Wachtell Lipton’s Spin-Off Guide

Deborah Paul and Victor Goldfeld are partners and Sabrina Khan is an associate at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell memorandum by Ms. Paul, Mr. Goldfield, Ms. Kahn, Greg Ostling, Greg Pessin, and Rachel Reisberg.

A spin-off involves the separation of a company’s businesses through the creation of one or more separate, publicly traded companies. Spin-offs have been popular because many investors, boards and managers believe that certain businesses may command higher valuations if owned and managed separately, rather than as part of the same enterprise. An added benefit is that a spin-off can often be accomplished in a manner that is tax-free to both the existing public company (referred to as the parent) and its shareholders. Companies have also been able to tap the debt markets to lock in low borrowing costs for the business being separated and monetize a portion of its value. While spin-offs continue to be an important option that companies evaluate when assessing separation alternatives, the total global volume of completed spin-offs decreased from $179 billion in 2019 to $94 billion in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Although the decrease was significant, 2020 volume was comparable to the $73 billion in volume in 2018.

The process of completing a spin-off is complex. The issues that arise in an individual situation depend largely on the business goals of the separation transaction, the degree to which the businesses were integrated before the transaction, the extent of the continuing relationships between the businesses after the transaction, the structure of the transaction and the desire to obtain (if possible) tax-free treatment of the spin-off. If the businesses were tightly integrated before the transaction or are expected to have significant business relationships following the transaction, it will take more time and effort to allocate assets and liabilities, identify personnel that will be transferred, separate employee benefits plans, obtain consents relating to contracts and other rights, and document ongoing arrangements for shared services (e.g., legal, finance, human resources and information technology) and continuing supply, intellectual property sharing and other commercial or operating agreements. If the parent is expected to own a substantial portion of the spin-off company after the closing, careful planning is also required with respect to the composition of the new company’s board, independent director approval of related-party transactions, handling of corporate opportunities and other matters. In addition to these separation-related issues, spin-offs raise various issues associated with taking a company public, such as drafting and filing the initial disclosure documents, applying for listing on a stock exchange, implementing internal controls and managing ongoing reporting obligations and public investor relations. These issues become more complex in a spin-off combined with an initial public offering or other capital markets transaction, or in a spin-off that is part of a larger merger or business combination.

We recently published a guide that is intended to help navigate the spin-off process, from the preliminary phases through completion of the transaction. Part II of the guide describes some of the initial planning considerations relating to spin-offs, and includes a discussion of the principal reasons for spin-offs and a comparison to other separation transactions. Part III examines a broad array of general corporate separation issues that may arise in a spin-off. Part IV discusses the transaction agreements commonly executed to implement a spin-off and govern the post-spin relationship between the parent and the spin-off company. Part V identifies the principal securities law matters associated with a spin-off. Part VI examines certain tax issues, which are critical given the tax-sensitive nature of separation transactions. Finally, Part VII reviews stock exchange listing and trading considerations. A sample illustrative timetable for a spin-off (that is not preceded by an initial public offering) is attached as Annex A. A discussion of post-spin limitations on strategic transactions is attached as Annex B. This edition of the guide reflects developments through May 2021.

The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

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