Monday, November 16, 2015
One final post on the SEC’s proposed changes to Rule 147 and I promise I’m finished—for now. Today’s topic is the effect the proposed changes will have on state crowdfunding exemptions. If the SEC adopts the proposed changes to Rule 147, many state legislatures will have to (or at least want to) amend their state crowdfunding legislation.
As I explained in my earlier posts here and here, the SEC has proposed amendments to Rule 147, currently a safe harbor for the intrastate offering exemption in section 3(a)(11) of the Securities Act. If the proposed amendments are adopted, Rule 147 would become a stand-alone exemption rather than a safe harbor for section 3(a)(11). There would no longer be a safe harbor for intrastate offerings.
That creates some issues for the states. Many states have adopted state registration exemptions for crowdfunded securities offerings that piggyback on the federal intrastate offering exemption. That makes sense, because, if the offering isn’t also exempted at the federal level, the state crowdfunding exemption is practically worthless. (An offering pursuant to the federal crowdfunding exemption is automatically exempted from state registration requirements, but these state crowdfunding exemptions provide an alternative way to sell securities through crowdfunding.)
The SEC’s proposed amendments would actually make it easier for a crowdfunded offering to fit within Rule 147. (In fact, the SEC release says that’s one of the purposes of the amendments.) Most importantly, the SEC proposes to eliminate the requirement that all offerees be residents of the state. That change would facilitate publicly accessible crowdfunding sites which, almost by definition, are making offers to everyone everywhere. The securities would still have to be sold only to state residents, but it’s much easier to screen purchasers than to limit offerees.
Problem No. 1: Dual Compliance Requirements
Unfortunately, many state crowdfunding exemptions require that the crowdfunded offering comply with both section 3(a)(11) and Rule 147 in order to be eligible for the state exemption. Here, for example, is the relevant language in the Nebraska state crowdfunding exemption: “The transaction . . . [must meet] . . . the requirements of the federal exemption for intrastate offerings in section 3(a)(11) of the Securities Act of 1933 . . . and Rule 147 under the Securities Act of 1933.” (emphasis added).
Currently, that double requirement doesn’t matter. An offering that complies with the Rule 147 safe harbor by definition complies with section 3(a)(11). That would no longer true if the SEC adopts the proposed changes. Since Rule 147 would no longer be a safe harbor, an issuer that complied with Rule 147 would still have to independently determine if its offering complied with section 3(a)(11). Because of the uncertainty in the case law under 3(a)(11), that determination would be risky. (But see my argument here.) The leniency the SEC proposes to grant in the amendments to Rule 147 would not be helpful unless state legislators amended their crowdfunding exemptions to eliminate the requirement that offerings also comply with section 3(a)(11).
Problem No. 2: State-of-Incorporation/Organization Requirements
There’s another potential issue. Many state crowdfunding exemptions include an independent requirement that the issuer be incorporated or organized in that particular state. That’s inconvenient, and reduces the value of the state crowdfunding exemption, because corporations and LLCs are often incorporated or organized outside their home states. But, until now, that state requirement hasn’t mattered because both section 3(a)(11) and Rule 147 also impose such a requirement.
The SEC proposes to eliminate that requirement from Rule 147, so it now matters whether the state crowdfunding exemption independently imposes such a requirement. Issuers won’t be able to take full advantage of the proposed changes to Rule 147 unless states eliminate the state-of-incorporation/organization requirements from their state crowdfunding exemptions as well.
On to More Important Things
That’s the end of my Rule 147 discussion for now. I promise! Now, we can turn to more important questions, such as why your favorite team belongs in the college football playoff. (I know for sure that my college football team won't be there. I would be happy just to have my college football team in a bowl game.)
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
My recent article: Locked In: The Competitive Disadvantage of Citizen Shareholders, appears in The Yale Law Journal’s Forum. In this article I examine the exit remedy for unhappy indirect investors as articulated by Professors John Morley and Quinn Curtis in their 2010 article, Taking Exit Rights Seriously. Their argument was that the rational apathy of indirect investors combined with a fundamental difference between ownership of stock in an operating company and a share of a mutual fund. A mutual fund redeems an investor’s fund share by cashing that investor out at the current trading price of the fund, the net asset value (NAV). An investor in an operating company (a direct shareholder) exits her investment by selling her share certificate in the company to another buyer at the trading price of that stock, which theoretically takes into account the future value of the company. The difference between redemption with the fund and sale to a third party makes exit in a mutual fund the superior solution over litigation or proxy contests, they argue, in all circumstances. It is a compelling argument for many indirect investors, but not all.
In my short piece, I highlight how exit remedies are weakened for citizen shareholders—investors who enter the securities markets through defined contribution plans. Constrained investment choice within retirement plans and penalties for withdrawals means that “doing nothing” is a more likely option for citizen shareholders. That some shareholders are apathetic and passive is no surprise. The relative lack of mobility for citizen shareholders, however, comes at a cost. Drawing upon recent scholarship by Professors Ian Ayres and Quinn Curtis (Beyond Diversification), I argue that citizen shareholders are more likely to be locked into higher fee funds, which erode investment savings. Citizen shareholders may also be subsidizing the mobility of other investors. These costs add up when one considers that defined contribution plans are the primary vehicle of individual retirement savings in this country aside from social security. If the self-help remedy of exit isn’t a strong protection for citizen shareholders, then it is time to examine alternative remedies for these crucial investors.
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
The Department of Labor issued new interpretive guidelines for pension investments governed by ERISA. A thorny issue has been to what extent can ERISA fiduciaries invest in environmental, social and governance-focused (ESG) investments? The DOL previously issued several guiding statements on this topic, the most recent one in 2008, IB 2001-01, and the acceptance of such investment has been lukewarm. The DOL previously cautioned that such investments were permissible if all other things (like risk and return) are equal. In other words, ESG factors could be a tiebreaker but couldn't be a stand alone consideration.
What was the consequence of this tepid reception for ESG investments? Over $8.4 trillion in defined benefit and defined contribution plans covered by ERISA have been kept out of ESG investments, where non-ERISA investments in the space have exploded from "$202 billion in 2007 to $4.3 trillion in 2014."
The new guidance admits that previous interpretations may have
"unduly discouraged fiduciaries from considering ETIs and ESG factors. In particular, the Department is concerned that the 2008 guidance may be dissuading fiduciaries from (1) pursuing investment strategies that consider environmental, social, and governance factors, even where they are used solely to evaluate the economic benefits of investments and identify economically superior investments, and (2) investing in ETIs even where economically equivalent."
Under the new interpretive guidelines, the DOL takes a much more permissive stance regarding the economic value of ESG factors.
"Environmental, social, and governance issues may have a direct relationship to the economic value of the plan's investment. In these instances, such issues are not merely collateral considerations or tie-breakers, but rather are proper components of the fiduciary's primary analysis of the economic merits of competing investment choices. Similarly, if a fiduciary prudently determines that an investment is appropriate based solely on economic considerations, including those that may derive from environmental, social and governance factors, the fiduciary may make the investment without regard to any collateral benefits the investment may also promote. Fiduciaries need not treat commercially reasonable investments as inherently suspect or in need of special scrutiny merely because they take into consideration environmental, social, or other such factors."
In other words, ESG factors may be economic factors and such investments are not automatically suspect under ERISA fiduciary duty obligations.
Monday, November 2, 2015
Here’s something everyone who has ever taken Securities Regulation should know: Section 3(a)(11) of the Securities Act, the intrastate offering exemption, has a safe harbor, Securities Act Rule 147.
As Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend.” The SEC is proposing to overturn that longstanding wisdom. If the SEC’s proposed changes to Rule 147 are adopted,Rule 147 would no longer be tied to section 3(a)(11) and section 3(a)(11) would no longer have a safe harbor. The intrastate nature of Rule 147 would be preserved, but the proposed changes would be adopted under the SEC’s general exemptive authority in section 28 of the Securities Act.
Here are the most significant changes that the SEC has proposed:
Tied to State Regulation
The premise of section 3(a)(11) and its Rule 147 safe harbor is to relegate purely intrastate offerings to state regulation. But there’s currently nothing in Rule 147 to enforce that premise; federal exemption does not depend on state regulation of the offering.
The SEC proposal would expressly tie the federal Rule 147 exemption to state regulation. An offering would qualify for the federal exemption only if it was (1) registered at the state level or (2) sold pursuant to a state exemption that imposes investment limits on purchasers and limits the amount of the offering to $5 million in any 12-month period. (This second possibility is clearly aimed at the crowdfunding exemptions that many states have recently enacted.)
Rule 147 does not currently limit the amount of the offering. The SEC proposal would limit the offering amount to $5 million in any 12-month period, unless the offering is registered at the state level.
State of Incorporation
Rule 147 currently requires that the issuer be incorporated or organized in the state in which the securities are sold. Because of that, even a corporation or LLC with all of its business in a single state cannot use Rule 147 if it happens to be incorporated or organized in another state, such as Delaware.
The SEC proposes to eliminate the focus on state of incorporation or organization, and require instead that the issuer’s “principal place of business” be within the state in which the offering is made. This would be defined as the state where “the officers, partners or managers . . . primarily direct, control and coordinate” the issuer’s activities.
Doing Business in the State
Under the current rule, the issuer must meet four requirements to establish that it is doing business in the state:
- It must derive at least 80% of its gross revenues from operations within the state;
- At least 80% of its assets must be located within the state;
- It must intend to use and actually use at least 80% of the offering proceeds in connection with operations in the state; and
- Its principal office must be located in the state.
All four of those requirements must be met.
The proposed rule is much less restrictive. An issuer only has to meet any one of the following requirements:
- It derives at least 80% of its gross revenues from operations in the state;
- At least 80% of its assets are located in the state;
- It intends to use and uses at least 80% of the offering proceeds in connection with operations in the state; or
- A majority of its employees are based in the state.
(Notice the addition of the new fourth test.) It will obviously be easier to satisfy a single one of the new requirements that it is to satisfy all four of the requirements under the current rule.
Intrastate Offers and Sales
Rule 147 currently provides that the securities must be offered and sold only to state residents. In other words, it’s not enough to screen out non-residents before sale. You can’t even solicit non-residents.
The SEC proposes to eliminate the restriction on offerees. An issuer could make a general public solicitation to the world, as long as it only sells the securities to state residents. This obviously makes it much easier to make Rule 147 offerings on the Internet.
Reasonable Belief Standard
The current rule requires that all of the purchasers (and offerees) be residents of the state. If one of them is a non-resident, the exemption is lost, even if the issuer thought the person was a resident.
The proposed rule adds a reasonable belief standard. The exemption is protected as long as the issuer had a reasonable belief that the non-resident purchaser was a resident.
Resales and the Issuer’s Exemption
Both the current rule and the SEC’s proposal limit resales to non-residents. However, there’s a crucial difference between the two.
The current rule makes the exemption dependent on meeting all of the terms and conditions of the rule, including the resale limit. Thus, if a purchaser immediately resold to a non-resident, the issuer could lose the exemption.
The proposed rule, like the current rule, requires the issuer to take certain precautions to prevent resales to non-residents, but the prohibition on resales is no longer a condition of the issuer’s exemption. Thus, if the issuer took the required precautions and a purchaser resold to a non-resident anyway, the issuer would not lose the exemption.
Protection from Integration
Rule 147 currently has a provision that protects the Rule 147 offering from integration with sales pursuant to certain other exemptions six months prior to or six months after the Rule 147 offering.
The SEC proposal offers a much broader anti-integration safe harbor, similar to the integration safe harbor included in Regulation A. Offers or sales under the amended Rule 147 exemption would not be integrated with any prior offers or sales. And Rule 147 offerings would not be integrated with subsequent offers or sales that are (1) federally registered; (2) pursuant to Regulation A; (3) pursuant to Rule 701; (4) pursuant to an employee benefit plan; (5) pursuant to Regulation S; (6) pursuant to the crowdfunding exemption in section 4(a)(6); or (7) more than six months after completion of the Rule 147 offering.
There is also some protection against integration when an issuer begins an offering under Rule 147 and decides to register the offering instead.
Section 3(a)(11) Remains Available
As I mentioned earlier, the amended Rule 147 would no longer be a safe harbor for section 3(a)(11) of the Securities Act. But Section 3(a)(11) would remain available. It just wouldn’t have a safe harbor.
An issuer would be free to use the section 3(a)(11) statutory exemption, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless everything is unquestionably intrastate. It was the uncertain interpretations of section 3(a)(11) that led to Rule 147 in the first place.
A Move in the Right Direction
I think the proposed exemption is a move in the right direction. Rule 147, one of the SEC’s earliest surviving safe harbors, was a little long in the tooth. The proposed changes will make it a little more viable.
Friday, October 30, 2015
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
This hit my mailbox this morning. If the report is correct, we'll know in a few days whether we have a path to unregistered, broad-based securities crowdfunding in the United States. More as news is reported . . . .
[Additional information: Based on the link to the SEC's notice of meeting in Steve Bradford's comment to this post, it also appears that the SEC is considering amendments to Rules 147 (intrastate offerings) and 504 (limited offerings under Regulation D of up to $1,000,000).]
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
As Steve Bradford mentioned in his post on Monday (sharing his cool idea about mining crowdfunded offerings to find good firms in which to invest), our co-blogger Haskell Murray published a nice post last week on venture capital as a follow-on to capital raises done through crowdfunding. He makes some super points there, and (although I was raised by an insurance brokerage executive, not a venture capitalist), my sense is that he's totally right that the type of crowdfunding matters for those firms seeking to follow crowdfunding with venture capital financing. I also think that, of the types of crowdfunding he mentions, his assessment of venture capital market reactions makes a lot of sense. Certainly, as securities crowdfunding emerges in the United States on a broader scale (which is anticipated by some to happen with the upcoming release of the final SEC rules under Title III of the JOBS Act), it makes sense to think more about what securities crowdfunding might look like and how it will fit into the cycle of small business finance.
Along those lines, what about debt crowdfunding as a precursor to venture capital funding? Andrew Schwartz has written a bit about that. Others also may have taken on this topic. Professor Schwartz may be right that issuers will prefer to issue debt than equity--in part because it may prove to be less of an impediment to later equity financings. But I don't necessarily have a warm feeling about that . . . .
And what about the crowdfunding of investment contracts (e.g., what I have previously called "unequity" in this article (and elsewhere, including in this further article) and perhaps even the newly popular SAFEs)? There is no equity overhang with unequity and some other types of investment contract, but crowdfunded SAFEs, which are convertible paper, may be viewed negatively in later financing rounds--especially if the conversion rights are held by a wide group of investors. While part of me is surprised that people are not taking the investment contract part of the potential securities crowdfunding market seriously (since folks were crowdfunding investment contracts before the JOBS Act came along--not knowing it was unlawful), the other part of me says that crowdfunded investment contracts would have a niche market at best.
So, thanks, Haskell, for the food for thought. No doubt, more will be written about this issue as and if the market for crowdfunded securities develops. Coming soon, says the SEC . . . .
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
As some of you may know, I have been focused on crowdfunding intermediation in my research of late. My articles in the U.C. Davis Business Law Journal and the Kentucky Law Journal both touch on that topic, and a forthcoming chapter in an international crowdfunding book and several articles in process follow along that trail. (I also have the opportunity to look into gatekeeper intermediary issues outside the crowdfunding context at an upcoming symposium at Wayne State University Law School, about which I will say more in a subsequent post.) The underlying literature on financial intermediation is super-interesting, and it continues to grow in breadth and depth as I research and write.
Given my interest in this area, I was delighted to see that Larry Cunningham is contributing to the debate, following on his already-rich work relating to Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway. As you may recall, Larry was our guest here at the Business Law Prof Blog back in 2014. You can read my Q&A with him here and his posts here and here.
Larry recently posted an essay responding to Kathryn Judge's Intermediary Influence, 82 U Chi L Rev 573 (2015). In her article, Professor Judge shows "how intermediaries acquire influence over time and how they have used that influence to promote high-fee arrangements." She then uses this descriptive analysis both to explain existing phenomena in the financial markets and to identify significant implications for the same.
Forthcoming in the University of Chicago Law Review Dialogue, Larry's responsive essay, Berkshire versus KKR: Intermediary Influence and Competition, compares the infamous private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts to his beloved Berkshire Hathaway. His focus? The M&A market. His bottom line?
I have extended Judge’s insights with an illustration from the acquisitions market, depicting one firm (KKR) that epitomizes intermediary influence, in contrast to a rival (Berkshire)—the anti-intermediary par excellence. The juxtaposition affirms the portrait of intermediary influence that Judge paints as well as the potential for correction through lower-priced competition and fee disclosure she posits.
I have given Larry's essay a skim, and that quick pass has enticed me into giving both it and Professor Judge's article a good, thorough read in the not-too-distant future.
Monday, October 5, 2015
Alicia Plerhoples (Georgetown) has the details about the first benefit corporation IPO: Laureate Education.*
She promises more analysis on SocEntLaw (where I am also a co-editor) in the near future.
The link to Laureate Education's S-1 is here. Laureate Education has chosen the Delaware public benefit corporation statute to organize under, rather than one of the states that more closely follows the Model Benefit Corporation Legislation. I wrote about the differences between Delaware and the Model here.
Plum Organics (also a Delaware public benefit corporation) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the publicly-traded Campbell's Soup, but it appears that Laureate Education will be the first stand-alone publicly traded benefit corporation.
*Remember that there are differences between certified B corporations and benefit corporations. Etsy, which IPO'd recently, is currently only a certified B corporation. Even Etsy's own PR folks confused the two terms in their initial announcement of their certification.
October 5, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Delaware, Haskell Murray, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, September 25, 2015
Regular readers of this blog know that I have chastised the SEC on several occasions for its lengthy delay in adopting rules to implement the exemption for crowdfunded securities offerings. (It has now been 1,268 days since the President signed the bill, 998 days past the statutory rulemaking deadline, and 702 days since the SEC proposed the rules.)
The long wait may soon be over. According to BNA, SEC Chair Mary Jo White said yesterday that the SEC will finish adopt its crowdfunding rules in the "very near term."
I don't know exactly what "very near term" means to a government official. Given my luck, it probably means immediately prior to the two crowdfunding presentations I'm scheduled to give in October. Nothing like a little last-minute juggling to keep me on my toes.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
This comes to us courtesy of Rachel Ezrol at Emory Law:
A Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative & Feminism and Legal Theory Workshop Project
A Workshop on Vulnerability at the Intersection of the Changing Firm and the Changing Family
When: October 16-17, 2015
Where: Emory University School of Law
Registration is FREE for Emory students, faculty, and staff.
From the Call for Papers:
Theories of dependency situate the limitations that attend the caregiving role in the construction of the relationship between work and family. The “worker,” defined without reference to family responsibilities, becomes capable of autonomy, self-sufficiency, and responsibility through stable, full-time employment. The privatized family, created by the union of spouses, is celebrated in terms of a self-sufficient ideal that addresses dependency within its own ranks, often through the gendered assumptions regarding responsibility for caretaking. The feminist project has long critiqued these arrangements as they enshrine the inequality that follows as natural and inevitable and cloak the burdens of caretaking from examination or critique. The interpenetrations of the family and the firm have thus been understood as both multiple and wide-ranging. Both this system and the feminist critique of it, however, are associated with the construction of wage labor that arose with industrialization. This workshop will apply the lens of vulnerability to consider the implications that arise from large scale changes in the structure of employment - changes that place this prior ideal of stable self-sufficiency beyond the reach of much of the population.
Issues For Discussion May Include:
This workshop will use vulnerability theory to explore the implications of the changing structure of employment and business organizations in the information age. In considering these changes, we ask in particular:
- How does the changing relationship between employment and the family, and particularly the disappearance of the breadwinner capable of earning a stable “family wage,” affect our understanding of the family and its association with care and dependency?
- How does the changing structure of employment and business organization affect possibilities for reform? What should be the role of a responsive state in directing these shifting flows of capital and care?
- How might a conception of the vulnerable subject help our analysis of the changing nature of the firm? What relationships does it bring into relief?
- What kind of legal subject is the business organization? Are there relevant distinctions among business and corporate forms in regard to understanding both vulnerability and the need for resilience?
- How are business organizations vulnerable? The family? Have these vulnerabilities shifted over time, and what forms of resilience are available for both institutions to respond to new economic realities?
- What, if any, should be the role of international and transnational organizations in a neoliberal era? What is their role in building both human and institutional resilience?
- Is corporate philanthropy an adequate response to the retraction of state regulation? What forms of resilience should be regulated and which should be left to the ‘free market’?
- How does the Supreme Court's willingness to assign rights to corporate persons (Citizen's United, Hobby Lobby), affect workers, customers and communities? The relationship between public and private arenas?
Program Coordinator | Emory University School of Law
1301 Clifton Road | Atlanta, GA 30322 | Room G500 Gambrell Hall
404-712-2420 (t) | 404-727-1973 (f)
Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative
Feminism and Legal Theory Project
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
As I earlier noted, I participated in a continuing legal education program at The University of Tennessee College of Law last Friday on the basics of crowdfunding. My partners in crime for the last hour of the event were two folks from Chattanooga, Tennessee (yes, home of the famous choo choo) who have been involved in crowdfunding efforts for local businesses. One used crowdfunding to finance a change in the location of a business; the other used crowdfunding to gauge interest in his business concept and raise seed capital. They described their businesses and financing efforts in the second segment of the program (after a foundational hour on crowdfunding from me).
The business location change was for The Camp House, a coffeehouse owned and operated as part of The Mission Chattanooga, a local church. Private events, including music performances, also take place at the venue. The Camp House raised over $32,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on Causeway. Matt Busby, Director of The Camp House, educated us on donation crowdfunding through a non-profit platform.
The new business concept and capital raise was for Treetop Hideaways (a/k/a, The Treehouse Project), a business that designed, built, and rents time in a luxury treehouse. The principals raised over $34,000 on Kickstarter. One of the two men behind this project, Enoch Elwell, offered us practical information about reward crowdfunding. Enoch also told attendees about his work with local entrepreneurs through CO.LAB and CO.STARTERS.
In the last hour of the program, the three of us reflected on crowdfunding successes and failures and speculated about the future of crowdfunding (using their experiences and my research as touchstones). It was a wide-ranging discussion, filled with disparate tidbits of information on business formation, finance, and governance, as well as professional responsibility and the provision of practical, cost-sensitive legal advice. Both Matt and Enoch turned out to be great folks to talk to about business finance, choice of entity, and the role of lawyers in small business formation and operation. Their observations were thoughtful and sensible. I learned a lot from them, and participants (practitioners and students) also indicated that they learned a lot. Everyone had fun. It was pure business lawyer/law student joy on a Friday afternoon! :>)
For those who were not at the program on Friday and would have liked to have been there, all is not lost. We plan to post a recorded version of all three program segments here in a few weeks. Continuing legal education credit will be available in Tennessee for viewing the online recording, upon completion of the test provided and payment of the applicable fee.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law is sponsoring a continuing legal education program on the afternoon of Friday, September 18 entitled "Crowdfunding: The Basics." If you will be in or near Knoxville at the end of next week (maybe because you're arriving early for a certain football game on Saturday night versus Western Carolina . . . ), come on over and check it out. I am presenting for the introductory session. The second session will feature entrepreneurs from two local (Chattanooga-based) crowdfunded social enterprises, and the third session will be a discussion among the three of us about successful and unsuccessful crowdfunding efforts.
I am excited to be able to participate in this program with local entrepreneurs and have the opportunity to talk to them about the future of crowdfunding. I will post important out-takes from the program in the future. I assume there will be a number of them . . . .
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
A while back, the CLS Blue Sky Blog featured a post by Michael Peregrine on an article authored by Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo Strine (Documenting The Deal: How Quality Control and Candor Can Improve Boardroom Decision-making and Reduce the Litigation Target Zone, 70 Bus. Law. 679 (2015)) offering pragmatic advice to corporate directors in deal-oriented decision making. Michael's post summarizes points made by Justice Strine in his article, including (of particular importance to legal counsel) those set forth below.
- "Counsel can play an important role in assuring the engagement of the strongest possible independent financial advisor, and structuring the engagement to confirm the provision of the full breadth of deal-related financial advice to the board; not simply the delivery of a fairness opinion or similar document."
- "[I]n the M&A process, it is critical to be clear in the minutes themselves about what method is being used, and why."
- "Lawyers and governance support personnel should be particularly attentive to documenting in meeting minutes the advice provided by financial advisors about critical fairness considerations or other transaction terms, and the directors’ reaction to that advice."
- "[P]laintiffs’ lawyers are showing an increasing interest in seeking discovery of electronic information that may evidence the attentiveness of individual directors to materials posted on the board portal."
Michael concludes by noting the thrust of Justice Strine's points--that "a more thoughtful approach to the fundamental elements of the M&A process will enhance exercise of business judgment by disinterested board members, and their ability to rely on the advice of impartial experts." All of the points made reflect observations of the Chief Justice emanating from Delaware jurisprudence. Michael also notes that the points made by Justice Strine have application to decision making in other forms of business association as well as the corporation.
I could not agree more with the thesis of the post and the article. Maybe it's just my self-centered, egotistical, former-M&A-lawyer self talking, but good lawyering can make a difference in M&A deals and the (seemingly inevitable) litigation that accompanies them. I wrote about this in my article, A More Critical Use of Fairness Opinions as a Practical Approach to the Behavioral Economics of Mergers and Acquisitions, commenting on Don Langevoort's article, The Behavioral Economics of Mergers and Acquisitions. We should be teaching this in the classroom as we frame the lawyer's role in M&A transactions. I use a quote from Steve Bainbridge to introduce this matter to my Business Associations, Corporate Finance, and Cross-Border M&A students:
Successful transactional lawyers build their practice by perceptibly adding value to their clients’ transactions. From this perspective, the education of a transactional lawyer is a matter of learning where the value in a given transaction comes from and how the lawyer might add even more value to the deal.
Stephen M. Bainbridge, Mergers and Acquisitions 4 (2003). Great stuff, imv. I am sure this quote or one like it is in the current version of this book somewhere, too. But I do not have that with me as I write this. Perhaps if Steve reads this he will add the current cite to the comments . . . ?
At any rate, I want to make a pitch for highlighting the role of the lawyer in guiding the client through the legal minefields--territory that only we can help clients navigate most efficaciously. As business law educators, we have a podium that enables us to do this with law students who are lawyers-in-training about to emerge from the cocoon-like academic environment into the cold, cruel world in which fiduciary duty (derivative and direct) and securities class action litigation is around every transactional corner. Let's give them some pointers on why and how to take on this task!
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
As many readers already know, I teach Corporate Finance in the fall semester as a three-credit-hour planning and drafting seminar. The course is designed to teach students various contexts in which valuations are used in the legal practice of corporate finance, the key features of simple financial instruments, and legal issues common to basic corporate finance transactions (including M&A). In the process of teaching this substance, I introduce the students to various practice tips and tools.
As part of teaching M&A in this course and in my Advanced Business Associations course, I briefly cover the anatomy of an M&A transaction and the structure of a typical M&A agreement. For outside reading on these topics, I am always looking for great practical summaries. For example, Summary of Acquisition Agreements, 51 U. Miami L. Rev. 779 (1997), written by my former Skadden colleagues Lou Kling and Eileen Nugent (together with then law student, Michael Goldman) has been a standard-bearer for me. In recent years, practice summaries available through Bloomberg, LexisNexis, and Westlaw (Practical Law Company) have been great supplements to the Miami Law Review article. In our transaction simulation course, which is more advanced, I often assign part of Anatomy of a Merger, written many moons ago by another former Skadden colleague, Jim Freund. Just this past week, I came across a new, short blog post on the anatomy of a stock purchase agreement on The M&A Lawyer Blog. Although I haven't yet given the post a review for teaching purposes, it is a nice summary in many respects and makes some points not made in other similar resources.
I will be revisiting my approach to the M&A part of my Corporate Finance course in the coming weeks. I am curious about how others teach M&A in a context like this--where the topic must be covered in about three-to-five class hours and include practice points, as well as a review of doctrine, theory, and policy. I am always interested in new materials and approaches that may reach more students better. I invite responses in the comments that may be useful to me and others.
Friday, August 28, 2015
Back in January, I joined Planet Fitness. The $10/month membership seemed too good to be true. Most gyms I had joined in the past had cost 3-5X that amount, and the equipment looked pretty similar. Also, the advertisement of No Commitment* Join Now & Save! (small font – *Commitments may vary per location) gave me pause.
Like a good lawyer, I read all the fine print in the membership contract, looking for a catch. There wasn’t really a catch – except for a small, one-time annual fee (~$30), if I did not cancel before October.
I signed up, enjoyed the gym, and canceled a few months later, as soon as the weather outside improved. (When I exercise, which is not as consistently as some of my co-bloggers, it is mostly just running, and I prefer to run outside if the weather is decent).
So, in total, I paid around $30 for three months of access to a single location of a decent gym.
This deal is still somewhat puzzling to me. If Planet Fitness’ business model makes sense, why aren’t more competitors coming close to the $10/month price point?
Here are some of my guesses (based on my brief experience at one location and pure speculation):
- Planet Fitness may have a lower cost structure than some gyms. While I thought the equipment was fine, most of the equipment seemed to be of the “no frills variety.” For example, none of the treadmills at my location had color screens and most of the machines appeared to be base models. I did, however, appreciate that Planet Fitness seemed to pay attention to what machines members use regularly – like treadmills, bikes, and ellipticals – and devoted most of their space to those machines.
- Planet Fitness may be taking a page from the behavioral economist’s playbook. Planet Fitness made signing up extremely easy and automatically deducted the fee from the member's checking account each month. Canceling was slightly more difficult. You had to physically come into the gym to sign cancellation paperwork, or you could snail mail your cancellation. You also had to give a bit of notice, prior to cancellation, to avoid getting charged for the following month. The slight difficulty canceling, coupled with the very low monthly fee might result in some folks forgetting about their membership for a while, simply taking a while to cancel, or purposefully avoid canceling, in hopes they would return to working out. I will say that I did not find canceling at Planet Fitness terribly difficult. However, when I was a member of LA Fitness a number of years ago, I remember their cancellation process, through certified “snail-mail” letter, being a pain.
- Planet Fitness may have been offering $10/month as a "teaser rate" to attract members, with plans to increase rates once members had developed habits of going to their gyms. My gym has already increased the “no commitment” membership to $15/month, while the $10/month membership now comes with a 1-year commitment.
- Judging from these complaints, many members may not understand the annual fee, the commitments (on some plans), and the cancellation requirements. Perhaps these parts of the contracts are helping off-set the low monthly price.
- Planet Fitness may have been trying to increase their membership numbers in advance of their IPO this summer.
This last bullet-point, regarding increasing membership numbers to help their IPO, is the one I find most interesting. If the valuation of certain tech-companies, like Instagram, can be based on, at least in part, “number of users,” I think it is reasonable to assume that “number of members” is an important metric for the valuation of gyms.
On August 5, The Wall Street Journal reported that Planet Fitness priced its IPO at $16/share and raised $216 million. Planet Fitness disappointed in early trading (See here and here), then rose to just under $20/share, and is now back around its IPO price. Given the prevalence of IPO under-pricing, I imagine early investors hoped for better. That said, I plan to follow Planet Fitness and see if their business model is one that works in the long-term. If they have continued success, I imagine other companies will attempt to imitate.
Update: Will Foster (Arkansas) passed along this interesting public radio podcast on gym memberships, which discusses Planet Fitness. Basically, it suggests that many gyms seek members who will not show up regularly (or at all). Maybe this is a key to Planet Fitness' business model; Planet Fitness advertises itself as a "no judgment" gym and even has a "lunk alarm" that it rings on weightlifters who grunt or drop weights. Members seeking "no judgment" may come to the gym much less frequently than serious weightlifters. In fact, at the Planet Fitness featured, 50% never even showed up once. That location has ~6000 members, but a capacity of ~300. Also, this podcast makes sense of why Planet Fitness has free candy, bagels, mixers, massage chairs, and pizza parties - again this attracts less serious gym members and it also gives some value to those who come to the gym only to socialize and eat. Listen to the whole thing.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Last week I attended a panel discussion with angel investors and venture capitalists hosted by Refresh Miami. Almost two hundred entrepreneurs and tech professionals attended the summer startup series to learn the inside scoop on fundraising from panelists Ed Boland, Principal Scout Ventures; Stony Baptiste, Co-Founder & Principal, Urban.Us, Venture Fund; Brad Liff, Founder & CEO, Fitting Room Social, Private Equity Expert; and (the smartest person under 30 I have ever met) Herwig Konings, Co-Founder & CEO of Accredify, Crowd Funding Expert. Because I was typing so fast on my iPhone, I didn’t have time to attribute my notes to the speakers. Therefore, in no particular order, here are the nuggets I managed to glean from the panel.
1) In the seed stage, it’s more than an idea but less than a business. If it’s before true market validation you are in the seed round. At the early stage, there has been some form of validation, but the business is not yet sustainable. Everything else beyond that is the growth stage.
2) The friend and family round is typically the first $50-75,000. Angels come in the early stage and typically invest up to $500,000.
3) The seed rounds often overlap with angels and businesses can raise from $500,000 to $1,000,000. If you have a validated part of a business model but are not self funding then you are at Series A investment stage. You still need outside capital despite validation. The Series A round often nets between $3-5 million and then there are subsequent rounds for growth until the liquidity event which is either the IPO or acquisition.
4) Venture capitalists are investing their LPs' money and often the LP will co-invest with the VC. Their ultimate goal is for the company to get acquired or go public.
5) At the early stages some VCs will show a deal to other investors if it looks good. Later stage VCs will become more competitive and will keep the information and good deals to themselves.
6) It’s important to find a lead investor or lead angel to champion your idea.
7) Not all funding is helpful. Some panelists discussed the concepts of “fallen angels” or “devils,” which were once helpful but now are not providing value but still take up time and energy that could be better spent focusing on building the business. “False angels” are those who could never have been helpful in the first place.
8) You don’t want to be the first or the last check the angel is writing. You want to get references on the angel investor and see where they have invested and what their plan is for you.
9) There is smart money and dumb money. Smart money gives money and additional resources or value. Dumb money just gives money and nothing else. It’s passive and doesn’t jump into the business (note the panelists disagreed as to whether this was a good or bad thing). Another panelist noted the distinction between helpful and harmful money. Harmful people think they are helpful and give advice when they don’t have a lot to add but take up a lot of time. Sometimes helpful money just gives a check and then gets out of the way. It’s the people in between that can cause the problems.
10) VCs and angels invest in teams as well as ideas. They look for the right fit and a mix of veteran entrepreneurs, a team/product fit, a mix of technical and nontechnical people, professionals whose reputations and resumes can be verified. They want to know whether the people they are investing in have been in a competitive environment and have learned from success or failure.
11) Crowdfunding can be complicated because investors don’t meet the entrepreneurs. They see everything on the web so the reputation and the need for a good team is even more important.
12) Convertible notes are the “gold standard” according to one speaker and it’s the workhorse for funding. There was some discussion of safe notes, but most panelists didn't have a lot of experience with them and that was echoed this week by attorney David Salmon, who advises small businesses and holds his own monthly meetups. One panelist said that the sole purpose of safe notes was to avoid landmines that can blow up the company. Another panelist indicated that from an investor standpoint it’s like a blackhole because it’s so new and people don’t know what happens if something goes wrong.
13) The panelists indicated that businesses need to watch out for: the maturity date for their debt (how long is the runway); when can the investors call the note and possibly bankrupt the company; how will quirky covenants affect the next round of financing and where later investors will fall in line; and covenants that are easy to violate.
14) There was very little discussion of Regulation A+ but it did raise some interest and the possibility to raise even more funds from non-accredited investors. Only 3% of the eight million who can invest through crowdfunding actually do, so Reg A+ may help with that.
16) All of the panelists agreed that entities may start out as LLCs but they will have to convert to a C Corp to get any VC funding.
There was a lot more discussion but this post is already too long. Because I've never been an angel nor sought such funding, I don’t plan to provide any analysis on what I’ve typed above. My goal in attending this and the other monthly events like this was to learn from the questions that entrepreneurs ask and how the investors answer. Admittedly, most of my students won’t be dealing with these kind of issues, but I still introduce them to these concepts so they are at least familiar with the parlance if not all of the nuances.
July 30, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Financial Markets, International Business, Law School, Legislation, LLCs, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, July 16, 2015
Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that President Obama has had an impact on this country. Tomorrow, I will be a panelist on the local public affairs show for the PBS affiliate to talk about the President’s accomplishments and/or failings. The producer asked the panelists to consider this article as a jumping off point. One of the panelists worked for the Obama campaign and another worked for Jeb Bush. Both are practicing lawyers. The other panelist is an educator and sustainability expert. And then there’s me.
I’ve been struggling all week with how to articulate my views because there’s a lot to discuss about this “lame duck” president. Full disclosure—I went to law school with Barack Obama. I was class of ’92 and he was class of ’91 but we weren’t close friends. I was too busy doing sit-ins outside of the dean’s house as a radical protester railing against the lack of women and minority faculty members. Barack Obama did his part for the movement to support departing Professor Derrick Bell by speaking (at minute 6:31) at one of the protests. I remember thinking then and during other times when Barack spoke publicly that he would run for higher office. At the time a black man being elected to the president of the Harvard Law Review actually made national news. I, like many students of all races, really respected that accomplishment particularly in light of the significant racial tensions on campus during our tenure.
During my stint in corporate America, I was responsible for our company’s political action committee. I still get more literature from Republican candidates than from any other due to my attendance at so many fundraisers. I met with members of Congress and the SEC on more than one occasion to discuss how a given piece of legislation could affect my company and our thousands of business customers. My background gives me what I hope will be a more balanced set of talking points than some of the other panelists. In addition to my thoughts about civil rights, gay marriage, gun control, immigration reform, Guantanamo, etc., I will be thinking of the following business-related points for tomorrow’s show:
1) Was the trade deal good or bad for American workers, businesses and/or those in the affected countries? A number of people have had concerns about human rights and IP issues that weren’t widely discussed in the popular press.
2) Dodd-Frank turns five next week. What did it accomplish? Did it go too far in some ways and not far enough in others? Lawmakers announced today that they are working on some fixes. Meanwhile, much of the bill hasn’t even been implemented yet. Will we face another financial crisis before the ink is dried on the final piece of implementing legislation? Should more people have gone to jail as a result of the last two financial crises?
3) Did the President waste his political capital by starting off with health care reform instead of focusing on jobs and infrastructure?
4) Did the President’s early rhetoric against the business community make it more difficult for him to get things done?
5) How will the changes in minimum wage for federal contractors and the proposed changes to the white collar exemptions under the FLSA affect job growth? Will relief in income inequality mean more consumers for the housing, auto and consumer goods markets? Or has too little been done?
6) Has the President done enough or too much as it relates to climate change? The business groups and environmentalists have very differing views on scope and constitutionality.
7) What will the lifting of sanctions on Cuba and Iran mean for business? Both countries were sworn mortal enemies and may now become trading partners unless Congress stands in the way.
8) Do we have the right people looking after the financial system? Is there too much regulatory capture? Has the President tried to change it or has he perpetuated the status quo?
9) What kind of Supreme Court nominee will he pick if he has the chance? The Roberts court has been helpful to him thus far. If he gets a pick it could affect business cases for a generation.
10) Although many complain that he has overused his executive order authority, is there more that he should do?
I don’t know if I will have answers to these questions by tomorrow but I certainly have a lot to think about before I go on air. If you have any thoughts before 8:30 am, please post below or feel free to email me privately at email@example.com.
July 16, 2015 in Constitutional Law, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, International Business, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Television, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
As I earlier noted, on June 23rd, I moderated a teleconference on proposals to shorten the Section 13(d) reporting period, currently fixed by statute and regulation at 10 days. If you don't mind registering with Proxy Mosaic, you can listen to the program. The link is here.
The discussion was lively--as you might well imagine, given that one of the participants represents activist shareholders and the other represents public companies. A number of interesting things emerged in the discussion, many (most) of which also have been raised in other public forums on Schedule 13D, including those referenced and summarized here, here, and here, among other places.
- Exactly how does the Section 1d(d) reporting requirement protect investors or maintain market integrity or encourage capital formation? Or is it just a hat-tipping system to warn issuers about potential hostile changes of control, chilling the potential for the market for corporate control to run its natural course? Of course, the answer to many questions about Section 13(d) depends on our understanding of the policy interests being served. It's hard to tinker with the reporting system if we cannot agree on the objectives it seeks to achieve . . . . (Read the remaining bullets with this in mind.)
- We're not in the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s any more. If market accumulations are deemed to present dangers to investors today (and that case needs to be made), why are they not just an accepted risk of public market participation? Shouldn't every investor know that market accumulations are a risk of owning publicly traded securities? And how does the reporting requirement really protect them from harm? Is this just over-regulation that treats investors as nitwits?
- Not all activist investors are the same. Some act or desire to act as a Section 13(d) group; others don't. Some seek effective or actual control of an issuer; some don't.
- Provisions within the Section 13(d) filing requirements interact. So, can we really talk about decreasing disclosure time periods without also talking about triggering thresholds and mandatory disclosure requirements?
- Why is 5% beneficial ownership the triggering threshold for reporting? What's the magic in that number--and if it were to be changed, should it be lower or higher?
- Schedule 13D is a disclosure form fraught with complexity. Many important judgment calls may have to be made in completing the required disclosures accurately and completely, depending on the circumstances. Is all this complexity needed? In particular, can the Item 4 disclosure requirement be simplified? And is the group concept necessary?
- What is the value, if any, in looking at the issue from a comparative global regulatory viewpoint? Toward the end of the call, international comparisons were increasingly being made and used as evidence that a change in U.S. regulation is needed or desirable. But are other markets and systems of regulation enough like ours for these comparisons to work? E.g., although other countries require Schedule 13D-like filings fewer days after attainment of a triggering threshold of ownership, does that mean we also should reduce the time period for mandatory disclosure here in the U.S.?
Lots of questions; I am beginning to think through answers. Regardless there's much food for thought here. Any reactions? What do you think, and why?
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
SEC Commissioner Kara M. Stein provided remarks at the Brookings Institute's 75th Anniversary of the Investment Company Act on Monday, June 15th. Now if that isn't an exciting introduction to a post, I just don't know what is. She addressed a topic that is of great interest to me and a focus of my research: retail/retirement investors. I tend to call them Citizen Shareholders in my writing, and it is sentiment shared by Commissioner Stein:
"By retail investor, I mean the everyday citizen or household that is investing – not institutional investors or pension funds. Eighty-nine percent of mutual fund assets are attributable to retail investors." (emphasis added).
In her remarks she detailed several troubling aspects of the mutual fund industry--a primary investment source for retail investors-- liquidity, leverage and disclosure. She also highlighted future SEC rule making initiatives related to these issues. For example, the Commission recently proposed new rules to enhance data reported to the Commission by registered funds. The proposed rule is available here (Download SEC proposed disclosure rules) and received comments can be tracked on the SEC's website here.
Noting that a major function of the 1940 Investment Act was transparency and accuracy through disclosures, she lamented the mission drift in the mutual fund industry which she described as:
"[T]he liquidity of registered funds is one area where it seems that regulation has drifted into “buyer beware.” A retail investor looks at a mutual fund and expects that he or she will be able to get money out of a fund very quickly if needed. A retail investor is generally not performing cash flow analyses on mutual funds to test their true liquidity."
SEC rules require redemption within 7 days and only 15% of mutual fund assets can be invested in illiquid funds. Bank loans and ETF funds, increasingly dramatically in popularity since 2009 (by over 400%) take over one month to settle and thus threaten the redemption rights and liquidity of funds in times of financial stress.
Additional "drift" comes from interpretation that the 15% threshold is at the time of purchase, not at the time of settlement so there is no true 15% threshold.
Promising high liquidity, which all mutual funds must do, on illiquid assets, that have not traditionally been a part of mutual funds, does not seem in keeping with the intent of the Investment Company Act.
Commissioner Stein identified a second problem: leverage. Another cornerstone principle in mutual fund regulation has been the requirement for relatively low leverage, as mandated by Section 18 of the Investment Company Act. Section 18 of the Investment Company Act requires low leverage with senior securities mandating a coverage ratio of 3:1 (300% asset coverage for senior securities). Commissioner Stein described the SEC's enforcement on leverage restrictions as "ad hoc" beginning in 1970 through the 30 subsequent no-action letters issued by the Commission.
Additionally Commissioner Stein addressed the rapid evolution and popularity of alternative mutual funds that attempt to mimic hedge fund returns based on mutual fund liquidity: propositions that she finds troubling.
Assets under management in alternative mutual funds have exploded in recent years. In 2008, there were approximately $46 billion in assets under management for these funds. By the end of 2014, the number had surged to over $311 billion in assets under management. This is an increase of over 575%.
[T]oday, alternative mutual funds promising the upside of hedge fund investments with the liquidity of traditional mutual funds are all the rage. I think that this trend should give everyone pause, and regulators and the public need to be asking questions about this development. ..... Should we consider regulating these funds differently than plain vanilla, traditional mutual funds?
Commissioner Stein's remarks highlight several areas in the mutual fund industry that are being reevaluated by the SEC and should be interested developments to watch if you are an attorney representing mutual fund companies and investment advisers, an academic or simply an average "retail" investor.