Monthly Archives: March 2012

Shareholder Proposals: Trends from Recent Proxy Seasons

Matteo Tonello is Managing Director of Corporate Leadership at The Conference Board, Inc. This post is based on a Conference Board working paper from Mr. Tonello and Melissa Aguilar, Research Associate at The Conference Board, which is available here.

In our paper, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine shareholder proposals submitted to business corporations registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that held their annual general shareholder meetings (AGMs) between January 1, 2011 and August 3, 2011 and, at the time of their AGM, were in the Russell 3000 Index. The total sample includes 2,511 companies.

Data reviewed includes proposal volume, topics, and sponsorship. The discussion of voting results is integrated with information on non-voted shareholder proposals—due to their withdrawal by sponsors, the decision by management to omit them from the voting ballot or other, undisclosed reasons.

Aggregate data on shareholder proposals is examined and segmented based on business industry and company size (as measured in terms of market capitalization). For the purpose of the industry analysis, the study aggregates companies within 20 industry groups, using the applicable Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes. In addition, to highlight differences between small and large companies, findings in the Russell 3000 sample are compared with those regarding companies that, at the time of their AGMs, were in the S&P 500.


Securities Class Action Filings in 2011

John Gould is Senior Vice President at Cornerstone Research. This post is based on the introduction of a Cornerstone Research report titled Securities Class Action Filings: 2011 Year in Review. For more information, contact Mr. Gould or Alexander Aganin. An updated version of the report is available here.

Federal securities fraud class action filing activity increased in 2011. For the full year of 2011, there were 188 filings compared with 176 in 2010. The number of class actions filed was 3.1 percent below the annual average of 194 filings observed between 1997 and 2010 (Figure 1). Filing activity in the second half of the year equaled the activity in the first half. A total of 94 federal securities fraud class actions (filings, class actions, or cases) were filed in both the first and second halves of 2011. Building on a trend first seen last year, 43 of the filings in 2011 were associated with merger and acquisition (M&A) transactions.

Litigation against Chinese issuers listed on U.S. exchanges through reverse mergers represented a major component of filings activity during 2011, although evidence indicates that this type of litigation is subsiding. In 2011, 33 such class actions were filed, constituting 17.6 percent of all federal securities class actions. This activity occurred predominantly in the first half of the year when 24 of these actions were filed; only nine were brought in the last six months, including five filed in the last three months of the year. In 2010, there were nine such class actions filed. The report illustrates the differences in allegations between Chinese reverse merger filings since 2010 and other Classic Filings, and indicates that complaints relating to Chinese reverse mergers statistically are more likely to allege violations of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and financial restatements and are less likely to allege insider trading.


The Role of Accounting in the Financial Crisis

The following post comes to us from S.P. Kothari and Rebecca Lester, both of the Department of Economics, Finance, and Accounting at MIT.

In our paper, The Role of Accounting in the Financial Crisis: Lessons for the Future, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we discuss the causes of the financial crisis, with particular focus on the debated role of the relevant U.S. accounting standards, and summarize implications for accountants and accounting regulators based on the effect of these existing rules.

The Great Recession that started in 2008 has had significant effects on the US and global economy; estimates of the amount of US wealth lost are approximately $14 trillion (Luhby 2009). Various causes of the financial crisis have been cited, including lax regulation over mortgage lending, a growing housing bubble, the rise of derivatives instruments such as collateralized debt obligations, and questionable banking practices. In addition to these and many other reasons, we explain two factors that partially contributed to the crisis: certain management incentives and fair value accounting standards.


Protecting Directors When Firms Fail Post-Merger

Scott Davis is the head of the US Mergers and Acquisitions group at Mayer Brown LLP. This post is based on an article by Mr. Davis and William R. Kucera that first appeared in Insights: The Corporate & Securities Law Advisor.

The aftermath of the recent acquisition of Lyondell by Basell provides a striking example of the risk that directors face if they approve a cash merger financed in substantial part through borrowing and the target then fails. The deal was characterized as an “absolute home run” by Lyondell’s financial advisor. [1] But less than thirteen months after the closing of the merger in December 2007, Lyondell filed for bankruptcy. A litigation trust established by the bankruptcy court to marshal the debtor’s assets has sued Lyondell’s former directors, seeking damages on the theory that the merger, while beneficial to Lyondell’s shareholders, unlawfully mistreated Lyondell’s creditors by causing the company to become insolvent. [2] The case is pending. To add to the directors’ problems, the excess directors’ and officers’ insurance carrier has declined coverage on several grounds, among them that, because the litigation trust stands in Lyondell’s shoes, this is an “insured v. insured” matter not covered by the D&O policy. [3]


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