Monthly Archives: November 2013

Supreme Court to Revisit Fraud-On-The-Market Presumption

John F. Savarese and George Conway are partners in the Litigation Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Savarese, Mr. Conway, and Charles D. Cording.

On November 15, 2013, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could, depending upon its outcome, dramatically change private securities litigation. The case is Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., No. 13-317, and it presents the question of whether the Court should reconsider the fraud-on-the-market presumption of reliance that applies in class actions under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act and SEC Rule 10b-5.

The case is of enormous potential significance. Adopted in 1988 in Basic v. Levinson, the fraud-on-the-market presumption effectively eliminated the need for plaintiffs to individually prove reliance on alleged misstatements in cases involving securities that trade on “efficient” markets. By dispensing with proof of individualized reliance, Basic makes possible the certification of massive Section 10(b) class actions. Without the presumption, classes could not be certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3), because individual reliance questions would predominate over common questions affecting the class as a whole.

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Practical Guidance on Macroprudential Finance-Regulatory Reform

The following post comes to us from Robert Hockett, Professor of Financial and International Economic Law at Cornell Law School.

The global financial troubles of 2008-09, with whose debt-deflationary macroeconomic consequences [1] the world continues to struggle, [2] exposed weaknesses in many financial sector oversight regimes. Most of these had in common their focus on the safety and soundness of individual financial institutions to the exclusion of the stability of financial systems as wholes—wholes whose structural features render them more than mere sums of their institutional parts.

A number of academic, governmental, and other finance-regulatory authorities, myself included, [3] have accordingly concluded that an appropriately inclusive finance-regulatory oversight regime must concern itself as much with the identification and mitigation of systemic risk as with that of institutional risk. Once primarily ‘microprudential’ finance-regulatory oversight and policy instruments, in other words, are now understood to be in need of supplementation with ‘macroprudential’ finance-regulatory oversight and policy instruments.

Now because finance-regulatory policy in most jurisdictions is implemented through law, all of the weaknesses inherent in exclusively microprudential finance-regulatory regimes are, among other things, legal problems. They are weaknesses in what some non-American lawyers call existing ‘legal frameworks.’ Many countries in consequence are now looking to update their legal frameworks for finance-regulatory oversight, supplementing their traditional microprudential foci and methods with macroprudential counterparts.

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Dealing With Activist Hedge Funds

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 and Sabastian V. Niles.

This year has seen a continuance of the high and increasing level of activist campaigns experienced during the last 14 years, from 27 in 2000 to more than 200 in 2013, in addition to numerous undisclosed behind-the-scenes situations. No company is too big to become the target of an activist, and even companies with sterling corporate governance practices and positive share price performance, including outperformance of peers, may be targeted. Among the major companies that have been attacked are Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Hess, P&G, Transocean, ITW, DuPont, PepsiCo, Kraft and EADS. There are more than 100 hedge funds that have engaged in activism. Activist hedge funds have approximately $100 billion of assets under management. They have become an “asset class” that is attracting investment from major traditional institutional investors.

The major activist hedge funds are very experienced and sophisticated with professional analysts, traders, bankers and senior partners that rival the leading investment banks. They produce detailed analyses (“white papers”) of a target’s management, operations, capital structure and strategy designed to show that the changes they propose would quickly boost shareholder value. Some activist attacks are designed to facilitate a takeover or to force a sale of the target, such as the failed Icahn attack on Clorox. Prominent institutional investors and strategic acquirors have been working with activists both behind the scenes and by partnering in sponsoring an activist attack such as CalSTRS with Relational in attacking Timken, and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund with Pershing Square in attacking Canadian Pacific. Major investment banks, law firms, proxy solicitors, and public relations advisors are now representing activists.

Among the attack devices being used by activists are:

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ISS Addresses Dissident Director Compensation Bylaw

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, Andrew R. Brownstein, Steven A. Rosenblum, Trevor S. Norwitz, and Sabastian V. Niles.

ISS Proxy Advisory Services recently recommended that shareholders of a small cap bank holding company, Provident Financial Holdings, Inc., withhold their votes from the three director candidates standing for reelection to the company’s staggered board (all of whom serve on its nominating and governance committee) because the board adopted a bylaw designed to discourage special dissident compensation schemes. These special compensation arrangements featured prominently in a number of recent high profile proxy contests and have been roundly criticized by leading commentators. Columbia Law Professor John C. Coffee, Jr. succinctly noted “third-party bonuses create the wrong incentives, fragment the board and imply a shift toward both the short-term and higher risk.” In our memorandum on the topic, we catalogued the dangers posed by such schemes to the integrity of the boardroom and board decision-making processes. We also noted that companies could proactively address these risks by adopting a bylaw that would disqualify director candidates who are party to any such extraordinary arrangements.

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Understanding the Board of Directors after the Financial Crisis

The following post comes to us from Joseph A. McCahery and Erik P. M. Vermeulen, both of Tilburg University Law School.

Research on the composition and structure of the board of directors is a thriving subject in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The discussion thus far has assumed that finding the right board members is extremely important because they tend to enhance corporate strategy and decision-making. Consider the case of Apple’s board. Following Steve Jobs’ return to the firm in 1997, he understood well the important role of the board of directors to both improve company productivity and build relationships with its suppliers and customers. In order for the board of directors to become a competitive advantage and help carry Apple forward, its members needed to have a thorough understanding of the computer industry and the firm’s products. Accordingly, a change in the composition of the board of directors was arguably a necessary first step to bring back focus, relevance and interaction (with the outside world) to the company in its journey to introduce disruptive innovations and creative products to its customers. The result was impressive: Between August 6th, 1997 (the day the “new” board was introduced) and August 23rd, 2011 (the last day of Jobs as the CEO of Apple), the stock price soared from $25.25 to $360.30, increasing 1,327 per cent.

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CFTC Proposes New Position Limits and Aggregation Rules for Derivatives

The following post comes to us from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by David J. Gilberg, Kenneth M. Raisler, John M. Miller, and Ryne V. Miller.

On November 5, 2013, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “CFTC” or “Commission”) held a public meeting during which it:

  • Voted 3-1, with commissioner O’Malia dissenting, to propose for public comment a new set of rules on position limits (the “Proposed Rules”) applicable to options, futures, and swaps contracts (“derivatives”) related to 28 agricultural, metal, and energy commodities;
  • Confirmed that it will voluntarily dismiss its appeal of the September 2012 decision from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (the “Court”) vacating the Commission’s previous attempt at imposing position limits across derivatives (the “Original Position Limit Rules”); and
  • Voted unanimously to propose separately for public comment rules that would expand the availability of aggregation exemptions, as compared to the Original Position Limit Rules, from the CFTC’s aggregation standards applicable to position limits for futures and swaps (the “Proposed Aggregation Rules”).

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Benefit-Cost Paradigms in Financial Regulation

The following post comes to us from Eric Posner, Kirkland & Ellis Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Aaron Director Research Scholar at the University of Chicago, and E. Glen Weyl, Assistant Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago.

Nearly all U.S. regulatory agencies use benefit-cost analysis (BCA) to evaluate proposed regulations. The EPA, for example, uses BCA to evaluate regulations that require factories to reduce emissions. OSHA uses BCA to evaluate regulations that require workplaces to install safety devices for workers. NHTSA uses BCA to evaluate fuel economy standards. Yet a striking exception to this pattern occurs in the area of financial regulation. The major agencies with jurisdiction over financial activities—including the SEC, the CFTC, and the Fed—have almost never used formal BCA to evaluate financial regulations.

Yet there is no reason to believe that BCA would be appropriate for environmental or workplace regulation and not for financial regulation. Indeed, BCA would seem more appropriate for financial regulation where data are better and more reliable, and where regulators do not confront ideologically charged valuation problems like those concerning mortality risk and environmental harm. The benefits and costs of financial regulation are commensurable monetary gains and losses, and so can be easily compared.

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District Court Dismisses Claim that Potential Litigation Disclosure Was Required

The following post comes to us from Eric M. Roth, partner in the litigation department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Roth.

A recent decision of the Southern District of New York is noteworthy in its rejection of the plaintiffs’ argument that disclosure of a threatened suit in which the potential loss could have reached $10 billion was required under either the federal securities laws or Accounting Standards Codification 450. See In re Bank of America AIG Disclosure Sec. Litig., C.A. No. 11 Civ. 6678 (JGK) (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 1, 2013).

In January 2011, BofA and AIG entered into an agreement to toll the statute of limitations on fraud and securities claims arising out of BofA’s sale of mortgage-backed securities (“MBS”) to AIG. In February 2011, AIG provided BofA with a detailed analysis of its potential claims in which it claimed to have lost more than $10 billion. Later that month, BofA’s annual report disclosed that it faced “substantial potential legal liability” relating to sales of MBS, which “could have a material adverse effect on [its] cash flow, financial condition, and results of operations,” but cautioned that BofA “could not estimate a range of loss for all matters in which losses were probable or reasonably possible.” BofA did not disclose the tolling agreement with AIG or the magnitude of its potential exposure to AIG. On August 8, 2011, AIG had filed a complaint against BofA seeking damages of at least $10 billion. BofA’s stock price dropped 20% in a single day.

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Zombie Boards: Board Tenure and Firm Performance

The following post comes to us from Sterling Huang of the Finance Area at INSEAD.

In my paper, Zombie Boards: Board Tenure and Firm Performance, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I empirically investigate how board tenure is related to firm performance and corporate decisions, holding other firm, CEO, and board characteristics constant. I find that board tenure has an inverted U-shaped relation with firm value, and that this curvilinear relation is reflected in M&A performance, financial reporting quality, corporate strategies and innovation, executive compensation, and CEO replacement. The results indicate that, for firms with short-tenured boards, the marginal effect of board learning dominates entrenchment effects, whereas for firms that have long-tenured boards, the opposite is true.

The analysis relies on the assumption that some transaction costs prevent boards from fully adjusting to their optimal tenure level. But what are those transaction costs? For long-tenured boards, transaction costs could take the form of agency costs. For instance, board tenure choice may reflect the extent to which CEOs have influence over the board selection process (Hermalin and Weisbach, 1998). Further, firms with staggered boards can only replace a portion of board member each year, in which case the use of a staggered board itself introduces agency problems (Bebchuk and Cohen, 2005). For short-tenured boards, transaction costs could take the form of frictions in the labor market for directors.

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Don’t Ask/Don’t Waive Standstills & Attorneys’ Fees in Delaware

This post is based on a Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell LLP client memorandum by Morris Nichols’ Delaware Corporate Counseling Group partners Andrew M. Johnston, Eric Klinger-Wilensky, and associate Jason S. Tyler, and Morris Nichols’ Delaware Corporate & Business Litigation Group partners William M. Lafferty and John P. DiTomo. 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.

Court of Chancery Revisits Covenants Against Waiving “Don’t Ask/Don’t Waive” Provisions

In a recent bench ruling, In re Complete Genomics, Inc. Shareholder Litigation, the Court of Chancery offered new insight into the ability of a target board to promise an acquiror that the target will not waive a “don’t ask/don’t waive” standstill provision.

A “don’t ask/don’t waive” standstill provision is typically found in a confidentiality agreement that a target requires potential bidders to enter into before being entitled to receive sensitive target information. The “don’t ask/don’t waive” provision precludes a potential bidder from making a private approach to the target board and from requesting any waiver of the standstill itself. If the target later signs a merger agreement with another party containing a negative covenant prohibiting the waiver of standstill agreements, the “don’t ask/don’t waive” and the negative covenant (the “Coupled Provisions”) preclude the previous bidder from ever providing a topping bid to the target.

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