Tag: Shareholder power

Corporate Governance Preferences of Institutional Investors

Joseph Mc Cahery is Professor in the Department of Business Law at Tilburg University. This post is based on an article authored by Prof. McCahery; Zacharias Sautner of Frankfurt School of Finance & Management; and Laura T. Starks of McCombs School of Business, University of Texas at Austin.

We currently have little direct knowledge regarding how institutional investors engage with portfolio companies. The reason is that many interactions occur behind the scenes. That is, unless institutional investors publicly express their approval or disapproval of a firm’s activities or management, little is known about their preferences and private engagements with portfolio firms. In our paper, Behind the Scenes: The Corporate Governance Preferences of Institutional Investors, forthcoming in the Journal of Finance, we try to rectify this knowledge gap by conducting a survey among 143 institutional investors.

Institutional investors have two active choices when they become unhappy with a portfolio firm: (i) they can engage with management to try to institute change (“voice” or direct intervention); or (ii) they can leave the firm by selling shares (“exit” or “voting with their feet”). Theoretical models have documented the governance benefits of corrective actions through voice. These theories have recently been complemented by models showing that the threat of exit can also discipline management (e.g., Admati and Pfleiderer (2009), Edmans (2009), and Edmans and Manso (2011)). This raises the question of whether institutional investors, in response to dissatisfaction with portfolio firms, take actions that support the validity of these theories.


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.


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.


Some Lessons from BlackRock, Vanguard and DuPont

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. 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).

Recent statements by the CEOs of BlackRock and Vanguard rejecting activism and supporting investment for long-term value creation and their support of DuPont in its proxy fight with Trian, prompt the thought that activism is moving in-house at these and other major investors and a new paradigm for corporate governance and portfolio oversight is emerging.

An instructive statement by the investors is that they view a company’s directors as their agents; that they want to know the directors and have access to the directors; that they want their opinions heard; and that their relations with the company and their support for its management and board will depend on appropriate discussion of, and response to, their opinions.


Forum-Selection Bylaws Refracted Through an Agency Lens

The following post comes to us from Deborah A. DeMott, David F. Cavers Professor of Law at Duke University School of Law. 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.

Director-adopted bylaws that affect shareholders’ litigation rights have attracted both praise and controversy. Recent bylaws specify an exclusive judicial forum for litigation of corporate-governance claims, require that shareholder claims be arbitrated, and (most controversially) impose a one-way regime of fee shifting on shareholder litigants. To one degree or another, courts have legitimated each development, while commentators differ in their assessments. My paper, Forum-Selection Bylaws Refracted Through an Agency Lens, brings into clear focus issues so far blurred in the debate surrounding these types of bylaws.


Liquidity and Shareholder Activism

The following post comes to us from Øyvind Norli and Charlotte Østergaard, both of the Department of Finance at the Norwegian Business School, and Ibolya Schindele of the Department of Economics at the Norwegian Business School.

In our paper, Liquidity and Shareholder Activism, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we provide new insights on how stock liquidity influences shareholder activism. Blockholders’ incentives to intervene in corporate governance are weakened by free-rider problems and high costs of activism. Theory suggests activists may recoup expenses through informed trading of target firms’ stock when stocks are liquid. We show that stock liquidity increases the probability of activism—but, does less so for potentially overvalued firms for which privately informed blockholders may have greater incentives to sell their stake than to intervene. We also document that activists accumulate more stocks in targets when stock is more liquid. We conclude that liquidity helps overcome the free-rider problem and induces activism via pre activism accumulation of target firms’ shares.


Governance and Comovement Under Common Ownership

The following post comes to us from Alex Edmans, Professor of Finance at London Business School; Doron Levit of the Finance Department at the University of Pennsylvania; and Devin Reilly of the Department of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Most existing theories of blockholder governance consider a single firm. However, in reality, many institutional investors hold blocks in multiple firms. In our paper, Governance and Comovement Under Common Ownership, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we study the implications of common ownership for corporate governance and asset pricing. In particular, we address two broad questions. First, does holding multiple blocks weaken governance by spreading a blockholder too thinly, as commonly believed? If not, under what conditions can multi-firm ownership improve governance? Second, can common ownership lead to correlation between stocks with independent fundamentals, and if so, in which direction?


Radical Shareholder Primacy

The following post comes to us from David Millon, the J.B. Stombock Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University.

My article, Radical Shareholder Primacy, written for a symposium on the history of corporate social responsibility, seeks to make sense of the surprising disagreement within the corporate law academy on the foundational legal question of corporate purpose: does the law require shareholder primacy or not? I argue that disagreement on this question is due to an unappreciated ambiguity in the shareholder primacy idea. I identify two models of shareholder primacy, the “radical” and the “traditional.” Radical shareholder primacy makes strong claims about both shareholder governance rights, conceiving of management as the shareholders’ agent, and also about corporate purpose, insisting that corporate law mandates shareholder wealth maximization. Because there is no legal basis for either of these claims, those who deny that shareholder primacy is the law are correct at least as to this model. However, the traditional version of shareholder primacy accords to shareholders a special place in the corporation’s governance structure vis-à-vis the corporation’s nonshareholder stakeholders, for example, with respect to voting rights and the right to bring derivative suits. Beyond this privileged position in the horizontal dimension, there is no maximization mandate and corporate law does very little to provide shareholders with the tools necessary to exercise governance powers; there is no primacy in the vertical dimension or on the question of corporate purpose. Nevertheless, this conception of shareholder primacy—modest as it is—is enshrined in corporate law. Those who deny that shareholder primacy is the law need to acknowledge this fact, but once it is understood that traditional shareholder primacy has little in common with the radical version there is no reason to be reluctant to do so.


Symbolic Corporate Governance Politics

Marcel Kahan is the George T. Lowy Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law. This post is based on a paper co-authored by Professor Kahan and Edward Rock, Saul A. Fox Distinguished Professor of Business Law at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law.

Corporate governance politics display a peculiar feature: while the rhetoric is often heated, the material stakes are often low. Consider, for example, shareholder resolutions requesting boards to redeem poison pills. Anti-pill resolutions were the most common type of shareholder proposal from 1987–2004, received significant shareholder support, and led many companies to dismantle their pills. Yet, because pills can be reinstated at any time, dismantling a pill has no impact on a company’s ability to resist a hostile bid. Although shareholder activists may claim that these proposals vindicate shareholder power against entrenched managers, we are struck by the fact that these same activists have not made any serious efforts to impose effective constraints on boards, for example, by pushing for restrictions on the use of pills in the certificate of incorporation. Other contested governance issues, such as proxy access and majority voting, exhibit a similar pattern: much ado about largely symbolic change.


“Greenmail” Makes a Comeback

The following post comes to us from Spencer D. Klein, partner in the Corporate Department and co-chair of the global Mergers & Acquisitions Group at Morrison & Foerster LLP, and is based on a Morrison & Foerster publication by Mr. Klein and Enrico Granata.

The much-maligned 1980s tactic of “greenmail” [1] appears to have made a comeback in 2013. “Greenmail” has generally been defined as the practice of purchasing enough shares in a company to threaten a takeover, and then using that leverage to pressure the target company to buy those shares back at a premium in order to abandon the takeover. Today’s variety of greenmail does not always involve the threat of a takeover, but instead typically involves the actual or implied threat of a proxy contest that would effect major corporate change.

In just the last few months, several noted activist investors have profited handsomely by selling shares back to their target companies, including, among others, Icahn Associates with respect to its stake in WebMD and Corvex Management with respect to its stake in ADT.


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