Monthly Archives: January 2014

Do Managers Manipulate Earnings Prior to Management Buyouts?

The following post comes to us from Yaping Mao and Luc Renneboog, both of the Department of Finance at Tilburg University.

In the paper, Do Managers Manipulate Earnings Prior to Management Buyouts?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we investigate accounting manipulation prior to buyout transactions in the UK during the second buyout wave of 1997 to 2007. Prior to management buyouts (MBOs), managers have an incentive to deflate the reported earnings numbers by accounting manipulation in the hope of lowering the subsequent stock price. If they succeed, they will be able to acquire (a large part of) the company on the cheap. It is important to note that accounting manipulation in a buyout transaction may have severe consequences for the shareholders who sell out in the transaction: if the earnings distortion is reflected in the stock price, the stock price decline cannot be undone and the wealth loss of shareholders is irreversible if the company goes private subsequent to the buyout. Mispriced stock and false financial statements are still issues frequently mentioned when MBO transactions are evaluated. The UK’s Financial Services Authority (FSA, 2006) ranks market abuse as one of the highest risks and suggests more intensive supervision of leveraged buyouts (LBOs). The concerns about mispriced buyouts are therefore a motive to test empirically whether earnings numbers are manipulated preceding buyout transactions.

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ISS Publishes Guidance on Director Compensation (and Other Qualification) Bylaws

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

In the latest instance of proxy advisors establishing a governance standard without offering evidence that it will improve corporate governance or corporate performance, ISS has adopted a new policy position that appears designed to chill board efforts to protect against “golden leash” incentive bonus schemes. These bonus schemes have been used by some activist hedge funds to recruit director candidates to stand for election in support of whatever business strategy the fund seeks to impose on a company.

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Carried Interests: Current Developments

Joseph Bachelder is special counsel in the Tax, Employee Benefits & Private Clients practice group at McCarter & English, LLP. This post is based on an article by Mr. Bachelder which first appeared in the New York Law Journal.

The tax status of so-called “carried interests,” held by private equity fund sponsors (and benefitting, in particular, the individual managers of those sponsors) is the subject of this post. A decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit holding that a private equity fund was engaged in a trade or business for purposes of the withdrawal liability provisions of ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) has caused considerable comment on the issue of whether a private equity fund might also be held to be in a trade or business (and not just a passive investor) for purposes of capital gains tax treatment on the sale of its portfolio companies. Proposed federal income tax legislation, beginning in 2007 and continuing into 2013, also has raised concern as to the status of capital gains tax treatment for holders of carried interests. The following post addresses both of these developments.

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Gender Quotas for Corporate Boards

The following post comes to us from Anne L. Alstott, Jacquin D. Bierman Professor in Taxation of Yale Law School.

Gender quotas for corporate boards of directors have attracted attention in Europe, where a number of countries have enacted mandatory or voluntary quotas. In the United States, some activists, scholars, and policy makers have advocated quotas as a way to shatter the glass ceiling for women in business and (possibly) to improve corporate decisionmaking.

The appeal of quotas is that they represent the kind of structural change that could alter business practices that exclude women from leadership roles. Social psychology has demonstrated that gender discrimination flourishes when institutions allow actors to give free reign to stereotypes and to unconscious biases. Effective anti-discrimination measures must inform actors about these biases and limit the effects of bias on hiring, promotion, and the distribution of rewards in the workplace and in society. Still, quotas may have a dark side: critics worry that quotas could damage women’s career prospects if new directors are seen as tokens. Critics also predict that quotas could harm corporate performance, if new female directors are untrained or inexperienced. Empirical claims on both sides await further study by scholars.

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Update on the Halliburton Fraud-on-the-Market Case

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. The Supreme Court’s expected reconsideration of Basic is also discussed in a Harvard Law School Discussion Paper by Professors Lucian Bebchuk and Allen Ferrell, Rethinking Basic, discussed on the Forum here.

As we have described in our prior posts and memos (here and here), in Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., No. 13-317, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to abandon the “fraud on the market” presumption of reliance that has facilitated class-action treatment of claims brought under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and SEC Rule 10b–5. The case will be argued before the Court on March 5, and a decision will likely come by the end of June. As our earlier memos explained, Halliburton is potentially the most important securities case that the Court has heard in a long time.

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Regulation A+ Offerings—A New Era at the SEC

The following post comes to us from Samuel S. Guzik, founder and principal of Guzik & Associates.

December 18, 2013 may well mark an historic turning point in the ability of small business to effectively access capital in the private and public markets under the federal securities regulatory framework. On that day the Commissioners of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission met in open session and unanimously authorized the issuance of proposed rules [1] intended to implement Title IV of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012 (the “JOBS Act”)—a provision widely labeled as “Regulation A+”—and whose implementation is dependent upon SEC rulemaking. Title IV, entitled “Small Company Capital Formation”, was intended by Congress to expand the use of Regulation A—a little used exemption from a full blown SEC registration of securities which has been around for more than 20 years—by increasing the dollar ceiling from $5 million to $50 million. Both the scope and breadth of the SEC’s proposed rules, and the areas in which the SEC expressly seeks public comment, appear to represent an opening salvo by the SEC in what is certain to be a fierce, long overdue battle between the Commission and state regulators, the SEC determined to reduce the burden of state regulation on capital formation—a burden falling disproportionately on small business—and state regulators seeking to preserve their autonomy to review securities offerings at the state level.

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Managerial Risk Taking Incentives and Corporate Pension Policy

The following post comes to us from Divya Anantharaman of the Department of Accounting and Information Systems at Rutgers Business School and Yong Gyu Lee of the School of Business at Sungkyunkwan University.

In our paper, Managerial Risk Taking Incentives and Corporate Pension Policy, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we examine whether the compensation incentives of top management affect the extent of risk shifting versus risk management behavior in pension plans.

The employee beneficiaries of a firm’s defined benefit pension plan hold claims on the firm similar to those held by the firm’s debtholders. Beneficiaries are entitled to receive a fixed stream of cash flows starting at retirement. The firm sponsoring the plan is required to set aside assets in a trust to fund these obligations, but if the sponsor goes bankrupt with insufficient assets to fund pension obligations, beneficiaries are bound to accept whatever reduced payouts can be made with the assets secured for the plan.

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Statement on the SEC’s Issuance of Certain Exemptive Orders Related to Rule 17g-5(c)(1)

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on a public statement by Commissioner Aguilar regarding the SEC’s recent issuance of exemptive orders of NRSROs to conflict of interest prohibitions under Rule 17g-5(c)(1) of the Exchange Act; the full text is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Rule 17g-5(c)(1) (the “Rule”) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 addresses nationally recognized statistical rating organization (“NRSRO”) conflict of interest concerns by prohibiting an NRSRO from issuing a credit rating where the person soliciting the rating was the source of 10% or more of the total net revenue of the NRSRO during the most recently ended fiscal year. [1] As noted by the Commission, this prohibition is necessary because such a person “will be in a position to exercise substantial influence on the NRSRO” and, as a result, “it will be difficult for the NRSRO to remain impartial, given the impact on the NRSRO’s income if the person withdrew its business.” [2] The Commission also recognized that the intent of the prohibition “is not to prohibit a business practice that is a normal part of an NRSRO’s activities,” and that the Commission may evaluate whether exemptive relief would be appropriate. [3]

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NY Court: Claims for Breach of RMBS Representation & Warranties Accrue on Issuance

Theodore N. Mirvis is a partner in the Litigation Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The following post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Mirvis, George T. Conway III, Elaine P. Golin, Jeffrey D. Hoschander, and Justin V. Rodriguez.

In an important decision last week, a New York appellate court ruled that claims for breach of representations and warranties made in connection with residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) accrue when the representations and warranties are made, which typically occurs when the securitization closes. ACE Securities Corp. v. DB Structured Products, Inc., No.650980/12 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep’t Dec. 19, 2013). The court held that the six-year contract statute of limitations begins to run at that time, instead of when a defendant refuses to comply with a plaintiff’s demand for a contractual remedy.

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A Theory of Debt Maturity

The following post comes to us from Douglas Diamond, Professor of Finance at the
 University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Zhiguo He of the
 Department of Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

In our paper, A Theory of Debt Maturity: The Long and Short of Debt Overhang, forthcoming in the Journal of Finance, we study the effects of the debt maturity on current and future real investment decisions of an owner of equity (or a manager who is compensated by equity). Our analysis is based on debt overhang first analyzed by Myers (1977), who points out that outstanding debt may distort the firm’s investment incentives downward. A reduced incentive to undertake profitable investments when decision makers seek to maximize equity value is referred to as a problem of “debt overhang,” because part of the return from a current new investment goes to make existing debt more valuable.

Myers (1977) suggests a possible solution of short-term debt to the debt overhang problem. In part, this extends the idea that if all debt matures before the investment opportunity, then the firm without debt in place can make the investment decision as if an all-equity firm. Hence, following this logic, debt that matures soon—although after relevant investment decisions, as opposed to before—should have reduced overhang.

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