Does Mandatory Shareholder Voting Prevent Bad Corporate Acquisitions?

The following post comes to us from Marco Becht, Professor of Corporate Governance at the Université libre de Bruxelles; Andrea Polo of the Department of Economics and Business at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Barcelona GSE; and Stefano Rossi of the Department of Finance at Purdue University.

In our paper, Does Mandatory Shareholder Voting Prevent Bad Corporate Acquisitions?, which was recently made publicly available as an ECGI and Rock Center Working Paper on SSRN, we examine how much power shareholders should delegate to the board of directors. In practice, there is broad consensus that fundamental changes to the basic corporate contract or decisions that might have large material consequences for shareholder wealth must be taken via an extraordinary shareholder resolution (Rock, Davies, Kanda and Kraakman 2009). Large corporate acquisitions are a notable exception. In the United Kingdom, deals larger than 25% in relative size are subject to a mandatory shareholder vote; in most of continental Europe there is no vote, while in Delaware voting is largely discretionary.

The consequences for Delaware corporation shareholders are well documented in the relevant finance literature. A large percentage of deals initiated by U.S. acquirers destroy shareholder value with aggregate announcement losses running in billions of U.S. dollars. Shareholder voting exists, but it is voluntary and therefore endogenous. Deals facing potential shareholder opposition can be restructured to avoid a vote, as was recently the case with Kraft Inc.’s bid for Cadbury Plc, after public opposition from Warren Buffett. Shareholder voting in the United States is not a binding constraint and previous empirical studies based on U.S. data are rendered inconclusive.

Under the U.K. listing rules, bids for relatively large targets are called “Class 1 transactions” and are subject to mandatory shareholder approval. In a representative sample of acquirers listed on the main market in London, Class 1 transactions are associated with an aggregate gain to acquirer shareholders of $13.6 billion, over 1992-2010. Similar U.S. transactions in terms of size and other observable characteristics that are not subject to shareholder approval are associated with an aggregate loss of $210 billion for acquirer shareholders over the same period; and smaller Class 2 U.K. transactions, also not subject to shareholder approval, are associated with an aggregate loss of $3 billion. The findings are robust to various controls for deal characteristics and also hold at the U.K. mandatory voting threshold, where deals are very similar except in their voting status.

How does mandatory voting bring about these positive Class 1 results? Our paper infers that mandatory voting makes boards more likely to refrain from overpaying or from proposing deals that are not in the interest of shareholders. We find that shareholders never voted against Class 1 transactions ex-post and deals that were poorly received by the market at announcement were often dropped before they reached the voting stage. The results show that giving shareholder a direct decision right over large transactions can have a positive causal impact by discouraging bad corporate acquisitions.

Many jurisdictions have chosen to exclude large acquisitions from the list of fundamental changes that are outside the scope of delegated board authority. The advantages of board delegation such as reduced legal costs and greater speed and flexibility are shown to be preferred to explicit shareholder approval. This study shows that the benefits of mandatory voting on large corporate acquisitions can be large, shedding new light on this trade-off.

The full paper is available for download here.

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