Tag: Investment banking

The Delaware Courts and the Investment Banks

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, Theodore N. Mirvis, and William Savitt. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

A doctrinal innovation in Delaware law that first appeared a year ago is threatening to mature into a full-on trend: through the tort of “aiding-and-abetting” fiduciary breach, the Delaware courts, accepting the invitation of the stockholder-plaintiffs’ bar, have begun to take on the task of regulating the M&A advisory function of investment banks. In October 2014, the Court of Chancery awarded stockholder plaintiffs $76 million in damages against an investment bank for aiding and abetting breaches of the duty of care by the directors of Rural Metro, an ambulance company that was sold for a 37% premium in 2011 and was bankrupt by the time of trial. The novel theory of the decision was that conflicted bankers dispensed self-interested advice, which left Rural Metro’s directors uninformed and hence induced them to breach their duty of care in approving the sale. Although the directors were not liable for the breach (because they had settled and were exculpated at any rate), the court found that the bankers were.


Banker Loyalty in Mergers and Acquisitions

Andrew F. Tuch is Associate Professor of Law at Washington University School of Law. This post is based on an article authored by Dr. Tuch, and is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

As recent decisions of the Delaware Court of Chancery illustrate, investment banks can face conflicts of interest in their role as advisors on merger and acquisition (“M&A”) transactions. In a trilogy of recent decisions—Del Monte[1] El Paso [2] and Rural Metro [3]—the court signaled its concern, making clear that potentially disloyal investment banking conduct may lead to Revlon breaches by corporate directors and even expose bank advisors (“M&A advisors”) themselves to aiding and abetting liability. But the law is developing incrementally, and uncertainty remains as to the proper obligations of M&A advisors and the directors who retain them. For example, are M&A advisors in this context properly regarded as fiduciaries and thus obliged to act loyally toward their clients; gatekeepers, and thus expected to perform a guardian-like function for investors; or simply arm’s length counterparties with no other-regarding duties? [4] The Chancery Court in Rural Metro potentially muddied the waters by labelling M&A advisors as gatekeepers and—in an underappreciated part of its opinion—by also suggesting they act consistently with “established fiduciary norms.” [5]


New FINRA Equity and Debt Research Rules

Annette L. Nazareth is a partner in the Financial Institutions Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and a former commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum by Ms. Nazareth, Lanny A. SchwartzHilary S. Seo, and Zachary J. Zweihorn. The complete publication, including appendices, is available here.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) has adopted amendments to its equity research rules and an entirely new debt research rule. Member firms should review and revise their policies, procedures and processes to reflect the new rules, and analyze what organizational structure and business process changes will be necessary.

The main differences between FINRA’s Current Equity Rules and the New Equity and Debt Rules (as defined below) are outlined in the original publication, available here. Highlights include:


Practice Points Arising From the El Paso Decision

John E. Sorkin is a partner in the corporate practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. The following post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Sorkin, Philip Richter, Abigail Pickering Bomba, and Gail Weinstein. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

The Delaware Chancery Court recently ruled, in In re El Paso Pipeline Partners, L.P. Derivative Litigation (Apr. 20, 2015), that the general partner of a master limited partnership (MLP) was liable to the MLP for the $171 million by which the court determined that the MLP had overpaid for liquefied natural gas (LNG) assets purchased from its parent company for $1.4 billion in a typical “dropdown” transaction. In a separate memorandum (available here and discussed on the Forum here), we have discussed the decision and our view that it will have limited applicability given the unusual factual context. We note that the court’s extremely negative view of the conduct of the conflict committee and its investment banker offers a blueprint for how not to conduct a conflict committee process. We offer the following practice points arising out of the decision.


Perspective on El Paso—No Increased Risk for Directors

Philip Richter is partner and co-head of the Mergers and Acquisitions Practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. The following post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Richter, Robert C. Schwenkel, Steven Epstein, and Gail Weinstein. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

For what we believe is the first time, the Delaware Chancery Court has held the general partner of a master limited partnership (MLP) liable to the MLP for the amount by which the court determined that the MLP had overpaid for assets purchased from its parent company in a typical “dropdown” transaction. Vice Chancellor Laster found, in In re El Paso Pipeline Partners, L.P. Derivative Litigation (Apr. 20, 2015), that the general partner of the El Paso MLP was liable to the MLP for the $171 million by which the court determined that the MLP had overpaid for liquefied natural gas (LNG) purchased from the El Paso parent company for $1.4 billion. The Vice Chancellor was extremely critical of the conduct of the conflict committee of the general partner’s board, as well as the conduct of the committee’s investment banker. Nonetheless—and notwithstanding commentary on the case suggesting otherwise—in our view, the decision does not indicate that the court will be more likely than in the past to find liability of MLP general partners or their bankers.


FINRA Settles with Banks; Provides Views on Analyst Communications During “Solicitation Period”

Richard J. Sandler is a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and co-head of the firm’s global corporate governance group. This post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

In December, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority entered into settlement agreements with a number of the major banking firms in response to allegations that their equity research analysts were involved in impermissibly soliciting investment banking business by offering their views during the pitch for the Toys “R” Us IPO (which was never actually completed). FINRA rules generally prohibit analysts from attending pitch meetings [1] and prospective underwriters from promising favorable research to obtain a mandate. [2] In this situation, no research analyst attended the pitch meetings with the investment bankers and none explicitly promised favorable research in exchange for the business. However, FINRA announced an interpretation of its rules that took a broad view of a “pitch” and the “promise of favorable research.” FINRA identified a so-called “solicitation period” as the period after a company makes it known that it intends to conduct an investment banking transaction, such as an IPO, but prior to awarding the mandate. In the settlement agreements, FINRA stated its view that research analyst communications with a company during the solicitation period must be limited to due diligence activities, and that any additional communications by the analyst, even as to his or her general views on valuation or comparable company valuation, will rise to the level of impermissible activity. The settlements further suggested that these restrictions apply not only to research analysts, but also to investment bankers that are conveying the views of their research departments to the company. The practical result of these settlements will be to dramatically reduce the interaction between research analysts and companies prior to the award of a mandate.


The Untouchables of Self-Regulation

Andrew Tuch is Associate Professor of Law at Washington University School of Law.

The conduct of investment bankers often arouses suspicion and criticism. In Toys “R” Us, the Delaware Court of Chancery referred to “already heightened suspicions about the ethics of investment banking firms” [1] ; in Del Monte, it criticized investment bankers for “secretly and selfishly manipulat[ing] the sale process to engineer a transaction that would permit [their firm] to obtain lucrative … fees”; [2] and, more recently, in Del Monte, it criticized a prominent investment banker for failing to disclose a material conflict of interest with his client, a failure the Court described as “very troubling” and “tend[ing] to undercut the credibility of … the strategic advice he gave.” [3] While the investment bankers involved in the cases inevitably escaped court-imposed sanctions, because they were not defendants, they also escaped sanctions from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the regulator primarily responsible for overseeing their conduct.


The “Hindsight” Principle and Clients of Insolvent UK Brokers

Barnabas Reynolds is head of the global Financial Institutions Advisory & Financial Regulatory Group at Shearman & Sterling LLP. This post is based on a Shearman & Sterling client publication.

The High Court in London has held that clients of insolvent UK brokers are entitled to a claim based on the value of their open positions as at the date of entry into administration or liquidation, rather than based on the value actually realised when those positions are closed. The “hindsight” principle – that where assets are later actually valued, actual values should be used – is not applicable.


Under the client money and client asset rules contained in the CASS 7 and 7A sourcebooks of the UK Financial Services Authority (the “FSA”) Handbook (the “client money rules”), brokers are required to segregate money received from or held for their clients and will hold such funds pursuant to a statutory trust. In the event of the broker entering administration or liquidation, client money is segregated from the broker’s property and is distributed to clients on a pari passu basis (meaning “pro rata”).

The client money rules have been the subject of protracted litigation and judicial criticism in various cases due to their lack of clarity and even drafting errors. A number of issues regarding the client money rules were resolved by the UK Supreme Court in February 2012 in the litigation arising out of the Lehman insolvency, and have been discussed in a previous client publication. [1] The client money rules have also been amended in various ways and are currently subject to a consultation process for more wholesale amendment. [2]

On 31 October 2011, investment broker MF Global UK Limited became the first investment company to enter the special administration regime under the Investment Bank Special Administration Regulations 2011. It held client money as well as many open derivative positions for clients.


2012 Distressed Investing M&A Report

The following post comes to us from David Rosewater, partner focusing on mergers & acquisitions at Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP. This post is based on a Schulte Roth & Zabel report; the full publication, including charts and figures, is available here.

Schulte Roth & Zabel is pleased to present Distressed Investing M&A, published in association with mergermarket and Debtwire. Based on a series of interviews with investment bankers, private equity practitioners and hedge fund investors in the US, this report examines the market for distressed assets at home and abroad.

Economic uncertainty brought on by the looming US “fiscal cliff” have placed companies in difficult situations where many are forced to sell assets and restructure operations and debt in order to avoid a court mandated sale further down the line. The value gained and time saved by selling assets prior to in-court restructuring and liquidation is signaled by the respondents’ shift toward dealmaking early and out-of-court.

Outside of the US, the eurozone crisis and macroeconomic concerns in the emerging markets are having a similar effect. While some are waiting for a solution to the sovereign debt crisis, distressed investors are geared to take advantage of attractively-priced assets within the region. Hyperinflation remains a concern for the markets in Latin America and India, while economic growth has slowed in Brazil and China. Both are likely to create distressed opportunities over the next 12 months.

Respondents cite the energy sector as likely to be the most active for distressed M&A in the next year. Low natural gas prices in the US are hitting the bottom line and companies are feeling the strain. Additionally, inflation concerns in Asia may expose manufacturing companies, who respondents describe as “losing the battle” against prices.

In addition to the above findings, this report provides insight into pricing, litigation, club deals, and various other issues concerning the distressed M&A community. We hope you find this study informative and useful, and as always we welcome your feedback.


Evidence from SEC Enforcement Against Broker-Dealers

This post comes to us from Stavros Gadinis, an Assistant Professor of Law at University of California, Berkeley.

My recent article “The SEC and the Financial Industry: Evidence from Enforcement Against Broker-Dealers,” just published at the Business Lawyer (Vol. 67, p. 679, May 2012), provides an empirical account of the agency’s enforcement record against investment banks and brokerage houses in the period right before the 2007-2008 crisis. At the time, the SEC was the target of severe criticism from diverse quarters, ranging from scholarly commentators to the popular press and Congress. This article provides a systematic examination of the SEC enforcement record up to April 2007 and finds that defendants associated with big firms fared better in SEC enforcement actions, as compared to defendants associated smaller firms.

As this data suggests, the SEC faces three key decisions when formulating an enforcement action. One decision concerns whether to focus on the violations of individual employees of financial institutions, pursue the corporate entity that employs them, or charge them both. In two well-publicized rulings, Judge Rakoff chastised the SEC’s decision to direct its action exclusively against the firm and avoid individual liability. The article reveals that actions against big broker-dealers were more likely to target solely the corporate entity, without any further action against either frontline employees or high-level supervisors. More specifically, 40 percent of all actions against broker-dealers involved exclusively corporate liability, compared to just 10 percent for smaller firms.


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