In my paper, Opacity in Financial Markets, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, I study the implications of opacity in financial markets for investor behavior, asset prices, and welfare. In the model, transparent funds (e.g., mutual funds) and opaque funds (e.g., hedge funds) trade transparent assets (e.g., plain-vanilla products) and opaque assets (e.g., structured products). Investors observe neither opaque funds’ portfolios nor opaque assets’ payoffs. Consistent with empirical observations, the model predicts an “opacity price premium”: opaque assets trade at a premium over transparent ones despite identical payoffs. This premium arises because fund managers bid up opaque assets’ prices, as opacity potentially allows them to collect higher fees by manipulating investor assessments of their funds’ future prospects. The premium accompanies endogenous market segmentation: transparent funds trade only transparent assets, and opaque funds trade only opaque assets. A novel insight is that opacity is self-feeding in financial markets: given the opacity price premium, financial engineers exploit it by supplying opaque assets (that is, they render transparent assets opaque deliberately), which in turn are a source of agency problems in portfolio delegation, resulting in the opacity price premium.
Posts Tagged ‘Hedge funds’
The experience of the overwhelming majority of corporate managers, and their advisors, is that attacks by activist hedge funds are followed by declines in long-term future performance. Indeed, activist hedge fund attacks, and the efforts to avoid becoming the target of an attack, result in increased leverage, decreased investment in CAPEX and R&D and employee layoffs and poor employee morale.
Several law school professors who have long embraced shareholder-centric corporate governance are promoting a statistical study that they claim establishes that activist hedge fund attacks on corporations do not damage the future operating performance of the targets, but that this statistical study irrefutably establishes that on average the long-term operating performance of the targets is actually improved.
The last thing hedge funds need is another wake up call about the risks of liability for trading on the basis of material nonpublic information. But if they did, a July 17 article in the Wall Street Journal would provide it. According to the article, the SEC is investigating nearly four dozen hedge funds, asset managers and other firms to determine whether they traded on material nonpublic information concerning a change in Medicare reimbursement rates. If so, it appears that the material nonpublic information, if any, may have originated from a staffer on the House Ways and Means Committee, was then communicated to a law firm lobbyist, was further communicated by the lobbyist to a political intelligence firm, and finally, was communicated to clients who traded. According to an April 3, 2013 Wall Street Journal article, the political intelligence firm issued a flash report to clients on April 1, 2013 at 3:42 p.m.—18 minutes before the market closed and 35 minutes before the government announced that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would increase reimbursements by 3.3%, rather than reduce them 2.3%, as initially proposed. Shares in several large insurance firms rose as much as 6% in the last 18 minutes of trading.
In a memorandum issued by the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (Wachtell) last week, Do Activist Hedge Funds Really Create Long Term Value?, the firm’s founding partner Martin Lipton and another senior partner of the law firm criticize again my empirical study with Alon Brav and Wei Jiang, The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism. The memorandum announces triumphantly that Wachtell is not alone in its opposition to our study and that two staff members from the Institute for Governance of Private and Public Organizations (IGOPP) in Montreal issued a white paper (available here) criticizing our study. Wachtell asserts that the IGOPP paper provides a “refutation” of our findings that is “academically rigorous.” An examination of this paper, however, indicates that it is anything but academically rigorous, and that the Wachtell memo is yet another attempt by the law firm to run away from empirical evidence that is inconsistent with its long-standing claims.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC or Commission) issued a cease and desist order on June 16, 2014 (the Order) against Paradigm Capital Management, Inc. (Paradigm) and its founder, Director, President and Chief Investment Officer, Candace King Weir (Weir).  The Order alleged that Weir caused Paradigm’s hedge fund client, PCM Partners L.P. II (Fund), to engage in certain transactions (Transactions) with a proprietary account (Trading Account) at the Fund’s prime broker, C.L. King & Associates, Inc. (C.L. King). Paradigm and C.L. King were allegedly under the common control of Weir. The Order further alleged that, because of Weir’s personal interest in the Transactions and the fact that the committee designated to review and approve the Transactions on behalf of the Fund was conflicted, Paradigm failed to provide the Fund with effective disclosure and failed effectively to obtain the Fund’s consent to the Transactions, as required under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (Advisers Act).
This has been called “the heyday of hedge fund activism,” and it is certainly true that today boards of directors must constantly be vigilant to the many and varied ways in which activist investors can approach a target. Commencing a proxy fight long has been an activist tactic, but it is now being used in a different way. Some hedge funds are engaging in proxy fights in order to exercise direct influence or control over the board’s decision-making as opposed to clearing the way for a takeover of the target company or seeking a stock buyback. In some cases, multiple hedge funds acting in parallel purchase enough target shares to hold a voting bloc adequate to elect their director nominees to the board. A recent Delaware case addressed a situation in which a board resisted a threat from hedge funds acting together in this manner. The court determined that a shareholder rights plan, or poison pill, could, in certain circumstances, be an appropriate response. As a general matter, boards of directors facing activist share accumulations and threats of board takeovers can take comfort in this latest affirmation of the respect accorded to an independent board’s informed business judgment.
About a year ago, Professor Lucian Bebchuk took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to declare that he had conducted a study that he claimed proved that activist hedge funds are good for companies and the economy. Not being statisticians or econometricians, we did not respond by trying to conduct a study proving the opposite. Instead, we pointed out some of the more obvious methodological flaws in Professor Bebchuk’s study, as well as some observations from our years of real-world experience that lead us to believe that the short-term influence of activist hedge funds has been, and continues to be, profoundly destructive to the long-term health of companies and the American economy.
Increasingly, some activist hedge funds are looking to sell their stock positions back to target companies. How should the board respond to hushmail?
The Rise and Fall of Greenmail
During the heyday of takeovers in the 1980s, so-called corporate raiders would often amass a sizable stock position in a target company, and then threaten or commence a hostile offer for the company. In some cases, the bidder would then approach the target and offer to drop the hostile bid if the target bought back its stock at a significant premium to current market prices. Since target companies had fewer available takeover defenses at that time to fend off opportunistic hostile offers and other abusive takeover transactions, the company might agree to repurchase the shares in order to entice the bidder to withdraw. This practice was referred to as “greenmail,” and some corporate raiders found greenmail easier, and more profitable, than the hostile takeover itself.
Over the past few years there has been a noticeable increase in the frequency of activist investors building up considerable stakes in German listed companies in the context of public takeovers. One reason for this development is what appears to be a new business model of hedge funds—the realization of profits through litigation after the completion of a takeover. To this end, the funds take advantage of minority shareholder rights granted under German stock corporation law in connection with certain corporate measures which are likely to be implemented for business integration purposes following a successful takeover.
Activist hedge funds continue to find ways to use public M&A transactions as a tool to generate returns for their investors. As a result, market participants need to consider potential activist strategies in determining how to structure, announce and execute their deals.
Activists have used three principal strategies to extract additional value from public M&A transactions. The first strategy involves directly challenging the announced deal in an effort to extract a higher price, defeat the merger and/or pursue an alternative transaction or stand-alone strategy. The second strategy involves attempting to use statutory appraisal rights to create value for the activist. And the third strategy involves making an unsolicited offer to acquire a target, either independently or in conjunction with a strategic acquirer, to put the target in play. In this article, we discuss examples of recent uses of these strategies by activist investors and point out some general implications of these examples for transaction planners.