Three Steps to Prepare for Shareholder Activism

Latham & Watkins, the law firm, provides this easy to read series of recommendations for dealing with increasing shareholder activism.  Other valuable articles for corporate executives and board members may be viewed at www.lw.com.

Three Practical Steps to Stay Ahead of Shareholder Activism

by Steven B. Stokdyk, Joel H. Trotter & Patricia Judge

Activist investors continue to shape corporate governance. Last year saw more than 300 activist proxy campaigns, proposals and contests. Activism-focused funds manage over $100 billion in assets.

In this climate, no company is too large to avoid activists’ influence. There is no guaranteed safety — not corporate governance, share price appreciation or outperforming peers. All companies should remain prepared for engagement.

Experience shows that preparation can make a decisive difference. Companies that establish and maintain a good reputation with institutional investors will have an advantage when interacting with activists.

To prepare effectively, we recommend three broad ongoing practices:

  • monitoring exposure to activists;
  • communicating with shareholders and analysts; and
  • planning for activist campaigns.

Monitoring exposure to activists

Companies should continually monitor available information to assess their exposure to activists:

  • Monitor outside groups, including the company’s peer group, sell-side analysts, proxy advisors, pension funds, activist investors, print media and online sources.
  • Understand institutional holdings and the relationships among the holders, especially those who may team up with others, by monitoring Schedule 13G, 13D, 13F and Hart-Scott-Rodino filings, parallel (wolf pack) trading and debt trading patterns.
  • Watch the proxy advisory firms and institutional investor groups, such as Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), Glass, Lewis & Co., the Council of Institutional Investors  and TIAA-CREF. Although ISS can influence up to 30% of the vote, some investors use ISS’s position only as a starting point. For example, institutional investors such as Fidelity and BlackRock have their own internal proxy departments.
  • Review corporate governance ratings, correct any inaccuracies and identify potential changes that could improve the company’s governance rating.
  • Maintain a feedback loop by monitoring earnings call participants, conference attendees, follow-up requests and other investor contacts, always seeking candid feedback and facilitating open communication.

Communicating with shareholders and analysts

Use inbound and outbound communication to build key relationships:

  • Use relationship building to keep your friends close and your major institutional investors closer. Engage regularly with both portfolio managers and proxy departments. Know institutional investors’ guidelines, key decision makers and how to reach them. Establish credibility with shareholders and analysts in advance.
  • Seek out inbound communication and candid feedback. Use ongoing dialogue to ensure that management and the board of directors understand investor sentiment.
  • Use outbound communication as part of a concerted communications strategy. Ensure that communications consistently describe the basic strategic message. Focus especially on relative performance, proactively addressing any shortfalls as compared to peers.

Planning for activist campaigns

Formulate a plan to prepare for an activism crisis:

  • Evaluate protections in the company’s charter, bylaws and applicable laws for potential measures that could be used in response to an activist campaign.
  • Develop and maintain a public communications plan, which should include steps for strategic outreach to the media, regulators, political groups and others. Keep these relationships current to facilitate public messaging.
  • Identify team members and have key players ready in advance to assist quickly in response to emergencies. Identify your lineup of counsel, investment bankers, proxy solicitors and public relations specialists.

Taken together, these three steps — monitoring, communicating and planning — offer concrete actions that companies can use to ensure their preparedness for an activist campaign.

Steven B. Stokdyk
steven.stokdyk@lw.com
+1.213.891.7421

Joel H. Trotter
joel.trotter@lw.com
+1.202.637.2165

Patricia Judge
patricia.judge@lw.com
+1.202.637.3352

Preparing for the 2014 Proxy Season

While it may seem early to be preparing for the 2014 proxy season, my colleagues at Latham & Watkins, the law firm, and Georgeson, the proxy solicitor, hosted a webinar on that topic recently

Below, you’ll find the description of the webinar and a link to the registration page.

Link to registration page.

Corporate Governance Webcasts: A Complimentary Series2014 Proxy Season: Strategically Preparing for Your Fall and Winter
Program

The fall is a critical period for US public companies and their management and directors to become educated and organized for the 2014 Proxy Season.During this 60-minute program, Latham & Watkins and Georgeson join together again to provide recommendations on the pro-active steps companies should consider taking during this period in order to prepare for the 2014 Proxy Season. Topics that will be covered include:

  • Say-on-Pay Advance Preparation: lessons learned in the first three say-on-pay vote seasons; engagement with key institutional investors regarding executive compensation policies; preparation for compensation committee deliberations; dealing with new policies from the proxy advisory firms and more compensation proposals from shareholders; the impact of the new NYSE and Nasdaq listing standards on Compensation Committee advisor independence.
  • Proxy Season Advance Preparation: constructive engagement with key institutional investors and the proxy advisory firms to identify and seek early resolution of corporate governance issues; consideration of proposed SEC rulemaking; and potential proxy season litigation.
  • Advance Preparation for other hot button shareholder proposals such as political contributions and lobbying, board declassification, independent chairmen, proxy access, environmental, social and other governance issues.
 
Registration
Click here to register online.
Don’t miss out on our upcoming programs:

  • January 15, 2014 – Drafting Your Proxy Statement and Preparations for a Successful Annual Meeting
  • June 18, 2014 – Lessons Learned and Coming Attractions

 

Invitation to follow closer to the program date. To ensure that you receive an invitation, please opt-in to our Webcast Mailing List by clicking here.

 Speakers

Jim Barrall, Partner, Latham & Watkins

Steven Stokdyk, Partner, Latham & Watkins

Rhonda Brauer, Senior Managing Director, Corporate Governance, Georgeson

 

Questions

For more information and questions about this event, please contact: Michele Bravo

Sponsors

Latham & Watkins is a leading global law firm dedicated to working with clients to help them achieve their business goals and overcome legal challenges anywhere in the world. The firm has earned considerable market recognition based on a record of landmark matters and a unified culture of innovation and collaboration. From a global platform of offices covering the world’s major financial, business and regulatory centers, the firm’s lawyers help clients succeed. For more information, visit www.lw.com.

Georgeson is the world’s foremost provider of strategic shareholder consulting services to corporations and shareholder groups working to influence corporate strategy. We offer unsurpassed advice and representation in annual meetings, mergers and acquisitions, proxy contests and other extraordinary transactions. In global transactions, our capacity and network is unmatchedOur core proxy expertise is enhanced with and complemented by our strategic consulting services, as well as by the Georgeson inVU™ platform, a software tool that provides insight into investor ownership and voting profiles. For more information, visit www.georgeson.com.

 

Handling an Activist Attack

My friend and colleague Moira Conlon, President of Financial Profiles, was keynote speaker at a recent National Association of Corporate Directors event addressing steps that public companies should take to be prepared for activist shareholder attacks.

Click here to take you to the article or copy and paste the link below into your browser”

http://finprofiles.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/are-you-prepared-for-an-activist-attack/

 

Zombie Shares

Dennis McCarthy – (213) 222-8260 – dennis@monarchbayassociates.com

Well, “zombie shares” caught my eye.  I clicked on the article in the online magazine “Growth Capitalist” to find out just what are “zombie shares”.

Zombies, as I understand it, are the dead reanimated and controlled by someone through witchcraft.  Zombies move and react to their surroundings like they are alive but, in reality, they are not.

So, I presume that, “zombie shares” are shares of stock that look like normal shares but, in reality, are different.  In the example that follows, you’ll see that “zombie shares” may look like they’re still outstanding and held by the shareholder of record but, in reality, they are not.

In the “Growth Capitalist” article, the “zombie shares” are shares that have effectively been repurchased by and now voted by the issuing company but are left outstanding in the hands of the prior owner to permit the shares to be counted in shareholder votes. So, they’re “zombie shares”.

I mentioned something like this in prior posts on M&A defense such as “M&A Defense Checklist”.  In that context, however, a hostile investor would obtain effective voting control or effective ownership without tripping the definition of ownership to trigger a “poison pill” or 13(d) disclosure.  A hostile party, therefore, could control many more shares than its visible ownership would indicate.

At the time I posted, “M&A Defense Checklist”, I didn’t have a cool name like “zombie shares”.

The link to the article at “Growth Capitalist” is below.  Thanks to them for adding this colorful name.

As always, please contact me to assist your company to raise equity or debt or to complete M&A projects.

Article: http://www.growthcapitalist.com/2012/07/zombie-shares-race-to-bottom-at-issue-in-emmis-take-private-plan/

Corporate Proxy Videos

Dennis McCarthy – (213) 222-8260 – dennis@monarchbayassociates.com

As a follow-up to my recent posts on the 2012 proxy season entitled, “Silent Majority Speaks” and “Just a Small Leak“, I’d like to pass along to you a website that provides valuable information about corporate proxies.

This website, I’m pleased to report, will not likely cause your eyes to glaze over with boredom.

Created by Equilar, the compensation consulting company that I’ve mentioned in prior posts, this website presents short and informative videos on corporate proxy issues.

I’ve listed the website below for your review.  Let me know what you think.

As always, please call me to help your company with raising equity or debt or to complete M&A projects.

Equilar website:  http://www.equilar.com/knowledge-network/episode-8.php

Corporate Proxy Video

Corporate Proxy Video

M&A Defense – “Devil’s in the Details”

Dennis McCarthy – dennis@mbsecurities.com – (213) 222-8260

Roche’s hostile offer for Illumina is a great case study to follow up my post “M&A Defense Checklist” and to prove that old adage that “the devil’s in the details”.

The Roche hostile offer for Illumina highlights two of my points,

  1. Now there is higher risk of hostile activity for all companies.  Illumina, before the offer, was trading at 4x revenue and 14x EBITDA: not what you’d consider a low valuation target although its stock at $37.69 was below its 52 week high of $79.40.
  2. Companies should carefully review their M&A defenses to uncover and potentially fix any weaknesses before an aggressor uses them against the company.

As background on this case, after what appears to be a short courtship period, Roche launched a hostile tender offer to shareholders to buy Illumina at $44.50/share an 18% premium to Illumina’s closing price the day before the offer.  Roche also announced that it intends to wage a proxy battle which would result in its slate of nominees comprising a majority of the Illumina board.

In this post, I highlight key points from an impressive article entitled “The Chink in Illumina’s Defense” by Steven M. Davidoff, writing as The Deal Professor, a commentator for the New York Times’ “DealBook”.  The article speculates that Roche’s proxy battle strategy will likely include proposals to:

  1. Nominate board candidates for the 4 seats up for election this year;
  2. Propose a by-law amendment to expand the size of the board by two members to 11 and nominate those two board candidates; and
  3. Propose a shareholder vote to remove all of Illumina’s board without cause.

Illumina’s defenses include:

  1. Staggered board of nine members with only 4 up for election this year;
  2. Supermajority vote of 67% of all shares outstanding required to amend a by-law;
  3. Shareholders can’t call a special meeting;
  4. Shareholders can’t act by written consent; and
  5. Poison pill which had expired in 2011 but could be reinstated by board action alone.

Proving that time-tested maxim, “the devil’s in the details”, here’s what we might learn from issues with Illumina’s defenses that Roche may be exploiting according to “The Chink in Illumina’s Defense”.

  1. Certain key elements of Illumina’s defenses are contained in its by-laws, not as charter provisions.  A corporate provision contained in a company’s by-laws may be amended by shareholder action without board action.  In contrast, a provision in a company’s charter requires approval by both the board and shareholders.
  2. Illumina’s by-laws specify the size of the board which Roche is proposing to expand by two to eleven members of which Roche’s slate of 6 would constitute a majority. Shareholders can approve, albeit by 67%, this by-law amendments to expand the board without board approval.
  3. Illumina’s by-laws also permit removal of board members without cause upon approval by a simple majority of the votes cast at the meeting, a relatively low threshold.  Delaware law requires the provision for removal of board members without cause to be in a company’s charter so this provision will, no doubt, trigger litigation as to its validity and usefulness in Roche’s attack.
  4. Illumina’s advance notice provision for submission of proxy proposals to be included for consideration at its annual meeting requires only 90 days vs longer periods which are common.  As a result, Illumina has less time to respond before its annual shareholder meeting.

Subsequent to Roche’s offer, Illumina’s share price rose well above Roche’s offer price signaling that Wall Street thinks Illumina is worth more than Roche’s offer.  Also, Illumina reinstated its poison pill at a 15% threshold with updated definitions of beneficial ownership to include ownership through derivatives.

To read Roche’s offer letter to Illumina, click here or go to www.sec.gov for the recent documents filed under Illumina including its poison pill and various filings by both sides.

This is a valuable lesson for all of us, at Illumina’s expense.

M&A Defense Checklist

Dennis McCarthy

(213) 222-8260

dennis@mbsecurities.com

Well, no sooner did I post “It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again” than I started getting requests for suggestions of what to include on a company’s M&A defense checklist.

You know, it’s simply good practice for a company to periodically review its M&A defenses.

But now, the task of reviewing a company’s M&A defenses takes on greater urgency.  The risk of a company getting an unsolicited offer is higher than usual now because many large companies are loaded with cash but short on revenue growth.

So what would I recommend for the checklist?

Please understand, I’m not necessarily recommending implementation of these provisions but rather suggest they be on your company’s M&A defense review list.

First on my list is a recent hot topic – proxy access rules and advance notice bylaw provisions.  Public companies should be aware of recent developments and consider updating to what’s known as “second generation” provisions.

Next on my list would be a couple charter provisions which slow aggressors.  These would be (i) restrictions on a shareholder’s ability to call a special meeting, and (ii) a prohibition on shareholder action by written consent.

Of course, we can’t forget the “poison pill” or shareholder rights plan.  While poison pills have declined in popularity over the last decade, we’ve seen several recent instances, Barnes & Noble, Airgas and Lions Gate, where a pill has played a key role in a company’s M&A defenses.

Even if you have a pill in place, there are a couple developments to note.  One development is the special purpose pill which, for example, may be used to dissuade a shareholder from triggering tax law change of ownership provisions which impairs use of a company’s net operating loss.  The second development involves expanding the definition of beneficial ownership to include sophisticated new forms of corporate ownership now available.

Another checklist item would be the classified or “staggered” board, where only a portion of the board members, typically a third, are up for shareholder vote each year.  This slows an aggressor’s efforts to change a board through a proxy battle.  A staggered board plus a pill is a powerful defensive combination.

Another defense provision is the supermajority vote which requires a high percentage of shareholders to approve an action, that is, once you’ve got your defense provisions in place.

In contrast, if your company permits cumulative voting, a small but organized minority shareholder group might be able to install a board member despite the group’s small ownership.

Certain states laws permit additional defenses or variations on these provisions.  For example, certain states permit what are known as constituency statutes which enable a board to consider the impact of an acquisition on constituencies including employees or the community, rather than just shareholders.  Depending upon your state, these extra features may be useful.

I would note here that some defense provisions can be implemented unilaterally by board action.  Others require shareholder approval which affects implementation feasibility.

In addition to these items, there are a number of tactical actions like stock buybacks and recapitalizations which can be used defensively in response to or to pre-empt hostile activity.

I recommend that a company set aside time at an upcoming board meeting for a review of its M&A defense provisions.  Company management, its attorneys, bankers and IR professionals can brief the board and make recommendations.

I can help your company to review its defenses in a timely and cost efficient manner. It’s better to be prepared.

It’s Deja Vu All Over Again

 

(213) 222-8260

dennismccarthy@ariesmgmt.com

Yogi Berra was right:  “It’s Déjà vu all over again.” 

Those of us who’ve been in the financial markets for a number of years have seen Wall Street prices rise and fall periodically.  I can’t predict exactly when they’ll rise or fall but I’m certain they will.

Therefore, when stock prices fall across the board, I don’t panic. I know it’s a cycle; prices will rise again eventually. 

Also, experience has taught me that when stock prices fall, public companies should once again pull out and dust off for consideration certain time tested corporate actions.

It’s kind of like pulling out the snow gear this time of year.  It’s a ritual.

What kind of corporate actions are appropriate to consider when stock prices drop?

First, I would say is stock buybacks. 

Yes, I know that my prior blog post cited a McKinsey Quarterly article reporting that companies don’t actually buy back stock when stock prices are low. 

My point is that public companies should consider a buyback program and, if appropriate, follow through.

Next, not to be paranoid, but public companies should review their takeover defenses.

Particularly now when big companies are awash in cash and their organic growth has slowed, big companies may see acquisitions as a smart means to get growth by putting their cash to work. Heaven knows, cash earns nothing sitting in the bank.

There’re a number of common takeover defenses, some which vary depending upon the company’s state of incorporation.  Common defenses include poison pills, staggered boards, shareholder vote submission and vote threshold provisions.

What I’m recommending here is that a company review with its Board, attorneys, investment bankers and IR professionals just what’s appropriate for the company given its circumstances.

Third, be proactive about M&A.

Rather than sit back and wait for a suitor to call, go ahead, evaluate your competition and all the adjacent players, those companies which are not direct competitors but are nearby.  Make sure your analysis includes all the global players too. It’s a very small world now.

For companies operating in several businesses, you really must evaluate each business independently.  Who knows, this might even lead to a split-off like that of ITT and Sara Lee.   

The goal of this analysis is to determine where there are good fits with your company, where one plus one equals three or more.  Even if you don’t immediately act on the analysis, you’re better off knowing the landscape if a suitor calls.

While you’re looking at alternatives, you should consider whether a “go private” or “go dark” transaction makes sense for your company.  Unfortunately, for many companies, the cost of being public outweighs the benefits.

I can help your company to consider all these actions in a timely and cost efficient manner .

Please contact me with questions or to discuss any of these projects.

Potential Trojan Horse?

Maybe because this M&A defense provision doesn’t enjoy a colorful name like a “poison pill”, the recent battle waged over proxy rules for selecting board members and determining many critical M&A corporate governance  provisions went largely unnoticed except by a small band of M&A specialists.

The side of this battle, described as defense, would likely claim victory because it succeeded in judicially thwarting a measure by the SEC to mandate a set of procedures to clarify and standardize the proxy proposal submission rules known as “advanced notice bylaw and proxy access rules”.

See what I mean about the catchy name?

What was left standing after the fierce battle were provisions which permit shareholders to submit proposed proxy provisions for a vote by shareholders.  Shareholders, therefore, can propose proxy proposal submission rules to address what was in the thwarted SEC mandate.

So the question is, in the next several years, will shareholders seize this opportunity to vote into place proxy proposal submission provisions which are more aggressor friendly than those in the thwarted SEC mandate?

Will slow to no growth in corporate performance trigger more shareholder impatience and activism and, guided by proxy advisory firms like ISS, translate into proxy proposal submission provisions which facilitate changes in underperforming companies’ boards?

Will we look back and see that “the defense” declared victory by defeating the SEC mandates and completely missed what turns out to be a more dangerous development?

The attached post from the law firm of Latham & Watkins provides an excellent discussion of the topic and suggests potential corporate responses.  Please click on the link below to download the pdf document.

http://www.lw.com/upload/pubContent/_pdf/pub4437_1.pdf

Many thanks to Latham & Watkins (www.lw.com) for this valuable article.