With M&A activity expected to increase in 2014, shareholder activism is an important factor to be considered in the planning, negotiation, and consummation of corporate transactions. In 2013, a year of relatively low deal activity, it became clear that activism in the M&A context was growing in scope and ambition. Last year activists were often successful in obtaining board seats and forcing increases in deal consideration, results that may fuel increased efforts going forward. A recent survey of M&A professionals and corporate executives found that the current environment is viewed as favorable for deal-making, with executives citing an improved economy, decreased economic uncertainty, and a backlogged appetite for transactions. There is no doubt that companies pursuing deals in 2014—whether as a buyer or as a seller—will have to contend with activism on a variety of fronts, and advance preparation will be important.
Posts Tagged ‘Firm valuation’
In our paper, Does Stock Liquidity Affect Incentives to Monitor? Evidence from Corporate Takeovers, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we examine the role of liquidity as a monitoring incentive and its effect on firm value by analyzing the market reaction to takeover announcements. The empirical evidence is consistent with the view that there is a tradeoff between monitoring via institutional intervention and liquidity for takeovers of private targets, but not for takeovers of public targets. This finding may be explained by the increased role of the disciplining effect of the threat of exit in connection to actions that on average destroy shareholder value, such as takeovers of public targets (Admati and Pfleiderer 2009).
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.
In our paper, Are Stock-Financed Takeovers Opportunistic?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we present significant new empirical evidence relevant to the ongoing controversy over whether bidder shares in stock-financed mergers are overpriced. The extant literature is split on this issue, with some studies suggesting that investor misvaluation plays an important role in driving stock-financed mergers—especially during periods of high market valuations and merger waves. Others maintain the neoclassical view of merger activity where takeover synergies emanate from industry-specific productivity shocks. This debate is important because opportunities for selling overpriced bidder shares may result in the most overvalued rather than the most efficient bidder winning the target—distorting corporate resource allocation through the takeover market.
In our paper, A Theory of Debt Maturity: The Long and Short of Debt Overhang, forthcoming in the Journal of Finance, we study the effects of the debt maturity on current and future real investment decisions of an owner of equity (or a manager who is compensated by equity). Our analysis is based on debt overhang first analyzed by Myers (1977), who points out that outstanding debt may distort the firm’s investment incentives downward. A reduced incentive to undertake profitable investments when decision makers seek to maximize equity value is referred to as a problem of “debt overhang,” because part of the return from a current new investment goes to make existing debt more valuable.
Myers (1977) suggests a possible solution of short-term debt to the debt overhang problem. In part, this extends the idea that if all debt matures before the investment opportunity, then the firm without debt in place can make the investment decision as if an all-equity firm. Hence, following this logic, debt that matures soon—although after relevant investment decisions, as opposed to before—should have reduced overhang.
In our recent NBER working paper, Valuing Private Equity, to value PE investments, we develop a model of the asset allocation for an institutional investor (LP). The model captures the main institutional features of PE, including: (1) Inability to trade or rebalance the PE investment, and the resulting long-term illiquidity and unspanned risks; (2) GPs creating value and generating alpha by effectively managing the fund’s portfolio companies; (3) GP compensation, including management fees and performance-based carried interest; and (4) leverage and the pricing of the resulting risky debt. The model delivers tractable expressions for the LP’s asset allocation and provides an analytical characterization of the certainty-equivalent valuation of the PE investment.
The hedge fund industry has grown tremendously over the last two decades. While this growth is due to a number of factors, one explanation is that its performance-based compensation system creates incentives for managers to generate alpha. This incentive system, however, could also motivate some managers to manipulate net asset values or commit outright fraud. Due to the light regulatory environment hedge funds operate in and their secretive nature, monitoring managers is generally difficult for investors and regulators.
In response, recent research has attempted to infer malfeasance directly from the distribution of hedge fund returns. In particular, the finding of a pervasive discontinuity in the distribution of net returns around zero has been interpreted as evidence that hedge fund managers systematically manipulate the reporting of NAVs to minimize the frequency of losses. This literature, however, has not recognized that performance fees distort the pattern of net returns.
In our paper, Are Hedge Fund Managers Systematically Misreporting? Or Not?, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we show that inferring misreporting based on a kink at zero can be misleading when ignoring incentive fees. Because these fees are applied asymmetrically to positive and negative returns, the distribution of net returns should display a natural discontinuity around zero. In other words, there is a mechanical explanation for the observed kink in the distribution of net returns. We demonstrate this effect by showing that funds without incentive fees have no discontinuity at zero until we add hypothetical incentive fees to their returns.
In my paper, Zombie Boards: Board Tenure and Firm Performance, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I empirically investigate how board tenure is related to firm performance and corporate decisions, holding other firm, CEO, and board characteristics constant. I find that board tenure has an inverted U-shaped relation with firm value, and that this curvilinear relation is reflected in M&A performance, financial reporting quality, corporate strategies and innovation, executive compensation, and CEO replacement. The results indicate that, for firms with short-tenured boards, the marginal effect of board learning dominates entrenchment effects, whereas for firms that have long-tenured boards, the opposite is true.
The analysis relies on the assumption that some transaction costs prevent boards from fully adjusting to their optimal tenure level. But what are those transaction costs? For long-tenured boards, transaction costs could take the form of agency costs. For instance, board tenure choice may reflect the extent to which CEOs have influence over the board selection process (Hermalin and Weisbach, 1998). Further, firms with staggered boards can only replace a portion of board member each year, in which case the use of a staggered board itself introduces agency problems (Bebchuk and Cohen, 2005). For short-tenured boards, transaction costs could take the form of frictions in the labor market for directors.
In our paper, The Real Costs of Disclosure, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we analyze the effect of a firm’s disclosure policy on real investment. An extensive literature highlights numerous benefits of disclosure. Diamond (1985) shows that disclosing information reduces the need for each individual shareholder to bear the cost of gathering it. In Diamond and Verrecchia (1991), disclosure reduces the cost of capital by lowering the information asymmetry that shareholders suffer if they subsequently need to sell due to a liquidity shock. Kanodia (1980) and Fishman and Hagerty (1989) show that disclosure increases price efficiency and thus the manager’s investment incentives.
However, the costs of disclosure have been more difficult to pin down. Standard models (e.g. Verrecchia (1983)) typically assume an exogenous cost of disclosure, justified by several motivations. First, the actual act of communicating information may be costly. While such costs were likely significant at the time of writing, when information had to be mailed to shareholders, nowadays these costs are likely much smaller due to electronic communication. Second, there may be costs of producing information. However, firms already produce copious information for internal or tax purposes. Third, the information may be proprietary (i.e., business sensitive) and disclosing it will benefit competitors (e.g., Verrecchia (1983) and Dye (1986)). However, while likely important for some types of disclosure (e.g., the stage of a patent application), proprietary considerations are unlikely to be for others (e.g., earnings). Perhaps motivated by the view that, nowadays, the costs of disclosure are small relative to the benefits, recent government policies have increased disclosure requirements, such as Sarbanes-Oxley, Regulation FD, and Dodd-Frank.
Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a dizzyingly complex and inefficient process. Voting on potential reorganization plans take place by class, rules are based on achieving majorities and super-majorities by different standards, and a judge must evaluate the plan to ensure it respects pre-bankruptcy entitlements appropriately. Plan proponents can gerrymander plans in order to isolate creditors; hedge funds can buy positions that pay off if plans fail while allowing them to exert influence over the negotiation process; and judges are often unable to stop such gaming. To cut through this morass, lawyers and economists have proposed reforms, such as holding an auction for the firm or offering options to junior creditors that enable them to buy out senior creditors.
While these reforms could make important steps towards improving Chapter 11, they neglect a crucial problem the current system is designed to address: that of collective action. The current owners of various claims on the firm are usually well-suited to play the particular roles they are playing within the capital structure. Because of sunk investments in learning about the firm or their risk-preferences they are the most valuable investors to hold the assets they hold. A reorganized firm that does not have their appropriate participation may not be nearly as valuable as one that does. In fact, it may be better to liquidate the firm, even if reorganization could be efficient, than to reorganize it with the wrong owners.