Tag: Shareholder activism


FTC Charges Activist Hedge Fund

Sabastian V. Niles is counsel in the Corporate Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Niles, Nelson O. Fitts, and Franco Castelli.

Yesterday [August 24, 2015], the Federal Trade Commission announced that Dan Loeb’s Third Point had settled a complaint charging violations of the notification and waiting period requirements of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act in connection with purchases of Yahoo! stock in 2011.

The HSR Act requires that acquirors notify the federal antitrust agencies of transactions that meet applicable thresholds and observe a pre-acquisition waiting period. Acquisitions of up to 10% of a company’s voting stock are exempt if made solely for the purpose of investment, and the acquirer “has no intention of participating in the formulation, determination, or direction of the basic business decisions of the issuer.” Buyers who intend to be involved in the management of the target company or to seek representation on its board of directors are not eligible for the exemption. HSR requirements have historically been enforced strictly and narrowly against public companies, officers, directors, and investors, without deference or favor to any particular class of violator.

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Institutional Investors and Corporate Short-Termism

Robert C. Pozen is a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. This post is based on an article forthcoming in the Financial Analysts Journal. 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).

Across the world, a clamor is rising against corporate short-termism—the undue attention to quarterly earnings at the expense of long-term sustainable growth. In one survey of chief financial officers, the majority of respondents reported that they would forgo current spending on profitable long-term projects to avoid missing earnings estimates for the upcoming quarter.

Critics of short-termism have singled out a set of culprits—activist hedge funds that acquire 1% or 2% of a company’s stock and then push hard for measures designed to boost the stock price quickly but unsustainably. The typical activist program involves raising dividends, increasing stock buybacks, or spinning off corporate divisions—usually accompanied by a request for board seats.

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Preliminary 2015 Proxy Season Review

Subodh Mishra is Executive Director for Communications and Head of Governance Exchange at Institutional Shareholder Services. This post is based on an ISS white paper by Patrick McGurn, Special Counsel and Head of Strategic Research and Analysis, and Edward Kamonjoh, U.S. Head of Strategic Research and Analysis. The complete publication is available here.

Momentum is the buzzword that best describes the 2015 Proxy Season in the U.S. market. Some issues, such as proxy access, hit the ground running and emerged as ballot box juggernauts. Other topics, such as calls for independent board chairs and heightened scrutiny of human rights, stumbled and lost ground. Some new ideas, such as hybrid climate change risk initiatives aimed at impacting board deliberations on compensation and CAPEX, failed to catch fire. Despite the rising proxy access tide, E&S proposals swamped their governance and compensation cousins in the pre-season family reunion headcount. However, big submission numbers failed to translate into growing support. Just one environmental proposal managed to win majority support in the year’s first six months.

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2015 Activism Update

Eduardo Gallardo is a partner focusing on mergers and acquisitions at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert. The full publication, including tables, is available here. 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), 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.

This post provides an update on shareholder activism activity involving publicly traded domestic companies during the first half of 2015. At the midway point of 2015, shareholder activism shows no signs of slowing. In fact, our survey for the first half of 2015 includes nearly as many activist campaigns as did our survey for all of 2014.

Although funds continue to make news with activist campaigns involving large domestic companies, the most notable trend is the sheer number of funds involved in activist campaigns that are captured by our survey: 42 funds in just the first half of 2015 versus 35 funds for all of 2014.

In all, our 2015 Mid-Year Activism Update covers 56 public activist campaigns at 50 unique domestic companies by 42 unique investors during the period from January 1, 2015 to June 30, 2015. Ten of those companies faced advances from at least two activist investors. Market capitalizations of the targets range from just above our study’s $1 billion minimum to approximately $120 billion.

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An Interview with Chief Justice Strine

Judy Warner is editor-in-chief of NACD Directorship. This post is based on an interview between Ms. Warner and Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. The full interview is available here. Research by Chief Justice Strine recently issued by the Program on Corporate Governance includes A Job is Not a Hobby: The Judicial Revival of Corporate Paternalism, discussed on the Forum here; and Can We Do Better by Ordinary Investors? A Pragmatic Reaction to the Dueling Ideological Mythologists of Corporate Law, discussed on the Forum here. 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.

As your predecessor Chief Justice Myron Steele was stepping down in 2013, Directorship asked him if he had any words of advice for his successor. Chief Justice Steele suggested that his successor be prepared for crisis management because you never know what’s going to happen. So, I’m curious: have you had a crisis so far?

We’ve had a crisis. For example, we’re dealing very much this week with an emerging development that’s affecting our entire state government around the cost of health insurance for our employees. There are very tough choices that have to be made, that regardless of which choice is going to be made, it’s going to have an influence on the ability of our government to fund other priorities.

What you have to do in all these things is understand that life is sort of a series of planned emergencies. What we have tried to do is identify a set of priorities for future action that builds on existing achievements. I’m very fortunate I had a wonderful predecessor and friend in Myron Steele, who cares very much about our judiciary and worked very hard. I had a very high-quality predecessor, and I can build off that platform of making a very good organization.

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Prices and Informed Trading

Vyacheslav Fos is Assistant Professor of Finance at Boston College. This post is based on an article by Professor Fos and Pierre Collin-Dufresne, Professor of Finance at the Swiss Finance Institute. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Pre-Disclosure Accumulations by Activist Investors: Evidence and Policy by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Robert J. Jackson Jr., and Wei Jiang; and The Law and Economics of Blockholder Disclosure by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson Jr. (discussed on the Forum here).

In our paper, Do Prices Reveal the Presence of Informed Trading?, forthcoming in the Journal of Finance, we study how empirical measures of stock illiquidity and of adverse selection respond to informed trading by activist shareholders.

An extensive body of theory suggests that stock illiquidity, as measured by the bid-ask spread and by the price impact of trades, should be increasing in the information asymmetry between market participants. An extensive empirical literature employing these illiquidity measures thus assumes that they capture information asymmetry. But, do these empirical measures of adverse selection actually increase with information asymmetry? To test this question one would ideally separate informed from uninformed trades ex-ante and measure their relative impact on price changes. However, since we generally do not know the traders’ information sets, this is hard to do in practice.

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Independent Chair Proposals

Avrohom J. Kess is partner and head of the Public Company Advisory Practice at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. This post is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum by Mr. Kess, Karen Hsu Kelley, and Yafit Cohn.

During the 2015 proxy season, 64 independent chair proposals were submitted to Russell 3000 companies, 62 of which reached a shareholder vote. This statistic is generally consistent with the number of proposals brought to a vote in 2014 and 2013, respectively. Issuers that received an independent chair proposal this year, however, may have found it more challenging to assess their chances of defeating the proposal, given that, for annual meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2015, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (“ISS”) changed its voting policy with regard to independent chair proposals. ISS previously applied a more objective six-factor test, which gave issuers some measure of predictability and allowed them to conform their governance features to ISS’s guidelines in an attempt to obtain an “against” recommendation. This year, however, ISS replaced this policy with a balancing test that takes a more “holistic” approach, which appears to have resulted in an increase in ISS recommendations in favor of independent chair proposals. Interestingly, ISS’s increasing support of independent chair proposals has not had a material impact on the overall outcome of the voting results: only 3.2% of independent chair proposals passed this year, as compared to 5% and 8% in 2014 and 2013, respectively.

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2015 Proxy Season Review

Janet T. Geldzahler is of counsel and Marc Trevino is a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on the Summary of a Sullivan & Cromwell publication; the complete publication is available here.

Our 2015 Proxy Season Review summarizes significant developments relating to shareholder proposals to date during the 2015 proxy season. Although shareholder activists pursuing strategic or management changes continue to dominate the headlines, they do not choose to wage those campaigns through shareholder proposals made under Rule 14a-8, which are addressed by the complete publication, choosing instead private or public pressure, and often a threatened or actual proxy contest. Nonetheless, the widespread governance changes brought about through successful 14a-8 proposals have played no small part in the continued growth and success of shareholder activism.

During the 2015 proxy season, proxy access has been the most significant development. Far more proposals have been made and support has been substantially stronger. There have been 82 proxy access proposals to date in 2015, as opposed to 17 in all of 2014. In 2015, shareholders have approved 48 proposals to date (as opposed to five for all of 2014), and the average votes cast in favor have risen to 55% from 33% in 2014. Perhaps most significantly, modestly more restrictive management-enacted proxy access provisions apparently did not deter shareholders from proposing, and, in many cases, winning on the now standard shareholder proposal format of 3%/3-year/25% of board.

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What the Allergan/Valeant Story Teaches About Staggered Boards 

Arnold Pinkston is former General Counsel at Allergan, Inc. and Beckman Coulter, Inc. This post comments on the work of institutional investors working with the Shareholder Rights Project, (discussed on the Forum here, here, and here) which successfully advocated for board declassification in about 100 S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies.

Until March 2015, I was the Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Allergan, Inc. For much of 2014 my job was to address the hostile bid launched by Valeant and Pershing Square to acquire Allergan.

With that perspective, I followed with interest the debate surrounding staggered boards, and in particular the success of institutional investors working with the Shareholder Rights Project in bringing about board declassification in over 100 S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies. From my perspective, the debate did not seem to fully reflect the complexity of the relationship between a company and its shareholders—i) that each company and each set of shareholders is unique; ii) that destaggering a board can affect the value of companies positively, negatively or hardly at all; and iii) that shareholders, each from their own unique perspective, will be searching for factors that will determine whether annual elections are in their own best interests—not the company’s. For that reason, I respectfully offer my thoughts regarding the campaign to destagger boards.

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The Changing Dynamics of Governance and Engagement

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. 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), 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.

As anticipated, the 2015 proxy season has been the “Season of Shareholder Engagement” for U.S. public companies. Activist attacks, high-profile battles for board seats, and shifting alliances of major investors and proxy advisors have created an environment in which shareholder engagement is near the top of every well-advised board’s to-do list. There is no shortage of advice as to how, when, and why directors should pursue this agenda item, and there is no doubt that they are highly motivated to do so. Director engagement is a powerful tool if used judiciously by companies in service of their strategic goals. As companies and their advisors study the lessons of the recent proxy season and look ahead, it is worth examining recent shifts in corporate governance dynamics. With an awareness of the general trends, and by taking specific actions as appropriate, boards can prepare and adapt effectively to position themselves as well as possible to achieve their strategic objectives.

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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

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    Carl Icahn
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