas in 2010, increased it several times, and kept it open until last week’s decision. Airgas’s directors argued that defeating the premium offer would prove, in the long run, to be in shareholders’ interests. As the Chancery Court stressed, however, the directors based their opinion solely on information publicly available to shareholders. Why should shareholders, who have powerful incentives to get it right, not be permitted to make their own choice between selling and staying independent?
The Program on Corporate Governance just issued our paper Staggered Boards and the Wealth of Shareholders: Evidence from a Natural Experiment.
While staggered boards are known to be negatively correlated with firm valuation, such association might be due to staggered boards either bringing about lower firm value or merely being the product of the tendency of low-value firms to have staggered boards. Our paper uses a natural experiment setting to identify how market participants view the effect of staggered boards on firm value.
In particular, we focus on two recent rulings, separated by several weeks, that had opposite effects on the antitakeover force of the staggered boards of affected companies: (i) an October 2010 ruling by the Delaware Chancery Court approving the legality of shareholder-adopted bylaws that weaken the antitakeover force of a staggered board by moving the company’s annual meeting up from later parts of the calendar year to January, and (ii) the subsequent decision by the Delaware Supreme Court to overturn the Chancery Court ruling and invalidate such bylaws.
We find evidence consistent with the hypothesis that the Chancery Court ruling increased the value of companies significantly affected by the rulings –namely, companies with a staggered board and an annual meeting in later parts of the calendar year – and that the Supreme Court ruling produced a reduction in the value of these companies that was of similar magnitude (but opposite sign) to the value increase generated by the Chancery Court ruling. The identified positive and negative effects were most pronounced for firms for which control contests are especially relevant due to low industry-adjusted Tobin’s Q, low industry-adjusted return on assets, or relatively small firm size.
Our findings are consistent with market participants’ viewing staggered boards as bringing about a reduction in firm value. The findings are thus consistent with institutional investors’ standard policies of voting in favor of proposals to repeal classified boards, and with the view that the ongoing process of board declassification in public firms will enhance shareholder value.
Below is a more detailed description of what our paper does:
In the paper, Classified Boards, the Cost of Debt, and Firm Performance, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I analyze the effects of classified boards on bondholders’ wealth and the cost of debt, as well as the implications on firm performance. The empirical results suggest that classified boards are strongly associated with a lower cost of debt, and the effect is robust to the inclusion of other governance variables the literature has shown to be relevant to the cost of debt, especially the G-index.
In Versata Enterprises Inc. v. Selectica, Inc., No. 193, 2010 (Del. Oct. 4, 2010), the Delaware Supreme Court addressed the validity of a shareholder rights plan, or “poison pill”, for the first time in a number of years. The court upheld the adoption of a poison pill with a 4.99% trigger designed to protect a company’s net operating losses (“NOLs”) and the subsequent adoption of a “reloaded” poison pill to protect against future threats to those net operating losses.
Shareholder proposals advocating that corporations provide shareholders with the right to act by written consent in lieu of a meeting reappeared on ballots this proxy season after a hiatus of several years and have won average shareholder support of over 54%. While these proposals are nonbinding and the number of companies with such proposals on the ballot in 2010 is relatively small – a total of 16 companies, according to RiskMetrics – the level of shareholder support is striking and will likely encourage proponents to advance proposals at more companies next year.