Monthly Archives: June 2013

UK Corporate Law Developments: Extending the Scope of Warranties?

The following post comes to us from Jeffery Roberts, senior partner in the London office of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, and is based on a Gibson Dunn alert by Mr. Roberts, Amar K. Madhani, and Gareth Jones.

The UK Court of Appeal recently held in the Belfairs Management case [1] that a warranty in a sale and purchase agreement should be interpreted with regard to all of the background knowledge reasonably available to the parties at the time the agreement was entered into. The decision highlights the growing trend of the UK courts to adopt a more purposive, rather than a literal, approach to the interpretation of contracts under English law in order to give effect to the commercial intentions of the parties where the facts underlying the dispute clearly support such an interpretation and where those commercial intentions are clear. This post provides a short summary of the facts of the Belfairs Management case, as well as a discussion of the potential implications of the decision for buyers, sellers and their advisers.

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Public Companies and the “End-User Exception” for Swaps

Amy Goodman is a partner and co-chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. The following post is based on a Gibson Dunn alert.

Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 and new Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) rules require that, subject to certain exceptions, swap counterparties clear swaps at a clearing house and execute them on a facility or exchange. One of these exceptions is the “end-user exception,” which may be available for companies that are not “financial entities” and that use swaps to manage risk. There are several requirements that these entities must meet in order to rely on the end-user exception. For public companies, these include taking certain governance steps that involve board-level approval of the company’s use of uncleared swaps and review of company policies on swaps. With the CFTC clearing requirements applicable to non-financial entities scheduled to take effect September 9, public companies can position themselves to take advantage of the end-user exception by completing these steps in the next few months.

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Activist Shareholders in the US: A Changing Landscape

The following post comes to us from Stephen F. Arcano, partner concentrating in mergers and acquisitions and other corporate matters at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and is based on a Skadden alert by Mr. Arcano and Richard J. Grossman.

Shareholder activism in the U.S. has increased significantly over the past several years, with activist campaigns increasingly targeting well-known, larger market capitalization companies, such as Apple, Hess, Procter & Gamble and Sony. In 2013, the number, nature and degree of success of these campaigns has garnered the attention of boards of directors, shareholders and the media. While the continued level of success of activists is uncertain, and the longer-term impact of activism is unknown, at the moment shareholder activism is exerting considerable influence in the M&A and corporate governance arenas. In this evolving landscape, public company boards and their managements need to be aware that virtually any company is a potential target for shareholder activism.

Key Factors Influencing the Current Paradigm

Activism has become a viable and increasingly applied (arguably mainstream) tool for shareholders to seek to influence corporate policy. Several changes have occurred over the past few years that have contributed to the heightened — although not universal — success now being enjoyed by activism, including factors related to the activists, institutional investors and corporate defenses.

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The Sustainability Business Case

Matteo Tonello is managing director at The Conference Board. This post relates to an issue of The Conference Board’s Director Notes series authored by Marc Bertoneche and Cornis van der Lugt; the full publication, including footnotes, is available here.

While much has been published on the business case for sustainability during the last decade, businesses have been slow to adopt the green innovation and sustainability agenda. Reasons include a lack of consistency in the indicators employed by analysts, and a failure to effectively incorporate financial value drivers into the equation. This article defines a green business case model that includes seven core financial value drivers of special interest to financial analysts.

Researchers, management experts, and activists have published extensively over the last decade on the business case for sustainability. The accumulated evidence and experience makes it clear that sustainability actions do not have a negative or neutral impact on the financial performance of a business. Rather, it is a question of the degree to which sustainability actions have a positive impact on financial performance. One research overview has identified more than 60 benefits, clustered into seven overall business benefit areas.

As greater attention is paid today to integrated thinking and more sustainable business models, the link between sustainability actions and corporate financial performance remains central. However, the business case evidence collected to date has failed to have the expected scale of impact. One reason for this is the lack of consistency in indicators employed by analysts in their examination of possible cause and effect relations. Another is the gap in discipline between sustainability experts and financial officers, with each community conversing in its own language (jargon). Sustainability activists have failed to get a better grasp on corporate finance, while financial officers have failed to get a better grasp on the sustainability agenda.

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The Dark Side of Analyst Coverage

The following post comes to us from Jie (Jack) He of the Department of Finance at the University of Georgia and Xuan Tian of the Department of Finance at Indiana University.

In our paper, The Dark Side of Analyst Coverage: The Case of Innovation, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we examine the effect of analyst coverage on firm innovation and test two competing hypotheses. We find that firms covered by a larger number of analysts generate fewer patents and patents with lower impact. To establish causality, we use a difference-in-differences approach and an instrumental variable approach. Our identification tests suggest a causal effect of analyst coverage on firm innovation. The evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that analysts exert too much pressure on managers to meet short-term goals, impeding firms’ investment in long-term innovative projects. Finally, we discuss possible underlying mechanisms through which analysts impede innovation and show a residual effect of analyst coverage on firm innovation even after controlling for such mechanisms. Overall, our study offers novel evidence of a previously under-explored adverse consequence of analyst coverage, namely, its hindrance to firm innovation.

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Appellate Court: Madoff Trustee Lacks Authority to Go After Banks

John Savarese is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Savarese, Stephen R. DiPrimaEmil A. Kleinhaus, and Jonathon R. La Chapelle.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held today that the trustee for Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities (BLMIS) lacks authority to pursue common-law claims for damages suffered by Madoff’s customers. Based on that ruling, the Court affirmed the dismissal of a variety of damages claims against JPMorgan, HSBC and other banks relating to Madoff’s historic Ponzi scheme. See Picard v. JPMorgan Chase & Co., No. 11-5044 (2d Cir. June 20, 2013). Our firm represented JPMorgan both in the district court and on appeal.

Since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Caplin v. Marine Midland, 406 U.S. 416 (1972), it has been well-established that a bankruptcy trustee — as the legal successor to the debtor — may not bring damages claims that belong to creditors. It is also well-established that, under the doctrine of in pari delicto, the bankruptcy trustee for a fraudulent debtor may not sue third parties for harms caused by the debtor’s own fraud.

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Why High Leverage is Optimal for Banks

The following post comes to us from Harry DeAngelo, Professor of Finance at the University of Southern California, and René Stulz, Professor of Finance at Ohio State University.

In our paper, Why High Leverage is Optimal for Banks, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we focus on banks’ role as producers of liquid financial claims. Our model assumes uncertainty and excludes agency problems, deposit insurance, taxes, and other distortions that would lead banks to adopt levered capital structures. We show that, under these idealized conditions, high bank leverage is optimal when there is a market premium for the production of (socially valuable) liquid claims. The analysis thus implies that high bank leverage – not Modigliani and Miller’s (1958) leverage irrelevance principle – is the appropriate idealized-world baseline for analyzing bank capital structure in the presence of a demand for liquid financial claims per se.

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The Costs of “Too Big To Fail”

Editor’s Note: Mark Roe is the David Berg Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where he teaches bankruptcy and corporate law. This post is Professor Roe’s most recent op-ed written for the international association of newspapers Project Syndicate, which can be found here.

The idea that some banks are “too big to fail” has emerged from the obscurity of regulatory and academic debate into the broader public discourse on finance. Bloomberg News started the most recent public discussion, criticizing the benefit that such banks receive — a benefit that a study released by the International Monetary Fund has shown to be quite large.

Bankers’ lobbyists and representatives dismissed the Bloomberg editorial for citing a single study, and for relying on rating agencies’ rankings for the big banks, which showed that several would have to pay more for their long-term funding if financial markets didn’t expect government support in case of trouble.

In fact, though, there are about ten recent studies, not just one, concerning the benefit that too-big-to-fail banks receive from the government. Nearly every study points in the same direction: a large boost in the too-big-to-fail subsidy during and after the financial crisis, making it cheaper for big banks to borrow.

But a recent research report released by Goldman Sachs argues the contrary — and deserves to be taken more seriously than the first dismissive views. The report concludes that, over time, big banks’ advantage in long-term funding costs relative to smaller banks has been one-third of one percentage point; that this advantage is small; that it narrowed recently (and may be reversing); that it comes from the big banks’ efficiency and their bonds’ liquidity; and that historically it has been mostly small banks, not big ones, that have failed.

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Bebchuk, Cohen, and Wang Win the 2013 IRRCi Academic Award for “Learning and the Disappearing Association between Governance and Returns”

In an award ceremony held in New York City on Tuesday, the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute (IRRCi) announced the winners of its the 2013 prize competition. The academic award, coming with a $10,000 award prize, went to HLS professor Lucian Bebchuk, HLS Senior Fellow and Tel-Aviv University Professor Alma Cohen, and HBS professor Charles Wang. Bebchuk, Cohen, and Wang received the award for their study, Learning and the Disappearing Association between Governance and Returns, available on SSRN here.

The Bebchuk-Cohen-Wang study was published last month by the Journal of Financial Economics. In presenting the award, IRRCi chair announced that the winning paper “will be valuable … for investors, policymakers, academia, and other stakeholders.”

The study seeks to explain a pattern that has received a great deal of attention from financial economists and capital market participants: during the period 1991-1999, stock returns were correlated with the G-Index, which is based on twenty-four governance provisions (Gompers, Ishii, and Metrick (2003)) and the E-Index, which is based on the six provisions that matter most (Bebchuk, Cohen, and Ferrell (2009)). The study shows that this correlation did not persist during the subsequent period 2000-2008. Furthermore, the study provides evidence that both the identified correlation and its subsequent disappearance were due to market participants’ gradually learning to appreciate the difference between firms scoring well and poorly on the governance indices. Consistent with the learning hypothesis, the study finds that:

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Court of Chancery Upholds Forum-Selection Bylaws Under the DGCL

Allen M. Terrell, Jr. is a director at Richards, Layton & Finger. This post is based on a Richards, Layton & Finger publication, and is part of the Delaware law series, which is co-sponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

The Court of Chancery has rejected statutory and contractual challenges to forum-selection bylaws adopted unilaterally by the boards of directors of Chevron Corporation and FedEx Corporation. In an opinion deciding motions for partial judgment on the pleadings in Boilermakers Local 154 Retirement Fund, et al. v. Chevron Corp., et al., C.A. No. 7220-CS, and Iclub Inv. P’ship v. FedEx Corp., et al., C.A. No. 7238-CS, Chancellor Strine determined that a board of directors, if granted authority to adopt bylaws by the certificate of incorporation, has the power under the Delaware General Corporation Law to adopt a bylaw requiring litigation relating to the corporation’s internal affairs to be conducted exclusively in the Delaware courts, and that such a bylaw may become part of the binding agreement between a corporation and its stockholders even though the stockholders do not vote to approve it. The Court emphasized, however, that stockholder-plaintiffs retain the ability to challenge the enforcement of such a bylaw in a particular case, either under the reasonableness standard adopted by the Supreme Court of the United States in The Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1 (1972), or under principles of fiduciary duty. The Court also left open the possibility that the boards’ actions in adopting such bylaws could be subject to challenge as a breach of fiduciary duty.

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