May 14, 2020

Poison Pill

Poison Pill

Poison Pill Defensive Measures
      Suzanne S. Dawson, Robert J. Pence, and David S. Stone, 42(2): 423–39 (Feb. 1987)
The Article summarizes various features of poison-pill plans and discusses: the dilemma faced by directors considering the adoption of poison-pill defensive measures; the objectives, effects, and risks associated with poison- pill plans; the features that may be incorporated into poison-pill plans; and various other factors that should be considered in connection with the adoption of poison-pill defensive measures. The response of the courts, regulatory agencies, and the marketplace to poison pills is also examined.

A Fresh Look at Poison Pills
      Robert A. Helman and James J. Junewicz, 42(3): 771–88 (May 1987)
Hundreds of companies have adopted poison-pill plans. There is increasing skepticism about such plans, and courts have struck down some of them. This Article fits the poison- pill cases into the context of other corporate governance and shareholder discrimination cases and highlights the factors that are likely to be decisive in the future.

The Case Beyond Time
      Lyman Johnson and David Millon, 45(4): 2105–25 (Aug. 1990)
The Delaware Supreme Court's decision in Paramount Communications, Inc. v. Time Inc ., 571 A.2d 1140 (Del. 1990), is the latest landmark in the ongoing effort to define target company management's responsibilities in hostile tender offers. This Article seeks to articulate some of the decisions' unarticulated implications. It considers Time's applicability to cases involving refusal to redeem poison pills as well as its deeper significance for the meaning and continued vitality of the Revlon and Unocal decisions.

Second-Generation Shareholder Bylaws: Post-Quickturn Alternatives
      John C. Coates IV & Bradley C. Faris, 56(4): 1323 (Aug. 2001)
Practitioners believe shareholder-initiated bylaws that specifically eliminate poison pills will turn out to be illegal in Delaware. The authors assume that consensus is correct and ask: What next? Threat or opportunity, bylaws remain a potent weapon. Shareholder activists may use other types of bylaws to facilitate high-premium hostile takeovers or to pursue a more durable form of collective power, or both. The authors analyze three "second-generation" bylaws that (i) are likely to be upheld by Delaware courts, (ii) would shift power from boards to shareholders, but (iii) are not so dramatic as to insure a manager- induced legislative backlash. Boards can expect to see proposals for these or similar bylaws in the future; courts and the Securities and Exchange Commission can expect to see challenges to their legality; and legislatures can expect corporate lobbies to seek legislation to reign in this new form of shareholder voice. Analysis of these bylaws also casts light on the latent tension between shareholder authority and manager power in American corporate law.

Empty Voting and Hidden (Morphable) Ownership: Taxonomy, Implications, and Reforms
     Henry T. C. Hu and Bernard Black, 61(3):1011–1070 (May 2006)
Most American publicly held corporations have a one-share, one-vote structure, in which voting power is proportional to economic ownership. This structure gives shareholders economic incentives to exercise their voting power well and helps to legitimate managers' exercise of authority over property the managers do not own. Berle-Means' "separation of ownership and control" suggests that shareholders face large collective action problems in overseeing managers. Even so, mechanisms rooted in the shareholder vote, including proxy fights and takeover bids, constrain managers from straying too far from the goal of shareholder wealth maximization.

In the past few years, the derivatives revolution, hedge fund growth, and other capital market developments have come to threaten this familiar pattern throughout the world. Both outside investors and corporate insiders can now readily decouple economic ownership of shares from voting rights to those shares. This decoupling—which we call "the new vote buying"—is often hidden from public view and is largely untouched by current law and regulation. Hedge funds, sophisticated and largely unfettered by legal rules or conflicts of interest, have been especially aggressive in decoupling. Sometimes they hold more votes than economic ownership, a pattern we call "empty voting." That is, they may have substantial voting power while having limited, zero, or even negative economic ownership. In the extreme situation of negative economic ownership, the empty voter has an incentive to vote in ways that reduce the company's share price. Sometimes hedge funds hold more economic ownership than votes, though often with "morphable" voting rights—the de facto ability to acquire the votes if needed. We call this "hidden (morphable) ownership" because under current disclosure rules, the economic ownership and (de facto) voting ownership are often not disclosed. Corporate insiders, too, can use new vote buying techniques.

This article analyzes the new vote buying and its corporate governance implications. We propose a taxonomy of the new vote buying that unpacks its functional elements. We discuss the implications of decoupling for control contests and other forms of shareholder oversight, and the circumstances in which decoupling could be beneficial or harmful to corporate governance. We also propose a near-term disclosure-based response and sketch longer-term regulatory possibilities. Our disclosure proposal would simplify and partially integrate five existing, inconsistent share-ownership disclosure regimes, and is worth considering independent of its value with respect to decoupling. In the longer term, other responses may be needed; we briefly discuss possible strategies focused on voting rights, voting architecture, and supply and demand forces in the markets on which the new vote buying relies.

Is Delaware's Antitakeover Statute Unconstitutional? Evidence from 1988–2008
      Guhan Subramanian, Steven Herscovici, and Brian Barbetta, 65(3): 685–752 (May 2010)
Delaware's antitakeover statute, codified in Section 203 of the Delaware corporate code, is by far the most important antitakeover statute in the United States. When it was enacted in 1988, three bidders challenged its constitutionality under the Commerce Clause and the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. All three federal district court decisions upheld the constitutionality of Section 203 at the time, relying on evidence indicating that Section 203 gave bidders a "meaningful opportunity for success," but leaving open the possibility that future evidence might change this constitutional conclusion. This Article presents the first systematic empirical evidence since 1988 on whether Section 203 gives bidders a meaningful opportunity for success. The question has become more important in recent years because Section 203's substantive bite has increased, as Exelon's recent hostile bid for NRG illustrates. Using a new sample of all hostile takeover bids against Delaware targets that were announced between 1988 and 2008 and were subject to Section 203 (n=60), we find that no hostile bidder in the past nineteen years has been able to avoid the restrictions imposed by Section 203 by going from less than 15% to more than 85% in its tender offer. At the very least, this finding indicates that the empirical proposition that the federal courts relied upon to uphold Section 203's constitutionality is no longer valid. While it remains possible that courts would nevertheless uphold Section 203's constitutionality on different grounds, the evidence would seem to suggest that the constitutionality of Section 203 is up for grabs. This Article offers specific changes to the Delaware statute that would preempt the constitutional challenge. If instead Section 203 were to fall on constitutional grounds, as Delaware's prior antitakeover statute did in 1987, it would also have implications for similar antitakeover statutes in thirty-two other U.S. states, which along with Delaware collectively cover 92% of all U.S. corporations

A Timely Look at DGCL Section 203
      Eileen T. Nugent, 65(3): 753–760 (May 2010)

After Twenty-Two Years, Section 203 of the Delaware
General Corporation Law Continues to Give Hostile
Bidders a Meaningful Opportunity for Success

      A. Gilchrist Sparks, III and Helen Bowers, 65(3): 761–770 (May 2010)

A Practical Response to a Hypothetical Analysis of Section 203's Constitutionality
      Stephen P. Lamb and Jeffrey M. Gorris , 65(3): 771–778 (May 2010)

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Reflections on Section 203 and Subramanian, Herscovici, and Barbetta
      Gregg A. Jarrell, 65(3): 779–788 (May 2010)

Is Delaware's Antitakeover Statute Unconstitutional? Further Analysis and a Reply to Symposium Participants
      Guhan Subramanian, Steven Herscovici, and Brian Barbetta, 65(3): 799–808 (May 2010)

Financial Innovation and Governance Mechanisms: The Evolution of Decoupling and Transparency
     Henry T. C. Hu; 70(2): 347-406 (Spring 2015)
Financial innovation has fundamental implications for the key substantive and information-based mechanisms of corporate governance. “Decoupling” undermines classic understandings of the allocation of voting rights among shareholders (via, e.g., “empty voting”), the control rights of debtholders (via, e.g., “empty crediting” and “hidden interests”/ “hidden non-interests”), and of takeover practices (via, e.g., “morphable ownership” to avoid section 13(d) disclosure and to avoid triggering certain poison pills). Stock-based compensation, the monitoring of managerial performance, the market for corporate control, and other governance mechanisms dependent on a robust informational predicate and market efficiency are undermined by the transparency challenges posed by financial innovation. The basic approach to information that the SEC has always used—the “descriptive mode,” which relies on “intermediary depictions” of objective reality—is manifestly insufficient to capture highly complex objective realities, such as the realities of major banks heavily involved with derivatives. Ironically, the primary governmental response to such transparency challenges—a new system for public disclosure that became effective in 2013, the first since the establishment of the SEC—also creates difficulties. This new parallel public disclosure system, developed by bank regulators and applicable to major financial institutions, is not directed primarily at the familiar transparency ends of investor protection and market efficiency.

As starting points, this Article offers brief overviews of: (1) the analytical framework developed in 2006−2008 for “decoupling” and its calls for reform; and (2) the analytical framework developed in 2012−2014 reconceptualizing “information” in terms of three “modes” and addressing the two parallel disclosure universes.

As to decoupling, the Article proceeds to analyze some key post- 2008 developments (including the status of efforts at reform) and the road ahead. A detailed analysis is offered as to the landmark December 2012 TELUS opinion in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, involving perhaps the most complicated public example of decoupling to date. The Article discusses recent actions on the part of the Delaware judiciary and legislature, the European Union, and bankruptcy courts—and the pressing need for more action by the SEC. At the time the debt decoupling research was introduced, available evidence as to the phenomenon’s significance was limited. This Article helps address that gap.

As to information, the Article begins by outlining the calls for reform associated with the 2012−2014 analytical framework. With revolutionary advances in computer- and web-related technologies, regulators need no longer rely almost exclusively on the descriptive mode rooted in intermediary depictions. Regulators must also begin to systematically deploy the “transfer mode” rooted in “pure information” and the “hybrid mode” rooted in “moderately pure information.” The Article then shows some of the key ways that the new analytical framework can contribute to the SEC’s comprehensive and long-needed new initiative to address “disclosure effectiveness,” including in “depiction-difficult” contexts completely unrelated to financial innovation (e.g., pension disclosures and high technology companies). The Article concludes with a concise version of the analytical framework’s thesis that the new morphology of public information—consisting of two parallel regulatory universes with divergent ends and means—is unsustainable in the long run and involve certain matters that need statutory resolution. However, certain steps involving coordination among the SEC, the Federal Reserve, and others can be taken in the interim.

Securing Our Nation’s Economic Future: A Sensible, Nonpartisan Agenda to Increase Long-Term Investment and Job Creation in the United States
     Leo E. Strine, Jr., 71(4): 1081-1112 (Fall 2016)
These days it has become fashionable to talk about whether the incentive system for the governance of American corporations optimally encourages long-term investment, sustainable policies, and therefore creates the most long-term economic and social benefit for American workers and investors. Many have come to the conclusion that the answer to that question is no. As these commentators note, the investment horizon of the ultimate source of most equity capital—human beings who must give their money to institutional investors to save for retirement and college for their kids—is long. That horizon is much more aligned with what it takes to run a real business than that of the direct stockholders, who are money managers and are under strong pressure to deliver immediate returns at all times. Americans want corporations that are focused on sustainable wealth and job creation. But there is too little talk accompanied by a specific policy agenda to address that incentive system.

This Article proposes a genuine, realistic agenda that would better promote a sustainable, long-term commitment to economic growth in the United States. This agenda should not divide Americans along party lines. Indeed, most of the elements have substantial bipartisan support. Nor does this agenda involve freeing corporate managers from accountability to investors for delivering profitable returns. Rather, it makes all those who represent human investors more accountable, but for delivering on what most counts for ordinary investors, which is the creation of durable wealth by socially responsible means.

The fundamental elements of this strategy to promote long-term American competitiveness include: (i) tax policy that discourages counterproductive behavior and encourages investment and work; (ii) investment policies to revitalize our infrastructure, address climate change, create jobs, and close our deficit; (iii) reforming the incentives of and enhancing the fiduciary accountability of institutional investors; (iv) reducing the focus on quarterly earnings estimates and improving the quality of information provided to investors; and (v) an American commitment to an international level playing field to reduce incentives to offshore jobs, erode the social safety net, and pollute the planet.

Interview with Marty Lipton
      Jessica C. Pearlman; 75(2): 1709-1724 (Spring 2020)
In September of 2019, after wrapping up meetings of the Mergers and Acquisitions (“M&A”) Committee of the Business Law Section of the American Bar Association (“ABA”), I took the train from Washington, D.C. to New York City to meet with Marty Lipton—the well-known founder of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz—in a conference room at his firm. It was perfect timing to have this conversation with Mr. Lipton, given recent developments relating to corporate views on the constituencies corporations may take into account in their decision-making.