Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fall Business Law Conference in Venice

Marco Ventoruzzo (Penn State Law) alerts us to the upcoming international conference for the sixtieth anniversary of the Rivista delle società, which will be held in Venice, on San Giorgio Maggiore, on 13-14 November 2015. The title of the conference is "Rules for the Market and Market for Rules. Corporate Law and the Role of the Legislature." The program and information on how to register (and other logistics) can be found here.  It looks like only an Italian version of the program is available on the website as of the time this is being posted, but I have an English version.  So, please just contact me if you want one.

Marco notes that the conference, organized every ten years by the Rivista, is one of the major events for corporate law scholars and practitioners in Italy (and probably in Europe as a whole). He anticipates well over 300 participants from several European countries, the U.S., and elsewhere. He notes that, as an additional incentive to participate, the venue is probably one of the most spectacular that can be imagined.  San Giorgio is a tiny island in the Venice lagoon, just in front of Saint Mark's Square, that overlooks the entire Venetian waterfront. On the island, inhabited since Roman times, the conference will be hosted in a monastery partially designed by Andrea Palladio in the XVI century.

Hat tip to Marco for this announcement.

April 22, 2015 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (2)

Etsy IPO and the revival of the Shareholder Primacy Debate

Last week the New York Times hosted a debate about the Public Corporation's Duty to Shareholders.  Contributors include corporate law professors Stephen Bainbridge, Tamara BelinfanteLynn StoutDavid Yosifan and Jean Rogers, CEO of Sustainability Accounting Standards Board.

This collection of essays is not only more interesting than anything that I could write, but it is also the type of short, assessable debate that would be a great starting point for discussion in a seminar or corporations class.  

-Anne Tucker

April 22, 2015 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Delaware, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The EU's Conflict over Conflict Minerals

Regular readers know that I have blogged repeatedly about my opposition to the US Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule, which aims to stop the flow of funds to rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Briefly, the US law does not prohibit the use of conflict minerals, but instead requires certain companies to obtain an independent private sector third-party audit of reports of the facilities used to process the conflict minerals; conduct a reasonable country of origin inquiry; and describe the steps the company used to mitigate the risk, in order to improve its due diligence process. The business world and SEC are awaiting a First Amendment ruling from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals on the “name and shame” portion of the law, which requires companies to indicate whether their products are DRC Conflict Free.” I have argued that it is a well-intentioned but likely ineffective corporate governance disclosure that depends on consumers to pressure corporations to change their behavior.

The proposed EU regulation establishes a voluntary process through which importers of certain minerals into the EU self-certify that they do not contribute to financing in “conflict-affected” or “high risk areas.” Unlike Dodd-Frank, it is not limited to Congo. Taking note of various stakeholder consultations and the US Dodd-Frank law, the EU had originally limited the scope to importers, and chose a voluntary mechanism to avoid any regional boycotts that hurt locals and did not stop armed conflict. Those importers who choose to certify would have to conduct due diligence in accordance with the OECD Guidance, and report their findings to the EU. The EU would then publish a list of “responsible smelters and refiners,” so that the public will hold importers and smelters accountable for conducting appropriate due diligence. The regulation also offers incentives, such as assistance with procurement contracts.

One of the problems with researching and writing on hot topics is that things change quickly. Two days after I submitted my most recent article to law reviews in March criticizing the use of disclosure to mitigate human rights impacts, the EU announced that it was considering a mandatory certification program for conflict minerals. That meant I had to change a whole section of my article. (I’ll blog on that article another time, but it will be out in the Winter issue of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review). Then just yesterday, in a reversal, the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee announced that it would stick with the original voluntary plan after all.The European Parliament votes on the proposal in May.

Reaction from the NGO community was swift. Global Witness explained: 

Today the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade (INTA) wasted a ground-breaking opportunity to tackle the deadly trade in conflict minerals. […] Under this proposal, responsible sourcing by importers of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold would be entirely optional. The Commission’s proposed voluntary self-certification scheme would be open to approximately 300-400 companies—just 0.05% of companies using and trading these minerals in the EU, and would have virtually no impact on companies’ sourcing behaviour. The law must be strengthened to make responsible sourcing a legal requirement for all companies that place these minerals on the European market–in any form. This would put the European Union at the forefront of global efforts to create more transparent, responsible and sustainable business practices. It would also better align Europe with existing international standards on responsible sourcing, and complement mandatory requirements in the US and in twelve African countries.

I’m all for due diligence in the supply chain and for forcing companies to minimize their human rights impacts. Corporations should do more than respect human rights-- they must pay when they cause harm. I plan to spend part of my summer researching and writing in Latin America about stronger human rights protections for indigenous peoples and the deleterious actions of some multinationals.

But a mandatory certification scheme on due diligence is not the answer because it won’t solve deep, intractable problems that require much more widespread reform. To be clear, I don't think the EU has the right solution either. Reasonable people can disagree, but perhaps the members of the EU Parliament should look to Dodd-Frank. SEC Chair Mary Jo White disclosed last month that the agency had spent 2.75 million dollars, including legal fees, and 17,000 hours writing and implementing the conflict minerals rule. A number of scholars and activists have argued that the law has in fact harmed the Congolese it meant to help and news reports have attempted to dispel some of the myths that led to the passage of the law.

So let’s see what happens in May when the EU looks at conflict minerals again. Let’s see what happens in June when the second wave of Dodd-Frank conflict minerals filings come in. As I indicated in my last blog post about Dodd-Frank referenced above, the first set of filings was particularly unhelpful. And let’s see what happens in December when parents start the holiday shopping—how many of them will check on the disclosures before buying electronics and toys for the members of their family? Most important, let's see if someone can actually tie the money and time spent on conflict minerals disclosure directly to lower rates of rape, child slavery, kidnapping, and forced labor-- the behaviors these laws intend to stop. 

April 16, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, International Business, Law Reviews, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Makin' Tennessee For-Profit Benefit Corporation Sausage

"Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made." -- John Godfrey Saxe

This is a brief legislative update on the progress of Tennessee's current bills, introduced in the house (HB0767--amendment not yet filed) and senate (SB0972), to institute the benefit corporation as a distinct for-profit business corporation in the State of Tennessee.  The links provided are to the current versions of the bill, which reflect a significant amendment, as described below.

As you may know from my prior posts (including here and here), I am a benefit corporation skeptic.  Please read those posts for details.  And within the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) Business Law Section Executive Council and Business Entity Study Committee (our state bar committee that vets changes to Tennessee business associations and other business laws), I am not alone.  We have rejected bills of this kind several times over the past few years when the matter has been put to us for review by the TBA.  This year was no different.  We opposed the benefit corporation bills that were introduced in Tennessee this year, too.

What was different this time around, was that the folks at B Lab had gotten the attention of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Tennessee, who appear(ed) to have some misunderstandings about the current state of Tennessee corporate governance law and came to push for adoption of the bill in committee in both houses of the legislature. Given that we were late to the party and that the members of our TBA Council and Committee are very busy lawyers, our efforts to re-educate members of the relevant committees were not as effective as we would have liked.  But we ultimately were afforded two weeks to attempt to write an amended bill--one that better reflected Tennessee law and norms.

Now, any of you who have worked on a project like this before know that two weeks is not enough time to do a professionally responsible job in spotting and tracking down all of the issues that the introduction of a new business form routinely and naturally raises.  Heck.  We couldn't even get all the constituents around the table that we would want around the table to debate and review the legislation in two weeks!  [It seems hardest to find a plaintiff's bar lawyer to sit in with us, but we found a great one for our recent work on the Tennessee Business Corporation Act (TBCA).]  Our requests for more time to work on the proposed legislation were, however, rejected.

So, we set out to make a better sausage . . . .

Continue reading

April 15, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Best Interest Contracts"--Proposed DOL Regulation of Retirement Brokers

In an earlier BLPB post, I wrote about President Obama's call for greater regulation of retirement investment brokers.  The proposed reforms focused on elevating the current standard that brokers' investment advice must be "suitable" to something closer to an enforceable fiduciary duty to counter financial incentives for some brokers to channel investors into higher-fee investment options.  

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor released new proposed rules (Proposed Rule), which would classify brokers as "fiduciaries" under ERISA but allow them to continue to receive brokerage commissions and fees (a practice that would otherwise violate ERISA conflict-of-interest rules) so long as the brokers and customers enter into a  "Best Interest Contract".

The exemption proposed in this notice (“the Best Interest Contract Exemption”) was developed to promote the provision of investment advice that is in the best interest of retail investors such as plan participants and beneficiaries, IRA owners, and small plans.  Proposed Rule at 4.

In 1975, the DOL issued rules defining investment advice for purposes of triggering fiduciary status under ERISA and the attended duties and conflict-of-interest prohibitions.  That 1975 definition is still in use, is narrow, and excludes much of paid-for investment advice, particularly that provided in the self-directed retirement space (i.e., 401(k) and IRA).  

The narrowness of the 1975 regulation allows advisers, brokers, consultants and valuation firms to play a central role in shaping plan investments, without ensuring the accountability ... [and] allows many advisers to avoid fiduciary status.... As a consequence, under ERISA and the Code, these advisers can steer customers to investments based on their own self-interest, give imprudent advice, and engage in transactions that would otherwise be prohibited by ERISA and the Code. Proposed Rule at 12.

The proposed rule expands the definition of investment advise (see Proposed Rule at 13) making brokers "fiduciaries" under ERISA, but then creates an exemption (which allows  for the continued collection of commissions and fees), requiring: 

the adviser and financial institution to contractually acknowledge fiduciary status, commit to adhere to basic standards of impartial conduct, warrant that they have adopted policies and procedures reasonably designed to mitigate any harmful impact of conflicts of interest, and disclose basic information on their conflicts of interest and on the cost of their advice. The adviser and firm must commit to fundamental obligations of fair dealing and fiduciary conduct – to give advice that is in the customer’s best interest; avoid misleading statements; receive no more than reasonable compensation; and comply with applicable federal and state laws governing advice. Proposed Rule at 6.

Under the proposed exemption, all participating financial institutions must provide notice to the U.S. DOL of their participation, as well as collect and report certain data. 

As justification for the proposed rules, the DOL asserted that:

In the absence of fiduciary status, the providers of investment advice are neither subject to ERISA’s fundamental fiduciary standards, nor accountable for imprudent, disloyal, or tainted advice under ERISA or the Code, no matter how egregious the misconduct or how substantial the losses. Retirement investors typically are not financial experts and consequently must rely on professional advice to make critical investment decisions. In the years since then, the significance of financial advice has become still greater with increased reliance on participant directed plans and IRAs for the provision of retirement benefits. Proposed Rule at 11.

Critics claim that these rules will limit small investors' access to sophisticated financial advice for investments, while proponents consider this a powerful tool against the eroding effects of high fees on long-term retirement savings.  

I think this is a symbolically important change.  It modernizes the regulatory framework to more closely reflect why many people invest in the stock market (as a tax incentivized alternative to pension plans), the purpose that these investments serves (long-term retirement savings) and the information asymmetries (born of financial illiteracy) confronting the average investor, as well as the changes to the financial services industry.  The enforcement mechanism is placed on the individual investor, who will have limited monitoring resources and and other disincentives to fiercely serve that role, which is why my initial reaction that this is a good "symbolic" measure that has potential to fulfill a more meaningful role.

-Anne Tucker

April 15, 2015 in Anne Tucker, Corporations, Financial Markets, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Would the world be a better place if law students were shareholders?

It’s that time of year again where I have my business associations students pretend to be shareholders and draft proposals. I blogged about this topic last semester here. Most of this semester’s proposals related to environmental, social and governance factors. In the real world, a record 433 ESG proposals have been filed this year, and the breakdown as of mid-February was as follows according to As You Sow:

Environment/Climate Change- 27%

Political Activity- 26%

Human Rights/Labor-15%

Sustainability-12%

Diversity-9%

Animals-2%

Summaries of some of the student proposals are below (my apologies if my truncated descriptions make their proposals less clear): 

1) Netflix-follow the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the core standards of the International Labour Organization

2) Luxottica- separate Chair and CEO

3) DineEquity- issue quarterly reports on efforts to combat childhood obesity and the links to financial risks to the company

4) Starbucks- provide additional disclosure of risks related to declines in consumer spending and decreases in wages

5) Chipotle- issue executive compensation/pay disparity report

6) Citrix Systems-add board diversity

7) Dunkin Donuts- eliminate the use of Styrofoam cups

8) Campbell Soup- issue sustainability report

9) Shake Shack- issue sustainability report

10) Starbucks- separate Chair and CEO

11) Hyatt Hotels- institute a tobacco-free workplace

12) Burger King- eliminate GMO in food

13) McDonalds- provide more transparency on menu changes

14) Google-disclose more on political expenditures

15) WWE- institute funding cap

One proposal that generated some discussion in class today related to a consumer products company. As I skimmed the first two lines of the proposal to end animal testing last night, I realized that one of my friends was in-house counsel at the company. I immediately reached out to her telling her that my students noted that the company used to be ”cruelty-free,” but now tested on animals in China.  She responded that the Chinese government required animal testing on these products, and thus they were complying with applicable regulations. My students, however, believed that the company should, like their competitors, work with the Chinese government to change the law or should pull out of China.  Are my students naïve? Do companies actually have the kind of leverage to cause the Chinese government to change their laws? Or would companies fail their shareholders by pulling out of a market with a billion potential customers? This led to a robust debate, which unfortunately we could not finish.

I look forward to Tuesday’s class when we will continue these discussions and I will show them the sobering statistics of how often these proposals tend to fail. Hopefully we can also touch on the Third Circuit decision, which may be out on the Wal-Mart/Trinity Church shareholder proposal issue.These are certainly exciting times to be teaching about business associations and corporate governance.

April 9, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Media Coverage of Business Combinations

For thirty years, I have had a pet peeve about the media's routine reporting on mergers and acquisitions.  I have kept this to myself, for the most part, other than scattered comments to law practice colleagues and law students over the years.  Today, I go public with this veritable thorn in my side.

From many press reports (which commonly characterize business combinations as mergers), you would think that every business combination is structured as a merger.  I know I am being picky here (since there are both legal and non-legal common parlance definitions of the verb "merge").  But a merger, to a business lawyer, is a particular form of business combination, to be distinguished from a stock purchase, asset purchase, consolidation, or statutory share exchange transaction.

The distinction is meaningful to business lawyers for whom the implications of deal type are well known.  However, imho, it also can be meaningful to others with an interest in the transaction, assuming the implications of the deal structure are understood by the journalist and conveyed accurately to readers.  For instance, the existence (or lack) of shareholder approval requirements and appraisal rights, the need for contractual consents, permit or license transfers or applications, or regulatory approvals, the tax treatment, etc. may differ based on the transaction structure.

Continue reading

April 8, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, M&A, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Understanding the Modern Company │ London │ May 9, 2015

Recently, I received the following conference announcement via e-mail:

-----------

Understanding the Modern Company

Organised by the Department of Law, Queen Mary University of London,

in cooperation with University College London

Saturday 9 May 2015, 09.00 to 17.00

Centre for Commercial Law Studies

Queen Mary University of London

67-69 Lincoln’s Inn Fields

London WC2A 3JB

From their origin in medieval times to their modern incarnation as transnational bodies that traverse nations, the company remains an important, yet highly misunderstood entity. It is perhaps not surprising then that understanding what a company is and to whom it is accountable remains a persistent and enduring debate across the globe.

Today, the company is viewed in a variety, and often contradictory, ways. Some see it as a public body; others view it as a system of private ordering, while still others see it as a hybrid between these two views. Companies have also been characterized as the property of their shareholders, a network, a team, and even akin to a natural person. Yet the precise nature of the company and its role in society remain a modern mystery.

This conference brings together a wealth of scholars from around the world to explore the nature and function of companies. By drawing from different backgrounds and perspectives, the aim of this conference is to develop a normative approach to understanding the modern company.

SPEAKERS

Professor William Bratton, University of Pennsylvania

Professor Christopher Bruner, Washington & Lee University

Professor Karin Buhmann, Roskilde University

Dr Barnali Choudhury, Queen Mary University of London

Professor Janet Dine, Queen Mary University of London

Professor Luca Enriques, University of Oxford

Professor Brandon Garrett, University of Virginia

Professor Martin Gelter, Fordham Law School

Professor Paddy Ireland, University of Bristol

Dr Dionysia Katelouzou, King’s College London

Professor Andrew Keay, University of Leeds

Professor Ian Lee, University of Toronto

Dr Marc Moore, University of Cambridge

Dr Martin Petrin, University College London

Professor Beate Sjåfjell, University of Oslo

Professor Lynn Stout, Cornell University

To register, please visit: www.bit.ly/QM-Modern-Company

April 6, 2015 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Rose on the SEC's New Whistleblower Program

Amanda Rose (Vanderbilt) was one of the many distinguished speakers at the law and business conference I attended last week. She spoke about her forthcoming article in the Northwestern University Law Review, which focuses on the SEC’s new whistleblower program in relation to Fraud- on-the-Market class action lawsuits. I have added her article to my reading list and the abstract is reproduced below for interested readers.

The SEC’s new whistleblower bounty program has provoked significant controversy. That controversy has centered on the failure of the implementing rules to make internal reporting through corporate compliance departments a prerequisite to recovery. This Article approaches the new program with a broader lens, examining its impact on the longstanding debate over fraud-on-the-market (FOTM) class actions. The Article demonstrates how the bounty program, if successful, will replicate the fraud deterrence benefits of FOTM class actions while simultaneously increasing the costs of such suits — rendering them a pointless yet expensive redundancy. If instead the SEC proves incapable of effectively administering the bounty program, the Article shows how amending it to include a qui tam provision for Rule 10b-5 violations would offer several advantages over retaining FOTM class actions. Either way, the bounty program has important and previously unrecognized implications that policymakers should not ignore.  

April 3, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Why Do Social Enterprise Entrepreneurs Want Benefit Corporations?

In connection with the current legislative debate on benefit corporations in Tennessee (which has been gathering momentum since I last wrote on the topic), I have repeatedly asked about the impetus for the bill.  Of course, there is the obvious "push" for benefit corporation legislation by the B Lab folks, who have gotten the ear of folks at the Chamber, convincing them that the legislation is needed in Tennessee to protect social enterprise entities from the application of a narrow version of the shareholder wealth maximization norm (a conclusion that I dispute in my earlier post).  But what else?  What real parties in interest in Tennessee, if any, have expressed a desire that Tennessee adopt this form of business entity?

There is anecdotal information from one venture attorney that some Tennessee entrepreneurs have indicated a preference for the benefit corporation form and have specifically requested that their business be organized as a Delaware benefit corporation.  Leaving aside the Delaware versus Tennessee question, why are these entrepreneurs looking to organize their businesses as benefit corporations?  Where does this idea come from?

Continue reading

April 2, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Entrepreneurship, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (4)

Key Legal Documents for Startups and Entrepreneurs

Earlier this week I went to a really useful workshop conducted by the Venture Law Project and David Salmon entitled "Key Legal Docs Every Entrepreneur Needs." I decided to attend because I wanted to make sure that I’m on target with what I am teaching in Business Associations, and because I am on the pro bono list to assist small businesses. I am sure that the entrepreneurs learned quite a bit because I surely did, especially from the questions that the audience members asked. My best moment, though was when a speaker asked who knew the term "right of first refusal" and the only two people who raised their hands were yours truly and my former law student, who turned to me and gave me the thumbs up.

Their list of the “key” documents is below:

1)   Operating Agreement (for an LLC)- the checklist included identity, economics, capital structure, management, transfer restrictions, consent for approval of amendments, and miscellaneous.

2)   NDA- Salmon advised that asking for an NDA was often considered a “rookie mistake” and that venture capitalists will often refuse to sign them. I have heard this from a number of legal advisors over the past few years, and Ycombinator specifically says they won't sign one.

3)   Term Sheets- the seminar used an example for a Series AA Preferred Stock Financing, which addressed capitalization, proposed private placement, etc.

4)   Independent Contractor Agreement- the seminar creators also provided an IRS checklist.

5)   Consulting Agreement- this and some other documents came from  Orrick's start-up forms page and ycombinator. FYI, Cooley Goddard also has some forms and guidance.

6)   Employment Agreement- as a former employment lawyer, I would likely make a lot of tweaks to the document, and vey few people have employment contracts in any event. But it did have good information about equity grants.

7)   Convertible Promissory Note Purchase Agreement- here's where the audience members probably all said, "I need an attorney" and can't do this from some online form generator or service like Legal Zoom or Rocket Lawyer.

8)   Stock Purchase Agreement- the sample dealt with Series AA preferred stock.

9)   IRS 83(b) form- for those who worry that they may have to pay taxes on "phantom income" if the value of their stock rises.

10) A detailed checklist dealing with basic incorporation, personnel/employee matters, intellectual property, and tax/finance/administration with a list of whether the responsible party should be the founders, attorney, officers, insurance agent, accountant, or other outside personnel.

What’s missing in your view? The speakers warned repeatedly that business people should not cut and paste from these forms, but we know that many will. So my final question- how do we train future lawyers so that these form generators and workshops don't make attorneys obsolete to potential business clients?

 

April 2, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporations, Entrepreneurship, Law School, LLCs, M&A, Marcia Narine, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

More Beliefs: Director Primacy and Public and Private Companies

Yesterday, Prof. Bainbridge annotated my "creed" on corporate governance, and I appreciated his take. In fact, many of his chosen sources would have been mine.

In a later footnote, he noted that he was not sure what I meant by my statement: "I believe that public companies should be able to plan like private companies . . . ." I thought I'd try to explain. 

My intent there was to address my perception that there is a prevailing view that private companies and public companies must be run differently.  Although there are different disclosure laws and other regulations for such entities that can impact operations, I'm speaking here about the relationship between shareholders and directors when I'm referencing how public and private companies plan. 

Public companies generally have far more shareholders than private companies, so the goals and expectations of those shareholders will likely be more diverse than in a private entity. Therefore, a public entity may need to keep multiple constituencies happy in a way many private companies do not.  However, that is still about shareholder wishes, and not the public or private nature of the entity itself.  A private company with twenty shareholders could crate similar tensions for a board of directors.

As an example, consider Investopedia's description of Advantages of Privatization in an article called "Why Public Companies Go Private" (emphasis added):

Private-equity firms have varying exit time lines for their investments depending on what they have conveyed to their investors, but holding periods are typically between four and eight years. This horizon frees up management's prioritization on meeting quarterly earnings expectations and allows them to focus on activities that can create and build long-term shareholder wealth. Management typically lays out its business plan to the prospective shareholders and agrees on a go-forward plan. 

This is often a practical reality, but I disagree (or at least believe it should not be the case) that a company must be private to "free up management's prioritization on meeting quarterly earnings expectations and allows them to focus on activities that can create and build long-term shareholder wealth."  

This, I think, connects with Prof. Bainbridge's point in his footnote annotation 4, where he says, "I think too many hedge funds are pressing too many boards to pursue short-term gains at the expense of sustainable long-run shareholder wealth maximization and, accordingly, that boards need more insulation from shareholder pressure." I agree completely with his point there, and that's the kind of issue facing public companies that I was intending to address in my assertion.  

Ultimately, director primacy means ensuring a large measure of director autonomy (or insulation). This works in both directions, whether it relates to short- versus long-term planning or providing workplace benefits (or not). Ensuring a robust business judgment rule as an abstention doctrine preserves director primacy, and in the long run, will benefit corporate governance and shareholder choice.  

March 31, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporations, CSR, Delaware, Joshua P. Fershee, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Commissioner Dan Gallagher on Twitter

Plenty of valuable information was shared today at Vanderbilt's 17th annual law & business conference, including remarks from Elisse Walter (former-SEC Chairman), Jim Cox (Duke), Bob Thompson (Georgetown)Amanda Rose (Vanderbilt), and others.

The most immediately useful information, however, might be the fact that SEC Commissioner Dan Gallagher, our luncheon speaker, is on Twitter. In academic and other circles, Commissioner Gallagher garnered a great deal of attention due to his controversial article co-authored with Joseph Grundfest (Stanford) entitled "Did Harvard Violate Federal Securities Law? The Campaign Against Classified Boards of Directors."

Below is a recent Tweet from Commissioner Gallagher for those who would like to follow him.

March 27, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Developing Areas of Capital Market and Federal Securities Regulation at Vanderbilt Law School

Vanderbilt

After teaching my early morning classes, I will spend the rest of the day at Vanderbilt Law School for their Developing Areas of Capital Market and Federal Securities Regulation Conference.

This is Vanderbilt's 17th Annual Law and Business Conference and they have quite the impressive lineup, including Commissioner Daniel Gallagher, Jr. of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. 

I am grateful to the Vanderbilt faculty members who invited me to this event and others like it. Vanderbilt is only about 1 mile from Belmont and I have truly enjoyed getting to know some of the Vanderbilt faculty members and their guest speakers.

March 27, 2015 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Finance, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Corporations, the State, and the Rule of Law- Call for Papers

Below is a call for papers and description of a weeklong project on business and human rights. If you are interested, please contact one of the organizers below. I plan to participate and may also be able to answer some questions.

Lat Crit Study Space Project in Guatemala

Corporations, the State, and the Rule of Law

We are excited to invite you to participate in an exciting Study Space Project in Guatemala. Study Space, a LatCrit, Inc. initiative, is a series of intensive workshops, held at diverse locations around the world. This 2015 Study Space project involves a 7 working day field visit to Guatemala between Saturday June 27 (arrival date) and Saturday July 4, 2015 (departure date).  We are reaching out to you because we believe that your interests, scholarship, and service record align well with the proposed focus of our trip.

This call for papers proposes a trip to Guatemala to study more closely the phenomena of failed nations viewed from the perspective of the relationship of the state of Guatemala with corporations. With the recent surge of Central American unaccompanied minors and children fleeing with their mothers, the United States has had to confront the human face of children and women whose claim to asylum or other immigration relief is rooted in the dire reality that the countries from which they flee cannot or will not protect them. Largely, these fleeing migrants are escaping violence perpetuated by private actors, at times gang members or even their own parents or spouses. Their stories of flight cannot be disengaged from the broader context in which the violence occurs. Theirs is also the story of failed nations, characterized by ineptitude, weakness, and even worse, indifference or at times even complicity.

This story of failed nations applies beyond the reign of private “rogues” whom everyone agrees are bad actors (i.e., gangs, drug traffickers, violent criminals). The other side of the coin, invisible in this new wave of Central American refugees, is a more nuanced story about the failing role of some of these Central American nations in regulating the acts of corporations, whether owned by the oligarchy or operated by transnational actors. Corporations are entities with great potential to promote and further the public good, such as through job creation and economic development. Corporations, however, can also be the cause of social ills, particularly when left unregulated or at times even supported by the state to pursue private interests that conflict with the public good. In Guatemala, examples of deeply problematic unregulated arenas abound-- from the lack of antitrust legislation to the absence of meaningful environmental protections to protect even the most precious of natural resources, such as water. There is also the misuse of public institutions and laws to shield corporations from their public and fiscal responsibility or to aid them in capitalizing on public goods, including minerals or land. Ironically, here, the state apparatus functions quite effectively to exert its authority in the execution of laws. The failure, however, rests in the illegitimacy of law, not in its execution.

Guatemala is a nation that is experiencing tremendous social upheaval from the acts of corporations on issues that include mining, water uses, deforestation, genetically modified seeds, free-trade zones, and maquiladoras, to name a few. Caught between the state and corporations are the communities most deeply affected by both the absence and the presence of law in ways that appear to conflict with the public interest. The questions that arise include how law can and should restore the balance between the promotion of investment and economic development with the protection of the public interest and the preservation of the public good. These inquiries also involve issues related to the protection of rights, whether of individuals or communities in the collective, including the right to self-determination, the right to food and water, or the right to dignified work.

The purpose of this trip is not to single out Guatemala for scrutiny. The reality is that the bilateral and multilateral relations that Guatemala is forced to sustain with other more powerful nations aggravate many of its pressing problems. Questions about Guatemala’s regulation of corporations must also address the relationship between the powerful transnational forces of globalization and the domestic laws of Guatemala, including those related to trade liberalization and intellectual property. This inquiry must also acknowledge how the absence of accountability of transnational corporations operating in Guatemala in the corporation’s own nation-state – including the power these corporations have to influence law-making-- should lead us to a discussion of shared responsibility and a proposal for solutions that are transnational and international in character.

Should you decide to participate, you would be encouraged and welcomed to suggest specific topics (and field visits) you would like to be included as part of this project. While we are still working on a precise itinerary (which you can help us shape), our projected goals right now are to visit with government officials, non-profits, community groups and the private sector with a special focus on labor and environment. The trip would include time in Guatemala City but also time in key rural sectors. For example, we are planning to visit a transnational mining site and the free-trade zone where maquiladoras are concentrated in Guatemala. As part of the trip, we will include orientations and debriefings with the group so we can share knowledge, impressions, and insights as the trip progresses. 

The cost of your participation (excluding flight) is $1,900.  This fee will cover housing, food, in-country transportation, conference space, and other fees that we will pay such as to translators, community groups assisting with logistics, and a modest fee to Luis Mogollón (a Guatemalan lawyer with significant law school academic program development experience in Guatemala) who will spend countless hours making this trip safe and enjoyable for all of us.  The flight to Guatemala from the United States should range between $600 to $800. 

Our aim is to publish essays from this project as a book in Spanish and English. We hope to have between 15-20 contributions. While ideally participants will speak Spanish, we can accommodate non-Spanish speakers (or those who only speak “un poquito”) and will hire interpreters to work with you during the trip to Guatemala.  Keep in mind that you may need to conduct some research in Spanish (at least for primary sources) depending on the focus on your project. We also hope to present papers about this project at several conferences upon the completion of our project, including at LatCrit, Inc. and ideally in Guatemala.

The organizing Committee is comprised of Raquel Aldana, Associate Dean for Faculty Scholarship at Pacific McGeorge School of Law; Steven Bender, Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at Seattle University School of Law; José R. Juárez, Professor of Law and Director of the Spanish for Lawyers Program at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law; Beth Lyon, Director of the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic and Professor of Law at Villanova University School of Law; Mario Mancilla, Technical Assistant of the Secretariat of Environmental Matters, CAFTA-DR; Luis Mogollón, Adjunct Professor and Consultant of the Inter-American Program from Pacific McGeorge; Rachael Salcido, Professor of Law at Pacific McGeorge School of Law; and Enrique Sánchez-Usera, Chair of the Inter-Disciplinary Studies at the University of Rafael Landívar Law School.

Please do not hesitate to contact any of us with questions. We do hope you decide to join us in this great project.

 

 

March 26, 2015 in Business Associations, Call for Papers, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, International Business, Law Reviews, Marcia Narine, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Macaroni & Cheers!

Today marks my return to blogging after a brief (3 weeks) respite, and what better way to be welcomed back than with news of a mega-merger?!?  Today, Kraft Foods, a publicly traded company, and H. J.Heinz, owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and Brazilian private equity firm 3G, signed a multi-billion dollar merger agreement to create what will become the third largest food company in North America. 

Under the proposed merger Kraft shareholders will receive 49% of the stock in the newly merged company, plus a cash dividend of $16.50 per share, representing a reported 27% premium on Kraft's trading stock price as of Tuesday, March 24th which closed at around $61.33/share.  

The stock market reacted positively to the news with Kraft stock opening around $81/share and climbing up to $87 and settling down in the low $80's (it was trading at $82/share around 2:00 pm). You can track the stock price here.  The immediate bump in price casts some shadows on the Kraft stock premium agreed to in the deal.

Among the possible legal hurdles are antitrust concerns, but the deal doesn't raise red flags on its face given the little overlap between the two companies.
 
The bigger, and more interesting corporate governance question will be the Kraft shareholder approval process requiring a proxy statement.  Kraft Foods is a Virginia corporation (see Articles of Incorporation), and thus the merger and Kraft's shareholders' rights are governed by the Virginia Corporation Act.  Because Kraft is a public corporation, shareholders will not have appraisal rights under Va. Code Ann. § 13.1-730 (West) and those rights have not be altered in the Articles of Incorporation.  So the legal challenges, if any and given the size of the deal are likely, will have to assert that the transaction itself is flawed (either under duty of care or loyalty) or that the proxy process was defective in failing to disclose material information.  
-Anne Tucker
 
 

March 25, 2015 in Anne Tucker, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Financial Markets | Permalink | Comments (0)

Faculty Lounge Mini-Symposium on Board Diversity

Over at the Faculty Lounge, Kim Krawiec (Duke) is hosting an interesting mini-symposium on board diversity entitled “What’s The Return On Equality?”

The posts to date are linked to at the bottom of this recent post.

March 25, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Wolf Packs, Corporate Cocaine, and Activist Hedge Funds- Sharfman adds his view

Bernard Sharfman has posted a new article entitled “Activist Hedge Funds in a World of Board Independence: Long-Term Value Creators or Destroyers?" In the paper he makes the argument that hedge fund activism contributes to long-term value creation if it can be assumed that the typical board of a public company has an adequate amount of independence to act as an arbitrator between executive management and the activist hedge fund. He also discusses these funds’ focus on disinvestment and attempts to challenge those in the Marty Lipton camp, who view these funds less charitably. In fact, Lipton recently called 2014 “the year of the wolf pack.” The debate on the merits of activist hedge funds has been heating up. Last month Forbes magazine outlined “The Seven Deadly Sins of Activist Hedge Funds,” including their promotion of share buybacks, aka “corporate cocaine.” Forbes was responding to a more favorable view of these funds by The Economist in its February 7, 2015 cover story.

Whether you agree with Sharfman or Lipton, the article is clearly timely and worth a read. The abstract is below:

Numerous empirical studies have shown that hedge fund activism has led to enhanced returns to investors and increased firm performance. Nevertheless, leading figures in the corporate governance world have taken issue with these studies and have argued that hedge fund activism leads to long-term value destruction.

In this article, it is argued that an activist hedge fund creates long-term value by sending affirming signals to the board of directors (Board) that its executive management team may be making inefficient decisions and providing recommendations on how the company should proceed in light of these inefficiencies. These recommendations require the Board to review and question the direction executive management is taking the company and then choosing which path the company should take, the one recommended by executive management, the one recommended by the activist hedge fund or a combination of both. Critical to this argument is the existence of a Board that can act as an independent arbitrator in deciding whose recommendations should be followed.

In addition, an explanation is given for why activist hedge funds do not provide recommendations that involve long-term investment. There are two reasons for this. First, the cognitive limitations and skill sets of those individuals who participate as activist hedge funds. Second, and most importantly, the stock market signals provided by value investors voting with their feet are telling the rest of the stock market that a particular public company is poorly managed and that it either needs to be replaced or given less assets to manage. These are the kind of signals and information that activist hedge funds are responding to when buying significant amounts of company stock and then making their recommendations for change. Therefore, it is not surprising that the recommendations of activist hedge funds will focus on trying to reduce the amount of assets under current management.

 

 

 

 

 

March 20, 2015 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, M&A, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

This I Believe: On Corporate Purpose and the Business Judgment Rule

Prof. Bainbridge yesterday posted about The Modern Corporation Statement on Company Law.  The statement has ten fundamental rules, of which number ten is:

Contrary to widespread belief, corporate directors generally are not under a legal obligation to maximise profits for their shareholders. This is reflected in the acceptance in nearly all jurisdictions of some version of the business judgment rule, under which disinterested and informed directors have the discretion to act in what they believe to be in the best long term interests of the company as a separate entity, even if this does not entail seeking to maximise short-term shareholder value. Where directors pursue the latter goal, it is usually a product not of legal obligation, but of the pressures imposed on them by financial markets, activist shareholders, the threat of a hostile takeover and/or stock-based compensation schemes.

Prof. Bainbridge is with Delaware Chief Justice Strine in that profit maximization is the only role (or at least only filter) for board members.  As he asserts, “The relationship between the shareholder wealth maximization norm and the business judgment rule, . . . explains why the business judgment rule is consistent with the director's  "legal obligation to maximise profits for their shareholders." 

CJ Strine has noted that the eBay decision, which I have written about a lot, says that if “you remain incorporated in Delaware, your stockholders will be able to hold you accountable for putting their interests first.”  I think this is right, but I remain convinced that absent self-dealing or a “pet project,” directors get to decide that what is in the shareholders best interests.

I have been criticized in some sectors for being too pro-business for my views on corporate governance, veil piercing law, and energy policy.  In contrast, I have also been said to be a “leftist commentator,” in some contexts, and I have been cited by none other than Chief Justice Strine as supporting a “liberal” view of corporate norms for my views on the freedom of director choice. 

When it comes to the Business Judgment Rule, I think it might be just that I believe in a more hands-off view of director primacy more than many of both my “liberal” and “conservative” colleagues. Frankly, I don’t get too exercised by many of the corporate decisions that seem to agitate one side or the other.  I thought I’d try to reconcile my views on this in a short statement. I decided to use the model from This I Believe, based on the 1950s Edward R. Murrow radio show.  (Using the Crash Davis model I started with was a lot less family friendly.) Here’s what I came up with [Author's note, I have since fixed a typo that was noted by Prof. Bainbridge]:   

I believe in the theory of Director Primacy.  I believe in the Business Judgment Rule as an abstention doctrine, and I believe that Corporate Social Responsibility is choice, not a mandate. I believe in long-term planning over short-term profits, but I believe that directors get to choose either one to be the focus of their companies.  I believe that directors can choose to pursue profit through corporate philanthropy and good works in the community or through mergers and acquisitions with a plan to slash worker benefits and sell-off a business in pieces. I believe that a corporation can make religious-based decisions—such as closing on Sundays—and that a corporation can make worker-based decisions—such as providing top-quality health care and parental leave—but I believe both such bases for decisions must be rooted in the directors’ judgment such decisions will maximize the value of the business for shareholders for the decision to get the benefit of business judgment rule protection. I believe that directors, and not shareholders or judges, should make decisions about how a company should pursue profit and stability.  I believe that public companies should be able to plan like private companies, and I believe the decision to expand or change a business model is the decision of the directors and only the directors. I believe that respect for directors’ business judgment allows for coexistence of companies of multiple views—from CVS Caremark and craigslist to Wal-Mart and Hobby Lobby—without necessarily violating any shareholder wealth maximization norms. Finally, I believe that the exercise of business judgment should not be run through a liberal or conservative filter because liberal and conservative business leaders have both been responsible for massive long-term wealth creation.  This, I believe.      

March 19, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Delaware, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, M&A, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How to Get in Your Own Way: Tesla Shut Out of West Virginia

West Virginia (like Michigan and New Jersey, among others) has decided to follow other states in limiting options for Tesla sales.  As the Charleston Gazette reports: 

On the floor later Friday evening, the House put an amendment in a bill designed to shore up car dealers’ legal standings in dealings with auto manufacturers that effectively blocks innovative electric car manufacturer Tesla from doing business in the state.

The floor debate is best left forgotten: Several delegates played the crony capitalism card, talking about how their local car dealers are generous in sponsoring Little League teams and community events (not to mention campaign contributions), while other sneered about the company being owned by California billionaire Elon Musk (some called him “Monk,” but fortunately no one referred to him as “Elton”), and claiming the company relies on federal subsidies.

Never mind that it was stated that fewer than a dozen West Virginians own Teslas, or that a boom in demand for electric-powered cars might just be a good thing for a state that provides coal for electric power plants.

If you're about a free (or at least more free) markets, why stop a competitor from competing?  Sorry, but the federal subsidy argument for the auto industry went out the window when the government bailed out GM and Chrysler.  

Beyond that, for the life of me, I can't understand why coal friendly constituencies seem so often to be hostile to electric vehicles. (In fairness, Kentucky just added a Tesla charging station.)  If it uses electricity, you should be all for it. Why is running a car on electricity any different than leaving the lights on all night?  If you're for consumption, who cares who does it? 

There is some debate about whether electric cars are better for the environment than gasoline powered cars.  This remains an open question.  But there's little doubt that increased demand for electricity is generally good for the coal industry.  

More important, though, if consumers want to buy a Tesla, why not let them?  What's the value in blocking consumers from buying the vehicles they want?  Oh yeah, rent seeking and cronyism.  By the way, the West Virginia legislature knows we can buy cars in other states, right? 

March 17, 2015 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics | Permalink | Comments (1)