Monthly Archives: November 2013

Credit Crisis Litigation Update: It is Settlement Time

The following post comes to us from Faten Sabry, Senior Vice President at NERA Economic Consulting, and is based on a NERA publication by Ms. Sabry, Eric Wang, and Joseph Mani; the full document, including footnotes, is available here.

It has been more than six years since the onset of the credit crisis and we have documented for the first time in the past few months a significant increase in the number and size of settlements. Meanwhile, the pace of new filings has slowed as housing markets continue to improve and delinquencies and defaults decline. However, litigation arising from the credit crisis is far from over.

In this post, we discuss the recent trends of settlement activity and review some of the major settlements in credit crisis litigation. We also discuss mortgage settlements that are related to repurchase demands mainly between mortgage sellers and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We then examine the current trends in filings, including the types of claims made, the nature of defendants and plaintiffs in the litigation, and the financial products involved.

Our main findings, which are discussed in greater detail below, include the following:

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Some Thoughts for Boards of Directors in 2014

Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. The following post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton, Steven A. Rosenblum, and Karessa L. Cain.

In many respects, the relentless drive to adopt corporate governance mandates seems to have reached a plateau: essentially all of the prescribed “best practices”—including say-on-pay, the dismantling of takeover defenses, majority voting in the election of directors and the declassification of board structures—have been codified in rules and regulations or voluntarily adopted by a majority of S&P 500 companies. Only 11 percent of S&P 500 companies have a classified board, 8 percent have a poison pill and 6 percent have not adopted a majority vote or plurality-vote-plus-resignation standard to elect directors. The activists’ “best practices” of yesterday have become the standard practices of today. While proxy advisors and other stakeholders in the corporate governance industry will undoubtedly continue to propose new mandates, we are currently in a period of relative stasis as compared to the sea change that began with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and unfolded over the last decade.

In other respects, however, the corporate governance landscape continues to evolve in meaningful ways. We may be entering an era of more nuanced corporate governance debates, where the focus has shifted from check-the-box policies to more complex questions such as how to strike the right balance in recruiting directors with complementary skill sets and diverse perspectives, and how to tailor the board’s role in overseeing risk management to the specific needs of the company. Shareholder engagement has been an area of particular focus, as both companies and institutional investors have sought to engage in more regular dialogue on corporate governance matters. The evolving trend here is not only the frequency and depth of engagement, but also a more fundamental re-thinking of the nature of relationships with shareholders and the role that these relationships play in facilitating long-term value creation. Importantly, this trend is about more than just expanding shareholder influence in corporate governance matters; instead, there is an emphasis on the roles and responsibilities of both companies and shareholders in facilitating thoughtful conversations instead of reflexive, off-the-shelf mandates on corporate governance issues, and cultivating long-term relationships that have the potential to curb short-termist pressures in the market.

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The Importance of Trials to the Law and Public Accountability

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Chair White’s recent delivery of the 5th Annual Judge Thomas A. Flannery Lecture, available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Chair White and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

It is a great honor to have been asked to give the Fifth Annual Judge Thomas A. Flannery Lecture. And it is especially meaningful to be joined tonight by Tom Flannery’s daughter Irene, son Tom, and so many friends, colleagues, and former law clerks who knew and served with him.

I unfortunately did not have the privilege of knowing and working with Judge Flannery. But one of the great benefits of being asked to speak tonight is that it gave me the opportunity to come to know him a little—through learning about his many impressive career accomplishments and through reading his own words and those of others about him. I wish I had known him. He was indeed a remarkable man, lawyer, and judge.

As all here know, Judge Flannery was a highly-respected Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney, trial lawyer, and jurist on this court for over 35 years. In fact, he spent most of his life within a few miles of this courtroom.

As part of the Historical Society’s Oral History Project for this Circuit, Judge Flannery gave an interview in 1992. It is a fascinating account of his professional life and the life of this court. Judge Flannery said that his view of the justice system was shaped in great part by watching police court trials here in Washington as a law student.

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ISS Releases 2014 Voting Policies

David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and complex securities transactions. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Katz, Trevor S. Norwitz, David E. Kahan, Sabastian V. Niles, and S. Iliana Ongun.

Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) recently published its 2014 Corporate Governance Policy Updates, which would apply to annual meetings beginning in February 2014. ISS updated relatively few of its policies this year, but the changes largely represent a more measured, company-specific approach to corporate governance practices, which reflects a move by ISS to avoid “one-size-fits-all” policies and recommendations. ISS also announced a new consultation and comment period concerning potential policy changes applicable to the 2015 proxy season or beyond with respect to director tenure, director independence, independent chair shareholder proposals, equity-based compensation plans and auditor ratification.

2014 Policy Updates

Board Response to Majority Supported Shareholder Proposals. As announced last year, ISS evaluates a company’s response to shareholder proposals that receive a majority of shares cast in considering “withhold” recommendations against the full board, committee members or individual directors. With respect to such majority supported shareholder proposals, ISS will now make vote recommendations on director elections on a case-by-case basis and will no longer require boards to fully implement majority supported shareholder proposals in all cases. Instead, ISS will consider mitigating factors in cases involving less than full implementation, including the board’s articulated rationale for its response and level of implementation (with consideration of such rationales being a new factor not previously considered by ISS), disclosed shareholder outreach efforts by the board in the wake of the vote, the level of support and opposition for the proposal, actions taken, and the continuation of the underlying issue as a voting item on the ballot (as either shareholder or management proposals).

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Structural Corporate Degradation Due to Too-Big-To-Fail Finance

Mark Roe is the David Berg Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where he teaches bankruptcy and corporate law.

Corporate governance incentives at too-big-to-fail financial firms deserve systematic examination. For industrial conglomerates that have grown too large, internal and external corporate structural pressures push to re-size the firm. External activists press it to restructure to raise its stock market value. Inside the firm, boards and managers see that the too-big firm can be more efficient and more profitable if restructured via spin-offs and sales. But for large, too-big-to-fail financial firms (1) if the value captured by being too-big-to-fail lowers the firms’ financing costs enough and (2) if a resized firm or the spun-off entities would lose that funding benefit, then a major constraint on industrial firm over-expansion breaks down for too-big-to-fail finance.

Propositions (1) and (2) have both been true and, consequently, a major retardant to industrial firm over-expansion has been missing in the large financial firm. Debt cost savings from the implicit subsidy can amount to a good fraction of the big firms’ profits. Directors contemplating spin-offs at a too-big-to-fail financial firm accordingly face the problem that the spun-off, smaller firms would lose access to cheaper too-big-to-fail funding. Hence, they will be relatively more reluctant to push for break-up, for spin-offs, or for slowing expansion. They would get a better managed group of financial firms if their restructuring succeeded, but would lose the too-big-to-fail subsidy embedded in any lowered funding costs. Subtly but pervasively, internal corporate counterpressures that resist excessive bulk, size, and growth degrade.

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Multiple-Based Damage Claims Under Representation & Warranty Insurance

The following post comes to us from Jeremy S. Liss, partner focusing on capital markets and mergers and acquisitions at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and is based on a Kirkland publication by Mr. Liss, Markus P. Bolsinger, and Michael J. Snow.

Private equity funds are increasingly using representations and warranties (R&W) insurance and related products (such as tax, specific litigation and other contingent liability insurance) in connection with acquisitions as they become more familiar with the product and its advantages. [1] Acquirors considering R&W insurance frequently raise concerns about the claims process and claims experience. A recent claim against a policy issued by Concord Specialty Risk (Concord) both provides an example of an insured’s positive claims experience and highlights the possibility for a buyer to recover multiple-based damages under R&W insurance.

R&W Insurance Advantages

Under an acquisition-oriented R&W policy, the insurance company agrees to insure the buyer against loss arising out of breaches of the seller’s representations and warranties. The insurer’s assumption of representation and warranty risk can result in better contract terms for both buyer and seller. For example, the seller may agree to make broader representations and warranties if buyer’s primary recourse for breach is against the insurance policy, and the buyer may agree to a lower cap on seller’s post-closing indemnification exposure as it will have recourse against the insurance policy. In addition, R&W insurance often simplifies negotiations between buyer and seller, resulting in a more amicable, cost-effective and efficient process.

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The Separation of Ownership from Ownership

Matteo Tonello is managing director of corporate leadership at The Conference Board. This post relates to an issue of The Conference Board’s Director Notes series authored by Arthur H. Kohn and Julie L. Yip-Williams; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

The increase in institutional ownership of corporate stock has led to questions about the role of financial intermediaries in the corporate governance process. This post focuses on the issues associated with the so-called “separation of ownership from ownership,” arising from the growth of three types of institutional investors, pensions, mutual funds, and hedge funds.

To a great extent, individuals no longer buy and hold shares directly in a corporation. Instead, they invest, or become invested, in any variety of institutions, and those institutions, whether directly or through the services of one or more investment advisers, then invest in the shares of America’s corporations. This lengthening of the investment chain, or “intermediation” between individual investor and the corporation, translates into additional agency costs for the individual investor and the system, as control over investment decisions becomes increasingly distanced from those who bear the economic benefits and risks of owners as principals. The rapid growth in intermediated investments has led to concerns about the consequences of intermediation and the role of institutional investors and other financial intermediaries in the corporate governance process. These concerns are particularly relevant against a background of increasing demands for shareholder engagement and involvement in the governance of America’s corporations.

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Reputation Incentives of Independent Directors

The following post comes to us from Ronald Masulis, Professor of Finance at the Australian School of Business, University of New South Wales, and Shawn Mobbs of the Department of Finance at the University of Alabama.

Reputation concerns create strong incentives for independent directors to be viewed externally as capable monitors as well as to retain their most valuable directorships. In our paper, Reputation Incentives of Independent Directors: Impacts on Board Monitoring and Adverse Corporate Actions, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we extend this literature significantly by examining the effects of differential reputation incentives across firms that arise when a director holds multiple directorships.

Firms having boards composed of a greater portion of independent directors for whom this directorship represents one of their most prestigious are associated with firm actions known to reward directors and are negatively associated with firm actions known to be costly to director reputations. Specifically, they are associated with a lower likelihood of covenant violations, earnings management, earnings restatements, shareholder class action suits and dividend reductions. In addition, we also find they are positively associated with stock repurchases and dividend increases.

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Supreme Court Considers Whether SOX Protects Private Company Whistle Blowers

The following post comes to us from Peter C. Thomas, Managing Partner and member of the Litigation Department at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, and is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum.

On Nov. 12, 2013, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Lawson v. FMR LLC, a case in which the Court is expected to clarify whether the whistleblower protections of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”) cover employees of private companies that contract with public companies. Section 806 of SOX prohibits a publicly-traded company—or any officer, employee, contractor, subcontractor, or agent of a publicly-traded company—from retaliating against an “employee” who reports suspected violations of Securities and Exchange Commission rules or federal fraud laws. The word “employee” in the statute is not defined. The issue before the Court is whether the whistleblower protections are limited to employees of public companies or extend as well to employees of privately held contractors and subcontractors of public companies.

The Lawson Case

The defendants are privately-held companies that, by contract, provide advisory and management services to the Fidelity family of mutual funds. The Fidelity Funds are publicly-held entities organized under the Investment Company Act of 1940. The Fidelity Funds have no employees of their own but rather are overseen by a board of trustees that rely on private companies such as the defendants to provide advisory and management services. Plaintiffs are two putative whistleblowers who were employees of the defendant advisors and managers. After plaintiffs raised concerns about the management of Fidelity Funds, one plaintiff was terminated and the other plaintiff resigned claiming a constructive discharge of their employment.

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Bank Capital Plans and Stress Tests

The following post comes to us from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Andrew R. Gladin, Mark J. Welshimer, and Janine C. Waldman. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Last Friday, the Federal Reserve issued its summary instructions and guidance (the “CCAR 2014 Instructions”) for the supervisory 2014 Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review program (“CCAR 2014”) applicable to bank holding companies with $50 billion or more of total consolidated assets (“Covered BHCs”). Eighteen Covered BHCs will be participating in CCAR for the fourth consecutive year in 2014. An additional 12 institutions will be participating in a full CCAR for the first time during this 2013─2014 cycle.

CCAR 2014 is being conducted under the Federal Reserve’s capital plan rule, which requires the submission and supervisory review of a Covered BHC’s capital plan under stressed conditions (the “Capital Plan Rule”). The Federal Reserve recently amended the Capital Plan Rule to clarify how Covered BHCs must incorporate the new Common Equity Tier 1 measure (“CET1”) and methodology for calculating risk-weighted assets from the recently adopted U.S. Basel III-based final capital rules into their capital plan submissions and Dodd-Frank stress tests for the 2013–2014 cycle. Under the Capital Plan Rule and CCAR 2014, a Covered BHC’s capital plan is evaluated by the Federal Reserve on both quantitative (that is, whether the Covered BHC can meet applicable numerical regulatory capital minimums and a Tier 1 common ratio of at least five percent) and qualitative grounds.

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