Category Archives: Boards of Directors

Top M&A Developments and Trends for 2016

Barbara L. Borden is a partner in the business department and head of the Mergers & Acquisitions practice at Cooley LLP. This post is based on a Cooley publication by Ms. Borden, Jamie LeighCraig MendenAl Browne, and Mutya Harsch.

2015 witnessed an all-time high in M&A deal value at over $5 trillion, according to Dealogic. The high volume was primarily attributable to strategic megadeals that used stock as full or partial consideration, with healthcare and technology as the two most targeted industries.

In 2016, we continue to expect to see heavy M&A volume in healthcare with similar drivers. Big pharma will likely continue to try to fill product pipelines as high-revenue drugs go off patent (they seem to favor orphan, specialty and cancer drugs for hard to cure indications or for patient populations that are refractory to first line therapy). Specialty pharma may continue to compete for approved drugs that are underperforming where commercial execution can be improved. And development-stage life science companies will continue to consider M&A among its strategic alternatives in light of the challenges involved with transitioning from a development-stage company to a commercial drug company. Inverted pharma companies are likely to continue to use tax rate differences to create synergies that drive acquisitions.

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Activist Settlements and Heightened Scrutiny—Ebix

Robert C. Schwenkel is co-chair of the Corporate Department and global head of the M&A and Private Equity Practices at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication by Mr. Schwenkel, Steven EpsteinPhilip Richter, and Gail Weinstein. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about hedge fund activism includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here), The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here), and The Law and Economics of Blockholder Disclosure by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson Jr. (discussed on the Forum here).

The Delaware courts generally apply the heightened scrutiny standard under Unocal to a review of challenged board actions that have been taken in response to a perceived threat that relates to corporate control. Under Unocal, the board has the burden of demonstrating that it reasonably perceived a threat, and that its response was neither preclusive nor draconian and was reasonable in relation to the threat. In In re Ebix, Inc. (Jan. 15, 2016), the Chancery Court:
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Mergers and Acquisitions—2016

Andrew R. Brownstein is a partner in the corporate group at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum.

2015 was a record year for M&A. Global M&A volume hit an all-time high of over $5 trillion, surpassing the previous record of $4.6 trillion set in 2007. U.S. M&A made up nearly 50% of the total. The “mega-deal” made a big comeback, with a record 69 deals over $10 billion, and 10 deals over $50 billion, including two of the largest on record: Pfizer’s $160 billion agreement to acquire Allergan and Anheuser-Busch InBev’s $117 billion bid for SABMiller. Cross-border M&A reached $1.56 trillion in 2015, the second highest volume ever.

A number of factors provided directors and officers with confidence to pursue large, and frequently transformative, merger transactions in 2015. The economic outlook had become more stable, particularly in the United States. Many companies had trimmed costs in the years following the financial crisis, but still faced challenges generating organic revenue growth. M&A offered a powerful lever for value creation through synergies. In a number of cases, the price of a buyer’s stock rose on announcement of an acquisition, as investors rewarded transactions with strong commercial logic, bucking historical trends. Equity prices in 2015 were strong, if flat, providing companies with valuable acquisition currency. For at least the first half of the year, strong appetite from debt investors (particularly for quality credits) and low interest rates enabled acquirors to obtain financing on attractive terms.

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The Board-Centric Annual Meeting

John Wilcox is Chairman of Sodali and former Head of Corporate Governance at TIAA-CREF. This post is based on a Sodali publication by Mr. Wilcox.

For a growing number of listed companies around the world the annual shareholder meeting has come to resemble a trial by ordeal. Instead of the traditional town-meeting business forum, the AGM has morphed into a jousting field where activists, proxy advisors and various special interest groups play a dominant role. This state of affairs has evolved because for the past three decades companies have been resistant to change and defensive about governance reform, while shareholders and activists have taken the lead in successfully promoting greater board accountability and stronger governance rules. Corporate scandals, the financial crisis, escalating CEO pay, declining public trust in business leaders together with enhanced shareholder rights have transformed the annual meeting into an event where companies often focus on damage control rather than showcasing their business.

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2015 Year-End Activism Update

Barbara L. Becker is partner and co-chair of the Mergers and Acquisitions Practice Group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and Eduardo Gallardo is a partner focusing on mergers and acquisitions, also at Gibson Dunn. The following post is based on a Gibson Dunn M&A Client Alert. The full publication, including charts and survey of settlement agreements, is available here.

This post provides an update on shareholder activism activity involving domestically traded public companies with market capitalizations above $1 billion during the second half of 2015, together with a look back at shareholder activism throughout 2015. While many pundits have suggested shareholder activism peaked in 2015, shareholder activism continues to be a major factor in the marketplace, involving companies of all sizes and activists new and old. Activist funds managed approximately $122 billion as of September 30, 2015 (vs. approximately $32 billion as at December 31, 2008). [1] In 2015 as compared to 2014, we saw a significant uptick in the total number of public activist actions (94 vs. 64), involving both a higher number of companies targeted (80 vs. 59) and a higher number of activist investors (56 vs. 34). [2]

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2016 Proxy Season: Engagement, Transparency, Proxy Access

Howard B. Dicker is a partner in the Public Company Advisory Group of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. This post is based on a Weil publication; the complete publication, including footnotes and appendix, is available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Lucian Bebchuk’s The Case for Shareholder Access to the Ballot and The Myth of the Shareholder Franchise (discussed on the Forum here), and Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

While shareholders have a wide spectrum of views on corporate objectives, the time horizon for realizing these objectives and environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, there is an emerging consensus that—regardless of size, industry or profitability—public companies must achieve greater accountability to their shareholders, through engagement and transparency, than ever before. Corporate engagement and transparency now take two forms: direct dialogue, increasingly involving directors, and enhanced proxy statement and other public disclosure that sheds light on the company’s strategy and the performance of its board, board committees and management, demonstrates responsiveness to shareholder ESG concerns, and justifies the composition of the board in light of the company’s present needs. Throughout this post, we offer practical suggestions about “what to do now” to meet shareholder expectations about engagement and transparency and to address a host of other new developments for the 2016 proxy season.

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Corporate Governance Survey—2015 Proxy Season

David A. Bell is partner in the corporate and securities group at Fenwick & West LLP. This post is based on portions of a Fenwick publication titled Corporate Governance Practices and Trends: A Comparison of Large Public Companies and Silicon Valley Companies (2015 Proxy Season); the complete survey is available here.

Since 2003, Fenwick has collected a unique body of information on the corporate governance practices of publicly traded companies that is useful for Silicon Valley companies and publicly-traded technology and life science companies across the U.S. as well as public companies and their advisors generally. Fenwick’s annual survey covers a variety of corporate governance practices and data for the companies included in the Standard & Poor’s 100 Index (S&P 100) and the high technology and life science companies included in the Silicon Valley 150 Index (SV 150). [1]

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So You’re Thinking of Joining a Public Company Board

David A. Katz is a partner specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and activism, and crisis management at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh that first appeared in the New York Law Journal.

Candidates for directorships on public company boards have much to consider. Potential exposure to legal liability, public criticism, and reputational harm, a complex tangle of applicable regulations and requirements, and a very significant time commitment are facts of life for public company directors in the modern era. The extent to which individuals can effectively manage the risks of directorship often depends on company-specific factors and can be increased through diligence and thoughtful preparation on the part of the director and the company.

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Alternatives to Equity Shares in a Low Stock Price Environment

Steve Pakela is a Managing Partner at Pay Governance LLC. This post is based on a Pay Governance publication by Mr. Pakela, Brian Scheiring, and Mike Grasso.

Compensation Committees face the challenge of balancing the tension in motivating their executives to create shareholder value in the current Say on Pay and economic environment. The current pullback in stock prices and the uncertain financial outlook for 2016 at many companies will make this year’s compensation decisions even more challenging. Stock prices at many companies and in many sectors are down 50% or more over the past year and, in particular, since equity awards were last granted to executives. The table below illustrates the effect of a significantly low stock price on the number of shares granted. For companies whose stock price is down 50%, the number of shares required to deliver equivalent value will be double that granted last year. For those companies whose share price is down 67% or 75%, share grants will need to be three or four times greater than the shares granted last year, respectively. This can pose a number of problems ranging from creating potential windfalls when share prices recover to previous levels to exceeding maximum share grant levels contained in a shareholder approved equity incentive plan.

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Delaware Court Guidance on Merger Litigation Settlements

Theodore N. Mirvis is a partner in the Litigation Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton publication by Mr. Mirvis, William Savitt, and Ryan A. McLeod. 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.

In an opinion last week, the Delaware Court of Chancery rejected a disclosure-only settlement of a putative stockholder class-action lawsuit challenging a merger. In re Trulia, Inc. Stockholder Litig., C.A. No. 10020-CB (Del. Ch. Jan. 22, 2016). Continuing and perhaps completing its recent reevaluation of merger litigation settlement practice, the Court made clear that it “will be increasingly vigilant in scrutinizing” such settlements in the future and that disclosure claims should be litigated (if at all) outside the settlement context.

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