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.
Posts Tagged ‘Shareholder activism’
This post looks at results from 2,788 shareholder meetings held between January 1 and May 22, 2014. We provide data and analyses on areas such as share ownership composition, director elections, say-on-pay, proxy material distribution and the mechanics of shareholder voting. We also look at differences in proxy voting by company size.
With about three-quarters of the 2014 proxy season complete, voting results continue to show that public company executives and directors must remain vigilant regarding corporate governance matters. In comparison to last proxy-season at this time, large-cap ($10b+) companies have attained higher levels of shareholder support both for directors and for executive compensation plans. In contrast, support levels for executive compensation plans fell at mid-cap ($2b–$10b), small-cap ($300m–$2b) and micro-cap ($300m or less) companies, and support for directors fell at mid-cap companies.
Shareholder activism is the corporate topic du jour, be it in boardrooms, the media or Washington, D.C. While corporate boards and management need to understand the current environment and how we got here, their top priority is to develop comprehensive strategies for navigating the activism landscape. As activists have become more sophisticated, and activism more mainstream, approaches to dealing with activists are, by necessity, evolving.
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.
This post provides an overview of shareholder proposals submitted to public companies during the 2014 proxy season, including statistics, notable decisions from the staff (the “Staff”) of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) on no-action requests and information about litigation regarding shareholder proposals.
The 2014 proxy season, like previous seasons, has provided shareholders of public US companies with an opportunity to vote on a number of corporate governance proposals and director elections. Throughout this proxy season, proxy advisory firms have provided shareholder vote recommendations “for” or “against” those proposals and “for” or to “withhold” votes for directors. Certain proxy advisory firms, such as Institutional Shareholders Services Inc. (“ISS”) and Glass, Lewis & Co., LLC (“Glass Lewis”), have also published updated corporate governance ratings reports on public companies, including evaluations of a company’s corporate governance risk profile.
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.
The bid by Valeant and Pershing Square to acquire Allergan has made a very big splash in the M&A and corporate governance world. In brief, Pershing and Valeant have teamed up in a campaign to pressure Allergan to sell to Valeant in an unsolicited cash and stock deal. What distinguishes the Valeant/Pershing deal from a conventional public bear hug (such as Pfizer’s recent effort to acquire AstraZeneca) is that, by pre-arrangement, Pershing Square acquired a 9.7% equity stake in Allergan immediately prior to the first public announcement of Valeant’s bear hug. This unusual deal structure is a first and, if successful, may pioneer a new paradigm for unsolicited takeovers of public companies.
Activist hedge funds merit the attention of corporate directors, as the value of the assets under management increases and activist funds’ targets expand well beyond small capitalization companies. This post reviews the tactics used by two prominent activist hedge fund managers to create change in 13 companies in their portfolio and highlights four perceived governance failures at target companies that attracted activist funds’ attention. This post also includes a review of characteristics of activist hedge funds, the incentives their managers have to generate positive returns, and current research investigating whether and how hedge fund activism affects target companies.