Two recent Chancery Court decisions, Crimson Exploration and KKR Financial, confirm that Delaware takes a flexible and fact-specific approach to determining whether a stockholder is deemed to be “controlling” for purposes of judicial review of a transaction. It is important for dealmakers to understand when the courts may make a determination of control, both to properly craft a defensible process and to understand the prospects for resulting deal litigation.
Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Wolf’
As confidence in M&A activity seems to have turned a corner, the use of acquirer stock as acquisition currency is a serious consideration for executives and advisers on both sides of the table. A number of factors play into the renewed appeal of stock deals, including an increasingly bullish outlook in the C-level suite and higher and more stable stock market valuations, as well as deal-specific drivers like the need for a meaningful stock component in tax inversion transactions (see recent post on this Forum).
With U.S. corporate tax rates among the highest in the world, U.S.-based companies with international operations regularly look for structuring opportunities to reduce the exposure of their overseas earnings to U.S. taxes. A recent trend driving deal activity is the prevalence of acquisition-related inversions whereby the acquiring company redomiciles to a lower-tax jurisdiction concurrently with completing the transaction. While not the exclusive driver, a significant benefit of these inversions is reducing the future tax exposure of the combined company. The tax rules applicable to these inversion transactions are inherently complex and situation-specific. Below, we outline some of the very general principles, as well as some of the opportunities and challenges presented by these transactions.
As dealmakers put the finishing touches on public M&A transactions, the question is no longer if there will be a lawsuit, but rather when, how many and in what jurisdiction(s). And while many of the cases remain of the nuisance strike-suit variety, recently it seems every few weeks there is an important Delaware decision or other litigation development that potentially changes the face of deal litigation and introduces new risks for boards and their advisers. Now more than ever, dealmakers need to be aware of, and plan to mitigate, the resulting risks from the earliest stages of any transaction.
Among the many legalese-heavy paragraphs appearing under the “Miscellaneous” heading at the back of transaction agreements is a section that stipulates the laws of the state that will govern the purchase agreement as well as disputes relating to the deal. Often, it is coupled with a section that dictates which courts have jurisdiction over these disputes. While the state of incorporation or headquarters of one or both parties is sometimes selected, anecdotal as well as empirical evidence suggests that a healthy majority of larger transactions choose Delaware or New York law. Reasons cited include the significant number of companies incorporated in Delaware, the well-developed and therefore more predictable legal framework in these jurisdictions, the sophistication of the judiciary in these states, the perception of these being “neutral” jurisdictions in cases where each party might otherwise favor a “home” state, and the desired alignment with the governing law of related financing documents (usually New York).
A footnote in a recent Delaware decision should relieve some of the anxiety felt in the investment banking community that the courts were inviting plaintiffs to allege fiduciary duty breaches by a target board in any sale where the fairness opinion analysis could be perceived as “weak”.
In the never-ending quest to construct claims to attack virtually every announced public M&A transaction, plaintiff attorneys continuously seek to exploit new angles that appear to gain any amount of traction with the Delaware courts. In a May 2013 decision in Netspend, the court found that the plaintiffs had shown a likelihood of success on the merits of a Revlon claim arising out of a single-bidder sale process. Among the factors cited by VC Glasscock as giving rise to the likely breach of fiduciary duties was the board’s reliance on what he termed a “weak” fairness opinion. The court noted that the deal price of $16 was well below the valuation range implied by the financial adviser’s discounted cash flow (DCF) analysis ($19.22 to $25.52), although within the range of values implied by the other two primary methodologies (comparable companies and comparable transactions, both of which the court discounted because of the lack of similarities to the precedents cited).
In any transaction facing a meaningful delay between signing and closing, dealmakers on both sides of the table spend a considerable amount of time thinking about allocating the various risks resulting from that delay (e.g., regulatory, business and financing). Most of the discussion centers on “deal certainty,” with sellers focused on contract provisions that force buyers to move quickly through transaction hurdles and obligate them to close despite potentially changed circumstances or unfavorable regulatory demands. In a prior M&A Update that focused on the allocation of antitrust risk, discussed here, we addressed merger agreement terms that outline the required efforts and remedy concessions by buyers, as well as the possible use of a reverse termination fee payable to the seller if the deal terminates because of the failure to obtain required antitrust approvals.
The Delaware courts have often repeated the bedrock principle that there is no one path or blueprint for the board of a target company to fulfill its Revlon duties of seeking the highest value reasonably available in a sale transaction. The courts have usually deferred to the judgment of the directors as to whether the requisite market-check is best achieved by a limited pre-signing process, a full-blown pre-signing auction or a post-signing fiduciary out. However, as evidenced in the recent decision by VC Glasscock in NetSpend, it is equally true that the courts will also not automatically bless a sale process simply because the deal protection provisions fall with- in the range of “market” terms. Especially in a single-bidder sale process, the courts will continue to seek evidence of a fully informed and thoughtful approach by the target board to the sale process and deal protection terms with the goal of maximizing value for shareholders.
Appraisal, or dissenters’, rights, long an M&A afterthought, have recently attracted more attention from deal-makers as a result of a number of largely unrelated factors. By way of brief review, appraisal rights are a statutory remedy available to objecting stockholders in certain extraordinary transactions. While the details vary by state (often meaningfully), in Delaware the most common application is in a cash-out merger (including a back-end merger following a tender offer), where dissenting stockholders can petition the Chancery Court for an independent determination of the “fair value” of their stake as an alternative to accepting the offered deal price. The statute mandates that both the petitioning stockholder and the company comply with strict procedural requirements, and the process is usually expensive (often costing millions) and lengthy (often taking years). At the end of the proceedings, the court will determine the fair value of the subject shares (i.e., only those for which appraisal has been sought), with the awarded amount potentially being lower or higher than the deal price received by the balance of the stockholders.
While deal counsel have always addressed the theoretical applicability of appraisal rights where relevant, a number of developments in recent years have contributed to these rights becoming a potential new frontier in deal risk and litigation:
A record date, often viewed in the merger context as a mere mechanic to be quickly checked off a “to do” list, creates a frozen list of stockholders as of a specified date who are entitled to receive notice of, and to vote at, a stockholders’ meeting. A tactical approach to the timing of the record date can have strategic implications on the prospects for a deal’s success, while the failure to comply with the rules relating to setting a record date could cause a significant delay in holding the vote, leaving the door open for a topping bidder or dissident stockholder to emerge or gather support. As a result, it is important that dealmakers understand the basic mechanics and rules of setting a record date and the tactical repercussions of the record date construct.
Starting first with the legal requirements, there are several key inputs that inform the mechanics of setting a record date, including laws of the company’s state of incorporation, the company’s organizational documents, federal securities laws, rules of the applicable securities exchange and the relevant merger agreement. Taken together, these requirements dictate the necessary procedural and governance steps for setting the record date and establish the minimum and maximum time periods between the record date and the meeting, as well as between the board action setting the record date and the record date itself.