Governance of public corporations continues to move in a more shareholder-centric direction. This is evidenced by the increasing corporate influence of shareholder engagement and activism, and shareholder proposals and votes. This trend is linked to the concentration of ownership in public and private pension funds and other institutional investors over the past 25 years, and has gained support from various federal legislative and regulatory initiatives. Most recently, it has been driven by the rise in hedge fund activism.
Posts Tagged ‘Shareholder activism’
On October 22, 2014, Institutional Shareholder Services issued a note to clients entitled “The IRR of ‘No’.” The note argues that shareholders of companies that have successfully “just said no” to hostile takeover bids have incurred “profoundly negative” returns. In a note we issued the same day, we called attention to critical methodological and analytical flaws that completely undermine the ISS conclusion. Others have also rejected the ISS methodology and conclusions; see, for example, the November analysis by Dr. Yvan Allaire’s Institute for Governance of Public and Private Organizations entitled “The Value of ‘Just Say No’” and, more generally, a December paper by James Montier entitled “The World’s Dumbest Idea.” Of course, even putting aside analytical flaws, statistical studies do not provide a basis in individual cases to attack informed board discretion in the face of a dynamic business environment. The debate about “just say no” has been raging for the 35 years since Lipton published “Takeover Bids in the Target’s Boardroom,” 35 Business Lawyer p.101 (1979). This prompts looking at the most prominent 1979 “just say no” rejection of a takeover.
Valeant’s failed acquisition bid for Allergan has underscored longstanding M&A principles—even as the involvement of shareholder activists in the M&A arena has introduced new technologies, opportunities, and challenges. In the aftermath of the Allergan saga, it is clear that Pershing Square was richly rewarded for having crafted a novel bidder-activist collaboration model. The outcome for Valeant, however, notwithstanding the creative collaboration, is that its bid ultimately failed, and in the most conventional of ways (losing to a superior offer from an alternative bidder).
The challenges that directors of public companies face in carrying out their duties continue to grow. The end goal remains the same, to oversee the successful, profitable and sustainable operations of their companies. But the pressures that confront directors, from activism and short-termism, to ongoing shifts in governance, to global risks and competition, are many. A few weeks ago we issued an updated list of key issues that boards will be expected to deal with in the coming year (accessible at this link: The Spotlight on Boards, and discussed on the Forum here). Highlighted below are a few of the more significant issues and trends that we believe directors should bear in mind as they consider their companies’ priorities and objectives and seek to meet their companies’ goals.
On November 17, 2014, Allergan, Inc. announced a $66 billion merger agreement with Actavis plc, thwarting the pending $53 billion bid for Allergan by Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. Valeant had teamed up with Pershing Square, a fund run by activist investor Bill Ackman, to facilitate an acquisition of Allergan by Valeant. Although the Valeant bid has failed, Pershing Square apparently will recognize a gain of well over $2 billion on consummation of the Actavis merger.
The distinguishing feature of Valeant’s now-failed pursuit of Allergan was the bidder-activist collaboration itself, which was the focal point for public attention throughout the saga. Corporate America’s initial reaction to the Pershing Square-Valeant model was fear that the model would be followed by others, unleashing a new wave of hostile takeover activity in a context that appears to make target companies particularly vulnerable. Now, at the end-point of Valeant’s bid for Allergan, we note the following:
Last week, The Federalist Society’s 2014 National Lawyers Convention featured a session dedicated to the short-termism debate and the evidence put forward by Professors Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang in their study, The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism. The session began with a presentation by Professor Bebchuk that outlined the key findings and implications of the study. Three panelists then offered their reactions to the study: Jonathan Macey, Sam Harris Professor of Corporate Law, Corporate Finance, and Securities Law, Yale Law School; Robert Miller, Professor of Law and F. Arnold Daum Fellow in Corporate Law, University of Iowa College of Law; and Steven Rosenblum, a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The debate was moderated by E. Norman Veasey, former Chief Justice, Delaware Supreme Court.
Professor Bebchuk’s presentation slides are available here. The Bebchuk-Brav-Jiang study is available here, and posts about the study, including one published by critics of the study, are available on the Forum here.
This year has seen a continuance of the high and increasing level of activist campaigns experienced during the last 14 years, from 27 in 2000 to nearly 250 to date in 2014, in addition to numerous undisclosed behind-the-scenes situations. Today, regardless of industry, no company can consider itself immune from potential activism. Indeed, no company is too large, too popular or too successful, and even companies that are respected industry leaders and have outperformed peers can come under fire. Among the major companies that have been targeted are, Amgen, Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Hess, P&G, eBay, Transocean, ITW, DuPont, and PepsiCo. There are more than 100 hedge funds that have engaged in activism. Activist hedge funds have approximately $200 billion of assets under management. They have become an “asset class” that continues to attract investment from major traditional institutional investors. The additional capital and new partnerships between activists and institutional investors have encouraged increasingly aggressive activist attacks.
A federal district court today ruled that serious questions existed as to the legality of Pershing Square’s ploy to finance Valeant’s hostile bid for Allergan. Allergan v. Valeant Pharmaceuticals Int’l, Inc., Case No. SACV-1214 DOC (C.D. Cal. November 4, 2014).
As we wrote about in April, Pershing Square and Valeant hatched a plan early this year attempting to exploit loopholes in the federal securities laws to enable Pershing Square to trade on inside information of Valeant’s secret takeover plan, creating a billion dollar profit at the expense of former Allergan stockholders that could then be used to fund the hostile bid. Since then, Pershing Square and Valeant have trumpeted their maneuver as a new template for activist-driven hostile dealmaking.
Over the last several years, we’ve observed certain trends that are shaping corporate governance and which we believe will impact the board of the future. We structured our 2014 Annual Corporate Directors Survey to get directors’ views on these trends and other topics including:
Shareholder activism continued to thrive in the 2014 proxy season, spurring corporate action as well as renewed engagement between issuers and investors. While the total number of shareholder proposals declined in 2014, lively activity continued with calls for independent chairs as well as burgeoning growth for social issues. And while few in number, change-in-control payout proposals were notably successful for the first time this year, while equity retention proposals continued to have a weak showing. In addition, support for proxy access proposals also grew at a rate greater than any other type of proposal.