Tag: Hedge funds


Four Takeaways from Proxy Season 2015

Ann Yerger is an executive director at the EY Center for Board Matters at Ernst & Young LLP. The following post is based on a report from the EY Center for Board Matters.

As the 2015 proxy season concludes, some key developments stand out. Most significantly, a widespread investor campaign for proxy access ignited the season, making proxy access the defining governance topic of 2015.

The campaign for proxy access is closely tied to the increasing investor scrutiny of board composition and accountability, and yet—at the same time—the number of votes opposing director nominees is the lowest in recent years.

Also, the number of shareholder proposal submissions remains high, despite the fact that ongoing dialogue between large companies and their shareholders on governance topics is now mainstream. These developments are occurring against a backdrop of increased hedge fund activism, which continues to keep boards on alert.

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Volcker Rule: Agencies Release New Guidance

Whitney A. Chatterjee is partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication authored by Ms. Chatterjee, C. Andrew Gerlach, Eric M. Diamond, and Ken Li; the complete publication, including Appendix, is available here.

[June 12, 2015], the staffs of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the “Federal Reserve”), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (collectively, the “Agencies”) provided two important additions to their existing list of Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) addressing the implementation of section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, as amended (the “BHC Act”), commonly known as the “Volcker Rule.”

The Volcker Rule imposes broad prohibitions on proprietary trading and investing in and sponsoring private equity funds, hedge funds and certain other investment vehicles (“covered funds”) by “banking entities” and their affiliates. The Volcker Rule, as implemented by the final rule issued by the Agencies (the “Final Rule”), provides exclusions from the definition of covered fund for certain foreign public funds and joint ventures.

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Dealing with Activist Hedge Funds

Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton and Sabastian V. Niles. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here) and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here).

Today, regardless of industry, no company can consider itself immune from hedge fund activism. Indeed, no company is too large, too popular or too successful, and even companies that are respected industry leaders and have outperformed the market and peers have come under fire. Among the major companies that have been targeted are Amgen, Apple, Microsoft, Sony, General Motors, Qualcomm, Hess, P&G, eBay, Transocean, ITW, DuPont, and PepsiCo. There are more than 100 hedge funds that have engaged in activism. Activist hedge funds are estimated to have over $200 billion of assets under management, and have become an “asset class” that continues to attract investment from major traditional institutional investors. The additional capital and relationships between activists and institutional investors encourages increasingly aggressive activist attacks.

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Shareholder Activism: Are You Prepared to Respond?

Mary Ann Cloyd is leader of the Center for Board Governance at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The following post is based on a PricewaterhouseCoopers publication. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about hedge fund activism includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here), The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here), The Law and Economics of Blockholder Disclosure by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson Jr. (discussed on the Forum here), and Pre-Disclosure Accumulations by Activist Investors: Evidence and Policy by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Robert J. Jackson Jr., and Wei Jiang.

Activist investors are increasing in number and becoming more assertive in exercising their influence over companies in which they have a stake. Shareholder activism comes in different forms, ranging from say-on-pay votes, to shareholder proposals, to “vote no” campaigns (where some investors will urge other shareholders to withhold votes from one or more directors), to hedge fund activism.

Activism can build or progress. If a company is the target of a less aggressive form of activism one year, such as say-on-pay or shareholder proposals, and the activists’ issues are not resolved, it could lead to more aggressive activism in the following years. (For more background information, see a previous PwC publication, discussed on the Forum here.)

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Why Run Away from the Evidence?

Bernard S. Sharfman is an adjunct professor of business law at the George Mason University School of Business. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about hedge fund activism includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here), The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here), and The Law and Economics of Blockholder Disclosure by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson Jr. (discussed on the Forum here). An exchange of posts on the empirical evidence on hedge fund activism between Bebchuk, Brav and Jiang, who urged Wachtell Lipton not to run away from the evidence, and Martin Lipton, who responded to their posts, is available on the Forum here.

Back in September 2013, Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav and Wei Jiang posted Don’t Run Away from the Evidence: A Reply to Wachtell Lipton on this blog as a means to rebut the criticism they received on an early draft of their empirical study, The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism. In a nutshell, their empirical study found hedge fund activism to create long-term value for both shareholders and the companies they invest in while the lawyers for Wachtell Lipton said the results meant nothing. Based on a recent blog posting by Martin Lipton, the most famous of all the Wachtell partners, Further Recognition of the Adverse Effects of Activist Hedge Funds, the post by Bebchuk, Brav and Jiang did not do anything to change their minds.

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Further Recognition of the Adverse Effects of Activist Hedge Funds

Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton. Earlier posts by Mr. Lipton on hedge fund activism are available here, herehere, and here. Recent work from the Program on Corporate Governance about hedge fund activism includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here) and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here). For five posts by Mr. Lipton criticizing the Bebchuk-Brav-Jiang paper, and for three posts by the authors replying to Mr. Lipton’s criticism, see here.

Despite the continued support of attacks by activist hedge funds by the Chair of the SEC, and many “Chicago school” academics who continue to rely on discredited statistics, there is growing recognition by institutional investors and prominent “new school” economists of the threat to corporations and their shareholders and to the economy of these attacks and the concomitant short-termism they create.

In a “must read,” March 31, 2015 letter to the CEOs of public companies, Laurence Fink, Chairman of BlackRock and one of the earliest to recognize the danger from attacks by activist hedge funds, wrote:

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Shareholder Activism: Who, What, When, and How?

Mary Ann Cloyd is leader of the Center for Board Governance at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The following post is based on a PricewaterhouseCoopers publication, available here.

Who are today’s activists and what do they want?

Shareholder activism spectrum

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“Activism” represents a range of activities by one or more of a publicly traded corporation’s shareholders that are intended to result in some change in the corporation. The activities fall along a spectrum based on the significance of the desired change and the assertiveness of the investors’ activities. On the more aggressive end of the spectrum is hedge fund activism that seeks a significant change to the company’s strategy, financial structure, management, or board. On the other end of the spectrum are one-on-one engagements between shareholders and companies triggered by Dodd-Frank’s “say on pay” advisory vote.

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Wolf Pack Activism

The following post comes to us from Alon Brav, Professor of Finance at Duke University; Amil Dasgupta of the Department of Finance at the London School of Economics; and Richmond Mathews of the Department of Finance at the University of Maryland.

In our paper Wolf Pack Activism, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we provide a model analyzing a prominent and controversial governance tactic used by activist hedge funds. The tactic involves multiple hedge funds or other activist investors congregating around a target, with one acting as a “lead” activist and others as peripheral activists. This has been colorfully dubbed the “wolf pack” tactic by market observers. The use of wolf packs has intensified in recent years and has attracted a great deal of attention. Indeed, a recent post on this forum described 2014 as “the year of the wolf pack”.

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Engagement and Activism in the 2015 Proxy Season

David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and complex securities transactions. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh that first appeared in the New York Law Journal; the full article, including footnotes, is available here.

As the 2015 proxy season approaches, the dominant theme appears to be the interaction between directors and investors. Though, traditionally, there was little to no direct engagement, recent experience indicates that communication between these two groups is now on the rise, in some cases resulting in collaboration. This is potentially a beneficial development, particularly insofar as it may help companies and long-term investors work together to resist pressure from activist shareholders seeking short-term profits. In the current environment where activists and hedge funds appear to wield unprecedented financial and political leverage, and the influence of proxy advisors is as significant as it is controversial, the predominant trend seems to be “toward diplomacy rather than war.” Organizations such as the Shareholder-Director Exchange, which began last year to offer guidance to shareholders and boards on direct engagement, are promoting policies that may reduce the incidence, duration, and severity of contentious public disagreements.

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The Threat to the Economy and Society from Activism and Short-Termism Updated

Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton, Sabastian V. Niles, and Sara J. Lewis. Earlier posts by Mr. Lipton on hedge fund activism are available herehere and here. Recent work from the Program on Corporate Governance about hedge fund activism includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here) and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here). For five posts by Mr. Lipton criticizing the Bebchuk-Brav-Jiang paper, and for three posts by the authors replying to Mr. Lipton’s criticism, see here.

Again in 2014, as in the two previous years, there has been an increase in the number and intensity of attacks by activist hedge funds. Indeed, 2014 could well be called the “year of the wolf pack.”

With the increase in activist hedge fund attacks, particularly those aimed at achieving an immediate increase in the market value of the target by dismembering or overleveraging, there is a growing recognition of the adverse effect of these attacks on shareholders, employees, communities and the economy. Noted below are the most significant 2014 developments holding out a promise of turning the tide against activism and its proponents, including those in academia. Already in 2015 there have been several significant developments that are worth adding, which are included in bold at the end.

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  • Programs Faculty & Senior Fellows

    Lucian Bebchuk
    Alon Brav
    Robert Charles Clark
    John Coates
    Alma Cohen
    Stephen M. Davis
    Allen Ferrell
    Jesse Fried
    Oliver Hart
    Ben W. Heineman, Jr.
    Scott Hirst
    Howell Jackson
    Robert J. Jackson, Jr.
    Wei Jiang
    Reinier Kraakman
    Robert Pozen
    Mark Ramseyer
    Mark Roe
    Robert Sitkoff
    Holger Spamann
    Guhan Subramanian

  • Program on Corporate Governance Advisory Board

    William Ackman
    Peter Atkins
    Joseph Bachelder
    John Bader
    Allison Bennington
    Richard Breeden
    Daniel Burch
    Richard Climan
    Jesse Cohn
    Isaac Corré
    Scott Davis
    John Finley
    Daniel Fischel
    Stephen Fraidin
    Byron Georgiou
    Larry Hamdan
    Carl Icahn
    David Millstone
    Theodore Mirvis
    James Morphy
    Toby Myerson
    Barry Rosenstein
    Paul Rowe
    Rodman Ward