Activist shareholder campaigns continue to grow in number and prominence. One of the largest private equity deals of 2014—the $8.7 billion buy-out of PetSmart Inc.—came about following comments by a significant shareholder. A merger of the two leading office superstores, Staples and Office Depot, and the breakup of DuPont Co., each are being promoted by activist investors. These are but three examples of recent activist campaigns; with close to $200 billion in available funds, others are sure to follow.  The continued rise of shareholder activism serves as a useful reminder that targets and investors should be mindful of the scope of the investment-only exemption under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act. Whether and when particular conduct may disqualify a shareholder from the passive investment exemption is a highly fact-specific inquiry and has been the subject of several enforcement actions in recent years.
Archive for the ‘Mergers & Acquisitions’ Category
Spin-off transactions require a focused, intensive planning effort. The deal team must make decisions about how best to allocate businesses, assets and liabilities between the parent and the subsidiary that will be spun-off. It must address complex tax issues, securities law questions and accounting matters, as well as issues related to capital structure, financing and personnel matters. In addition, it must resolve a long list of governance issues, including questions about the composition of the spin-off company board, the importance of mechanisms for dealing with conflicts of interest and the desirability of robust takeover defenses.
Number and Size of Filings
- Plaintiffs filed 170 new federal class action securities cases (filings) in 2014—four more than in 2013. The number of 2014 filings was 10 percent below the historical average of 189 filings observed annually between 1997 and 2013.
- The total Maximum Dollar Loss (MDL) of filings in 2014 was $215 billion, or 66 percent below the historical annual average of $630 billion. MDL was at its lowest level since 1997.
As we have noted in prior M&A Updates, when dealmakers face a transaction where one or both of the parties are incorporated outside the Delaware comfort zone, they often confront unexpected structuring issues unique to entities or deals undertaken in that state or country. These may include corporate law, tax, accounting or structuring concerns and, most often, the deal teams will have to adjust the transaction terms to accommodate these issues.
But a recent decision from the Virginia Supreme Court is a timely reminder that, on occasion, these issues can be managed using some resourceful and creative structuring involving shifting jurisdictions. In the case, a Virginia corporation planned to sell its assets which, under Virginia law, would trigger appraisal rights for minority stockholders. Seemingly to avoid this result, the seller undertook a multi-step restructuring ahead of the sale which began with a “domestication” under Virginia law that shifted its jurisdiction of incorporation to Delaware. Under the Virginia statute, no appraisal rights apply to such a reincorporation. Once reincorporated in Delaware, the seller continued its restructuring, ultimately selling its assets to the buyer. Notably, Delaware does not provide for appraisal rights in an asset sale. The Virginia court dismissed the minority stockholders’ argument that they were entitled to appraisal rights. It rejected a “steps transaction” argument that looked to collapse the multiple steps and focus on the substance of the transaction (i.e., a sale of the company’s assets to the buyer), favoring instead the seller’s assertion that the first-stage move to Delaware had independent legal significance and therefore was effective to shift the appraisal rights analysis to Delaware law.
Acquisition financing activity was robust in 2014, as the credit markets accommodated increased demand from rising M&A activity. At over $749 billion, global 2014 M&A loan issuance was up approximately 40 percent year over year, the highest total since before the Great Recession. While the aggregate figures suggest a borrower-friendly market, the actual picture is more nuanced. Investment grade acquirors benefited from a consistently strong financing environment throughout 2014 and finished the year with a flourish (including a $36 billion commitment backing Actavis’ acquisition of Allergan), while leveraged acquirors encountered more volatility, as lenders responded quickly to regulatory changes and market conditions, and both high-yield commitments and debt became more costly.
A foundational premise of Delaware jurisprudence has been the courts’ deference to decisions made by independent and disinterested directors. Over the last year, the Delaware courts have continued a trend in their opinions toward increased judicial deference to the decisions of independent and disinterested directors. Thus, for example, the Delaware Supreme Court’s seminal MFW decision provides a roadmap to business judgment review even of controller transactions (which used to be reviewed under an entire fairness standard).
Other than MFW, however, the courts have not changed the fundamental ground rules for review of a sale process. Thus, as in the past:
Delaware has long been known as the corporate capital of the world, and it is now the state of incorporation for 66 percent of the Fortune 500 and more than half of all companies whose securities trade on the NYSE, Nasdaq and other exchanges. Each year, the Delaware courts issue a number of significant opinions demonstrating that the Delaware courts are neither stockholder nor management biased. Many of those recent and important cases are discussed in this post, which is intended to provide sufficient detail so as to be helpful to in-house counsel, but is also written in a way so that the often-long and complex Delaware decisions can be easily understood by directors and other fiduciaries. Takeaway observations are also provided.
The year 2014 was marked by accelerating mergers and acquisitions activity in the financial institutions space and by several distinct trends. Institutions continued to adapt to the changed regulatory environment, as several important rule proposals and releases brought the ultimate contours of that environment into clearer focus. Profitability pressures continued for traditional businesses. And, as investors continue to seek yield in a low-rate world, shareholder activism notably proliferated. Continued improvement in the economy brought new opportunities into sight and ramped up private equity activity in the financial services sector. Cutting across all of these trends, technological changes, and associated business challenges, continued to reshape firms’ strategic playbooks.
Early indications suggest the M&A activity trend continuing into 2015. In the opening days of the new year, City National agreed to merge with Royal Bank of Canada. The largest bank holding company merger since the financial crisis, at $5.4 billion, the City National deal signals the continuing recovery of the U.S. market from post-crisis distressed deal terms, transaction motivations and negotiating positions. City National is widely considered to be among the strongest franchises in the U.S. It maintained its position of strength and financial performance throughout the financial crisis—as evidenced by the 2.6x multiple of deal price to tangible book value to be paid to City National shareholders. The merger is also a significant vote of confidence by RBC in the outlook for the U.S. banking market and in particular for the type of clientele served by City National. RBC will be reentering retail and commercial banking in the U.S. with 75 branches and $32 billion in assets, and a franchise that is highly complementary to its existing strong U.S. asset management presence.
In a pair of memorandum opinions written by Vice Chancellor Glasscock and decided on January 5, 2015, the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware, in In Re Appraisal of Ancestry.com, Inc. and Merion Capital LP v. BMC Software, Inc., found that neither the beneficial owner nor the record owner of shares for which appraisal is sought under Section 262 of the General Corporation Law of the State of Delaware is required to show that the specific shares for which it seeks appraisal have not been voted in favor of the merger in question by previous stockholders. The findings follow the analysis applied in In Re Appraisal of Transkaryotic Therapies, Inc., a 2007 case which preceded an amendment to Section 262(e) later that year permitting beneficial owners to petition for appraisal in their own name. The decisions support the practice known as “appraisal arbitrage”—a practice which has contributed to the more than tripling of incidents of appraisal petition filings in eligible deals over the past 10 years—for investors who buy stock in target companies following the record date for stockholder votes on mergers and highlight public policy considerations concerning the role of Delaware’s appraisal statute in merger transactions.
During the past year, Delaware and New York courts have issued a number of decisions that have important implications for financial advisers, as well as attorneys advising them, on mergers and acquisitions transactions. From the point of view of financial advisers and their legal counsel, the record is mixed. The two decisions by the Delaware Court of Chancery in In re Rural Metro Corp. Stockholders Litigation demonstrate the perils facing M&A financial advisers (especially financial advisers that are large, multifaceted financial institutions) in today’s litigation environment, where virtually all public deals are subject to shareholder litigation.
New York courts, on the other hand, in the case of S.A. de Obras Y Servicios v. The Bank of Nova Scotia, confirmed the protection that can be accorded to financial advisers by a well-crafted engagement letter governed by New York law and litigated in a New York forum. These and other decisions discussed below also provide useful guidance for counsel charged with protecting financial advisers providing M&A advisory services.