Thursday, February 4, 2016
For the past four weeks I have been experimenting with a new class called Transnational Business and Human Rights. My students include law students, graduate students, journalists, and accountants. Only half have taken a business class and the other half have never taken a human rights class. This is a challenge, albeit, a fun one. During our first week, we discussed CSR, starting off with Milton Friedman. We then used a business school case study from Copenhagen and the students acted as the public relations executive for a Danish company that learned that its medical product was being used in the death penalty cocktail in the United States. This required students to consider the company’s corporate responsibility profile and commitments and provide advice to the CEO based on a number of factors that many hadn’t considered- the role of investors, consumer reactions, the pressure from NGOs, and the potential effect on the stock price for the Danish company based on its decisions. During the first three weeks the students have focused on the corporate perspective learning the language of the supply chain and enterprise risk management world.
This week they are playing the role of the state and critiquing and developing the National Action Plans that require states to develop incentives and penalties for corporations to minimize human rights impacts. Examining the NAPs, dictated by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, requires students to think through the consultation process that countries, including the United States, undertake with a number of stakeholders such as unions, academics, NGOs and businesses. To many of those in the human rights LLM program and even some of the traditional law students, this is all a foreign language and they are struggling with these different stakeholder perspectives.
Over the rest of the semester they will read and role play on up to the minute issues such as: 1) the recent Tech Terror Summit and the potential adverse effects of the right to privacy; 2) access to justice and forum non conveniens, arguing an appeal from a Canadian court’s decision related to Guatemalan protestors shot by security forces hired by a company incorporated in Canada with US headquarters; 3) the difficulties that even best in class companies such as Nestle have complying with their own commitments and certain disclosure laws when their supply chain uses both child labor and slaves; 4) the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals debate in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the EU, where students will play the role of the State Department, major companies such as Apple and Intel, the NGO community, and socially-responsible investors debating some key corporate governance and human rights issues; 5) corporate codes of conduct and the ethical, governance, and compliance aspects of entering the Cuban market, given the concerns about human rights and confiscated property; 6) corporate culpability for the human rights impacts of mega sporting events such as the Super Bowl, World Cup, and the Olympics; 7) human trafficking (I’m proud to have a speaker from my former company Ryder, a sponsor of Truckers Against Traffickers); 8) development finance, SEC disclosures, bilateral investment treaties, investor rights and the grievance mechanisms for people harmed by financed projects (the World Bank, IMF, and Ex-Im bank will be case studies); 9) the race to the bottom for companies trying to reduce labor expenses in supply chains using the garment industry as an example; and 10) a debate in which each student will represent the actual countries currently arguing for or against a binding treaty on business and human rights.
Of course, on a daily basis, business and human rights stories pop up in the news if you know where to look and that makes teaching this so much fun. We are focusing a critical lens on the United States as well as the rest of the world, and it's great to hear perspectives from those who have lived in Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America. It's a whole new world for many of the LLM and international students, but as I tell them if they want to go after the corporations and effect change, they need to understand the pressure points. Using business school case studies has provided them with insights that most of my students have never considered. Most important, regardless of whether the students embark on a human rights career, they will now have more experience seeing and arguing controversial issues from another vantage point. That’s an invaluable skill set for any advocate.
February 4, 2016 in Business Associations, Comparative Law, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Investment Banking, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Laurence Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the U.S., wrote a letter to the CEO's of S&P 500 Companies urging reforms aimed at fostering long-term valuation creation and curbing a myopic focus on near-term profits. Fink has long been a public advocate of long-term valuation creation for the health of American companies and the wealth of society (for an example see this April 2015 letter on the "gambling nature" of the economy"). His message has been consistent: long term, long term, long term.
Citing to increased dividends and buyback programs as evidence of corrosive short-termism, Fink laid out a modest play for action. He asks every CEO to publish an annual strategic plan signed off on by the board. The CEO strategic plan should communicate the vision for the company and how such long-term growth can be achieved.
[P]erspective on the future, however, is what investors and all stakeholders truly need, including, for example, how the company is navigating the competitive landscape, how it is innovating, how it is adapting to technological disruption or geopolitical events, where it is investing and how it is developing its talent. As part of this effort, companies should work to develop financial metrics, suitable for each company and industry, that support a framework for long-term growth.
Fink wants companies to create these long-term vision statements as a routine part of governance and not just in the context of hedge-fund motivated proxy fights. The idea is that informing the investing public as to the long-term direction of the company and short-term obstacles frames the company message and dampens the "quarterly earnings hysteria". Also interesting to me as I approach a class on corporate social responsibility is Fink's encouragement of companies to pay more attention to social and environmental risks as increasingly difficult obstacles that must be addressed as part of a long term plan. Fink also called upon lawmakers to incentivize a long-term view by thinking beyond the next election cycle as would be needed to enact tax reform (specifically capital gains) and increased resources for infrastructure.
As readers of the blog know, I am in interested in the long-term/short-term debate and have written past posts about it. How controversial would such a CEO statement be? Venture capital/private equity funds investing in companies often require an annual CEO statement. If the language can be crafted to avoid liability for future statements, what are the downsides? Tipping off competitors and losing information advantages or first actor advantages? Letting lesser competitors free ride and adopt market leaders's plans a year or two later? Exposing the board of directors and officers to breached duty claims for failure to meet the objectives? (this last one seems very unlikely given the liability standards and exculpation provisions.)
The financial press and blogs are awash in stories on this. If you are interested in the related commentary, here are a few:
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
In December, 2015, Dow Chemicals Co. and DuPont announced a proposed merger between their two companies. Under the proposed deal, and with the approval of stockholders and regulators, the two agro/chemical giants will merger their companies in 2016 to create DowDuPont, with an estimated $130 billion value. Within 18-24 months of closing, DowDuPont will be split into three independent, publicly traded companies .
The proposed "merger of equals" is structured to share power equally between Dow and DuPont and its leadership in the new company. Dow and DuPont stockholders will each own roughly half of DowDuPont. There will be 16 members on the new DowDuPont board of directors: 8 from each company. The roles of Chairman and CEO will be split with Andrew Liveris (Dow) serving as Chairman and Edward Breen (DuPont) as CEO.
Questions of equality and perceived power imbalance arise when we examine the relationships between (1) corporate boards and activist investors; (2) various shareholders (hedge funds vs. institutional investors vs. retail investors, etc.), and (3) possibly, CEO's.
Let's tackle the first (and tangentially the second) imbalance by talking about hedge funds. Last year, Trian hedge fund targeted DuPont in a very expensive, public and close proxy contest. DuPont defeated Trian, even with ISS recommendations to vote with Trian. The DuPont defense was widely regarded as a model proxy contest defense strategy (see here, e.g.,) and even more enthusiastically as
"a victory not only for DuPont and its chief executive, Ellen Kullman, but for others in corporate America concerned that activist investors’ influence has grown too strong and that companies have capitulated to their demands too readily." WSJ May 13, 2015
By October, Ellen Kullman, the trimphant CEO of DuPont, however stepped down. By December DuPont announced the mega-merger with Dow. DuPont's role in the mega-merger with Dow is being cast as a reaction to and attempt to seek protection from activist investors, which are increasingly garnering ISS and institutional investor support. DuPont's success against Trian rested largely on their ability to convince its three largest shareholders—Vanguard Group, BlackRock Inc. and State Street Corp.—which all manage index funds to vote with it (and against ISS recommendations). The inference here is that DuPont didn't want to roll the dice again and risk losing control in a future contest with Trian or another activist.
Dow Chemicals hasn't been immune to the hedge fund threat. Third Point LLC, Dan Loeb's hedge fund, has a 2% position in Dow and nearly pursued a proxy fight in 2015. Third Point has been making noise about the continued roll of Andrew Liveris in DowDuPont demonstrating that the hall monitor is still on duty.
The gaining strength of hedge fund campaigns in 2015 and the increasingly alignment of hedge funds and indexed funds has many boards running scared. The DealBook Deal Professor, Steven Davidoff Solomon, writes of the mega-merger:
The proposed combination of Dow Chemical and DuPont shows that in today’s markets, financial engineering prevails and that only activist shareholders matter....
This plan is one easily understood by a hedge fund activist or investment banker in a cubicle in Manhattan with an Excel spreadsheet. To them, it makes perfect sense to merge a company and then almost immediately split it in three.
Merger and acquisition volume was at a record high (too soon to say peak) in 2015 as companies sought, in part, to achieve paper returns and cost efficiencies in a slow-growth economy. When large (and voting) shareholders are index and mutual funds with pressures to earn returns for their investors, it can produce corresponding pressure on operating companies for tactics, if not actions to produce those returns. In the DuPont proxy fight, the large block of retail investors in the old-guard public company was a big barrier to Trian, but in companies with less percentage held by retail investors (e.g., newer companies), the hedge fund agenda can drive the company.
Finally, it is interesting to note the rise and fall of DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman in this story. She successfully warded off a proxy contest and seemed to have fended off hedge fund advances, but ultimately her fate and DuPont's were largely driven by Trian's agenda. Reading about this merger reminded me of the spate of stories last year about how hedge funds disproportionately target companies with female CEO's. This is an issue that as a female law professor, I am particularly sensitive to, but that bias not withstanding, the story received quite a bit of play in the financial press last year: DealBook, Bloomberg, and here, and here.
Friday, January 22, 2016
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Second Circuit Affirms High Misconduct Standard for Caremark Claims in Cent. Laborers’ Pension Fund v. Dimon
In early January, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Cent. Laborers’ Pension Fund v. Dimon to affirm the dismissal of purported shareholder derivative claims alleging that directors of JP Morgan Chase--the primary bankers of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC (“BMIS”) for over 20 years--failed to institute internal controls sufficient to detect Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. The suit was dismissed for failures of demand excuse. Plaintiffs contended that the District Court erred in requiring them to plead that defendants “utterly failed to implement any reporting or information system or controls,” and that instead, they should have been required to plead only defendants’ “utter failure to attempt to assure a reasonable information and reporting system exist[ed].” (emphasis added). The Second Circuit declined, citing to In re General Motors Co. Derivative Litig., No. CV 9627-VCG, 2015 WL 3958724, at *14–15 (Del. Ch. June 26, 2015), a Chancery Court opinion from earlier this year that dismissed a Caremark/oversight liability claim. In In re General Motors the Delaware Chancery Court, found that plaintiffs' allegations that:
[T]he Board did not receive specific types of information do not establish that the Board utterly failed to attempt to assure a reasonable information and reporting system exists, particularly in the case at hand where the Complaint not only fails to plead with particularity that [the defendant] lacked procedures to comply with its . . . reporting requirements, but actually concedes the existence of information and reporting systems. . . .
In other words, the Plaintiffs complain that [the defendant] could have, should have, had a better reporting system, but not that it had no such system.
The Second Circuit's opinion in Central Laborers' affirms that Caremark claims require allegations misconduct sufficient to satisfy a failure of good faith, and cannot rest solely on after-the-fact allegations of failed reasonableness of the corporate reporting system.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Rob Weber posted on the Columbia Law School Blue Sky Blog an article titled The Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review and the New Contingency of Bank Dividends, highlighting his recent paper on the topic.
In both the post, and in greater detail in the paper, Rob highlights three aspects of the CCAR program:
[(1)] the significant practical implications of the CCAR for large U.S.-domiciled banks....[(2)] its reliance on discretionary judgments by regulators concerning a hypothetical, uncertain future... [and (3) the CCAR as a] “risk regulation” regime – a designation developed in the environmental, health, and safety (“EHS”) regulatory context that has been underappreciated, underutilized, and undertheorized in the financial regulatory context.
Focusing on this third aspect, Rob states that:
The risk regulation model ... confronts head-on the necessity of basing regulatory intervention into otherwise private activity on a discretionary assessment of an uncertain, hypothetical, and conjectural harm. It is no objection that the harm has not yet occurred. The uncertainty of the harm is a feature, not a bug, of the system.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
On Sunday, the world lost a musical giant in David Bowie, who died of cancer at 69. He was the first artist who that made me a true music fan. Like buy all the records, read the biographies, hang-posters-on-the-wall type fan. I grew up with a love for Motown music, especially Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, and the Four Tops, that I still have, but my appreciation for that music came from listening to my parent's records.
When it came time to choose my own artists, other kids were into Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, but Bowie emerged as my guy. He was later followed by bands like R.E.M., the English Beat, and The Cure, among others, as I moved into more of the college radio scene, and I really liked Joan Jett, but Bowie was always The Guy. My fandom started with an album I poached from my aunt, Heroes. I also got ahold of David Live (1974), and then worked my way back before going forward. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold the World, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, and Hunky Dory were the next to follow. I even own a copy of the Christmas record featuring David Bowie and Bing Crosby.
Let's Dance came out in 1983. It was a hit, and yet criticized for being too mainstream. I was twelve, and thought it was great. I still do, though in a very different way than much of his other work. The connected tour for the album, the Serious Moonlight Tour, featured Bowie in a bow tie. I thought it was the coolest thing. I bought one and learned to tie it myself. I still have the tie, and I wore it to teach my first Business Organizations class of the semester on Tuesday (and my Energy Business Law and Strategy course). Contrary to what some want to believe now that E. Gordon Gee is the president of my institution, bowties originated with Bowie for me, not President Gee. (And yes, it is likely that only a law professor could connect someone as cool as Bowie with bowties, and probably only this law professor.)
I write this as much for me, as anything, I suppose, but a few things about David Bowie strike me as relevant to this blog. First, he was always ahead of his time, looking for what was next. He didn't back down, he said what he thought in a strong, but usually respectful way. He was, unfortunately, well ahead of his time in criticizing MTV for its lack of programing diversity. Not so much for calling them out -- others did that, too -- but in the way he did it, as you can see here.
His eye for talent was remarkable, too. David Sanborn played sax on David Live. Luther Vandross sang backup on Young Americans. Stevie Ray Vaughn played on Let's Dance, and Reeves Gabrels (now with The Cure) with Tin Machine. Adrian Belew played on Lodger. Bowie, in turn, sang back up and played sax on Lou Reed's Transformer. And his work with Iggy Pop, Queen, Tina Turner, Trent Reznor, and others crossed genres and time.
Finally, he tried creative financial vehicles. As one report explains,
In 1997, Bowie, born David Robert Jones, securitized revenue from 25 albums (287 songs) released before 1990. At the same time, he swapped distribution rights on his back catalogue for a $30 million advance on future royalties in a deal with EMI. The 10-year “Bowie Bond” he created with banker David Pullman promised a 7.9% return and raised $55 million, along with a media frenzy. A flurry of other artists followed, but the Bowie Bonds skidded toward junk status by 2004, downgraded by Moody’s from A3 to Baa3.
The trend never really took off, though. Despite never missing a payment, the bonds did not do well, though that did not appear to hurt Bowie. People got worried about online music sharing soon after the deal was struck. Still, the idea of monetizing intangible assets, was rather forward looking, even if some believe that loans, and not bonds, are the better suited to assets like music. For Bowie, in music and otherwise, new things were worth trying, even if they didn't always go as planned. I still wished I'd gotten in on that deal, regardless. I always felt like I missed out.
I know Bowie is something of an acquired taste for some (and an unacquirable one for others), but the outpouring of support following his death shows a tremendous amount of respect and admiration. He may even get his first U.S. number one album with his Blackstar album, which was recently released. Some believe the track Lazarus and the related video were his goodbye to the world. It's hard to argue it's not.
He will be missed, but I'm glad his legacy provides such a tremendous body work. I think the Sirius/XM Bowie channel should be permanent, and not just a limited-run engagement.
As I write this, I got a notice that Alan Rickman, also 69, has died of cancer. Cancer sucks. As David Bowie noted in this short, but poignant, interview from 2002, "Life is a finite thing." It sure is.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
The AALS Annual meeting starts today in New York. The full program is available here, and listed below are two Section meeting announcements of particular interest to business law scholars:
Thursday, January 7th from 1:30 pm – 3:15 pm the SECTION ON AGENCY, PARTNERSHIP, LLC’S AND UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATIONS, COSPONSORED BY TRANSACTIONAL LAW AND SKILLS will meet in the Murray Hill East, Second Floor, New York Hilton Midtown for a program titled:
"Contract is King, But Can It Govern Its Realm?"
The program will be moderated by Benjamin Means, University of South Carolina School of Law. Discussants include:
- Joan M. Heminway, University of Tennessee College of Law
- Lyman P.Q. Johnson, Washington and Lee University School of Law
- Mark J. Loewenstein, University of Colorado School of Law
- Mohsen Manesh, University of Oregon School of Law
- Sandra K. Miller, Professor, Widener University School of Business Administration, Chester, PA
BLPB hosted an online micro-symposium in advance of the Contract is King meeting. The wrap up from this robust discussion is available here.
Friday January 8th, from 1:30 pm – 3:15 pm join the SECTION ON BUSINESS ASSOCIATIONS AND LAW
AND ECONOMICS JOINT PROGRAM at the Sutton South, Second Floor, New York Hilton Midtown for a program titled:
"The Corporate Law and Economics Revolution Years Later: The Impact of Economics and Finance Scholarship on Modern Corporate Law".
The program will be moderated by Usha R. Rodrigues, University of Georgia School of Law, and feature the following speakers:
- Frank Easterbrook, Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Chicago, IL
- H. Kent Greenfield, Boston College Law School
- Roberta Romano, Yale Law School
- Tamara C. Belinfanti, New York Law School
- Kathryn Judge, Columbia University School of Law
- K. Sabeel Rahman, Brooklyn Law School
At the conclusion of the program, the officers of the Section on Business Associations would like to honor 13 faculty members
for their mentorship work throughout the year.
I hope to see many of you in New York soon!
January 6, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Financial Markets, Joan Heminway, Law and Economics, Law School, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
On Saturday, January 9, 2016, I will be spending the day at the AALS Section on Socio-Economics Annual Meeting at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel. Among other things, I will be part of a panel discussion from 9:50 - 10:50 AM, Death of the Firm: Vulnerabilities and the Changing Structure of Employment. My co-panelists will be June Carbone and Katherine Stone (I am very tempted to give up my 15 minutes and just sit back and listen to these two great scholars, but please don't use the comments section to encourage me to do that). As I understand it, the gist of the discussion will be that while firms once supported a significant part of the safety net that provided employee health and retirement benefits, they have recently abdicated more and more of these responsibilities. At the same time, however, what may be described as subsidies granted by the state to firms -- particularly corporations -- as part of a social contract whereby these firms provided the aforementioned benefits, have not been correspondingly reduced. In fact, the rights of corporations have been expanded by, for example, cases like Citizens United and Hobby Lobby -- suggesting a possible windfall for the minority of individuals best positioned to reap the benefits of corporate growth and insulation. Obviously, competing interpretations of the relevant history abound. Regardless, please stop by if you have the opportunity. Continuing to beat a favorite drum of mine (see here, here, and here), I will be applying the lens of corporate personality theory to the foregoing issue and arguing that corporate personality theory has a role to play both in understanding how we got here and how best to move forward. Additional details, including the entire day’s program, can be found here.
On Monday, January 11, 2016, I will also be participating in the Society of Socio-Economists Annual Meeting, also at the Sheraton. Program details are available here. Again, please stop by if you have the opportunity.
January 5, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Constitutional Law, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Financial Markets, Law and Economics, Shareholders, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
I am about 10, if not 15 years late to this party. This is not a new question: have investment time horizons shrunk, and if so, in a way that extracts company value at the expense of long-term growth and sustainability?
Since this isn’t a new question, there is a considerable amount of literature available in law and finance (and a definition available on investopedia). This may seem like great news, if like me, you are interested in acquiring a solid understanding of short termism. By solid understanding, I mean internalization of knowledge, not mere familiarity where I can be prompted to recall something when someone else talks/writes about it. I have some basic questions that I want answers to: What is short-termism?, What empirical evidence best proves or disproves short-termism? Which investors, if any, are short-term? What are the consequences (good and bad) of a short-term investment horizon? If there is short-termism, what are the solutions? I’ll briefly discuss each below, and my utter failure to answer these questions with any real certainty thus far.
What is the definition of short-termism and does it change depending upon context or user? There appears to be consensus on the conceptual definition of foregoing long-term investments in favor of corporate policies maximizing present payouts like dividends and stock buy-backs among hedge funds. As for what determines “short-term” with institutional investors- responsiveness to quarterly earnings? Over-reliance on algorithmic trading models? The definition gets less clear when we start looking at different types of investors.
How can one test the presence of short-termism? Stock holding patterns and redemption rates and turnover would be the obvious answers. This information is hard to aggregate, much of it is proprietary. Second, the issue of outliers, like high value high-frequency trades, may distort the view if most shareholders or at least the most influential shareholders like institutions, aren’t operating with a short-term time horizon. But that can mean different things for different investors. Once again which investors we are looking at drives this question in part.
This brings us to the next question, WHO might be short term? Hedge Funds? Institutional Investors like pensions and mutual funds? High Frequency Traders? Retail investors? Retirement Investors (I call these folks Citizen Shareholders)?
Looking to the next question: what are the consequences of a short-term investment horizon? Shareholders like hedge funds whose investment model differs from institutional investors, often employ shareholder activism to change management and corporate policies as a means to increase the share value of the company, after which the fund usually divests significantly, if not completely. The evidence here too is mixed (see e.g., conflicting findings by Bebchuk & Coffee).
For many the anecdotal evidence of short-termism pressures coming from board rooms is powerfully persuasive and hard to ignore even where researchers can’t pin down the source. I don’t use anecdotal in a derogatory sense at all, there is truth in experience and limitations in our ability to quantify naturally occurring phenomenons. Perhaps the question of short-termism is like trying to identify what smells bad in a pantry. You know it is there; finding the cause is much more difficult. Consider the position of Martin Lipton who wrote in response to the Bebchuk article:
"To the contrary, the attacks and the efforts by companies to adopt short-term strategies to avoid becoming a target have had very serious adverse effects on the companies, their long-term shareholders, and the American economy. To avoid becoming a target, companies seek to maximize current earnings at the expense of sound balance sheets, capital investment, research and development and job growth."
Also consider a survey of corporate board members reported that over 60% felt short term pressure from investors. It is a real problem to directors and one that corporate governance cannot ignore. A fair question to ask is whether or not the fear is misstated or if the concern is another way of arguing for greater control. And this brings us to the last question.
If there is short-termism, what are the solutions? Aligning corporate managers/directors incentive payments has been critiqued. Giving corporate boards more power and isolating them from shareholders tips the scales of the corporate power puzzle heavily towards managers which brings threats of agency costs and managerial abuses. But on the other hand, if a short-term investment perspective extracts company value in a way that causes externalities that undercuts the contractarian argument for shareholder primacy. If shareholders’, or at least some shareholders’, primary investment stake isn’t to be residual claimants in the traditional sense then their incentives aren’t aligned with the interests of other stakeholders. Those shareholders aren’t acting in everyone’s best interest. The debate often devolves into one of consequences, or perhaps it is the starting point for many who write in the area. If short-termism doesn’t exist or isn’t bad then there is no push back on shareholder primacy. If short-termism does exit and it does cause externalities then it is a powerful argument in favor of director primacy.
I am weeks into this inquiry and all I have done is further confuse myself about what I thought I knew, expanded my questions list and flooded my dropbox with articles (tedious, dense, often empirical articles).
A few things have come out of this quagmire. First, I have great discussion points for my corporate governance seminar and certainly a supplemental segment for my casebook. Second, I am increasingly thinking the tremendously important insights provided by many law and finance scholars isn’t the complete picture. I can’t get to the bottom of this question, because there might not be one (or one that I understand) yet. So where are the gaps? What do we still need to know to further explore this topic? These big, heavy, interdisciplinary questions are hard to tackle alone at our desks and benefit from engagement, dialogue, and rapid fire thinking that takes places at conferences/symposiums.
In terms of blogging, let’s focus back on you readers. I’ll check back in periodically on this topic by sharing my reading list on the topic and also highlighting some of the articles on my list. If you have a seminal article that you found help explain short-termism to you (or your students) please share. If you are working on any papers in this area, please email me separately (firstname.lastname@example.org) as I am working on putting together a symposium for summer 2017.
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.
Monday, October 19, 2015
My co-blogger Haskell Murray had an interesting post on Friday about the use of crowdfunding as a strategy to attract venture capital. He points out that many companies that had successful crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter or Indiegogo subsequently raised venture capital. He argues that a successful crowdfunding campaign might be a signal to venture capitalists.
If you haven’t read Haskell’s post yet, it’s well worth reading. I want to take the discussion in a slightly different direction.
I don’t think venture capitalists should be waiting to see if a company has a successful crowdfunding campaign. I think they should use crowdfunding listings as leads and try to preemptively capture those companies before they complete their crowdfunding campaigns—convince the good companies to forego crowdfunding and go the venture capital route instead.
If I were a wealthy venture capitalist, I would have someone skimming through all of the crowdfunding sites, including the equity crowdfunding sites, looking for potential investments. The venture capital business is extremely competitive. Getting to the good companies before they have a successful raise is one way to one-up the competition. Once a company has shown crowdfunding success, others will want a piece.
Many of the companies doing crowdfunding will not interest venture capitalists. But it only takes a few hidden gems to make the weeding process worthwhile. And most of the weeding out could be done quite easily by inexpensive, low-level staff. Even I could spot most of the obvious losers.
I have suggested this strategy at a couple of conferences where venture capitalists were present. It will be interesting to see if any of them try it. (For some reason, professional venture capitalists don't seem all that interested in my investment advice.)
As for me, I’ll file this in my “What I would do if I had a ton of money” folder. (It’s a very full folder.)
Monday, September 14, 2015
A student of mine studying peer-to-peer lending ran across an interesting provision in the securities filings of Prosper Marketplace, one of the two main peer-to-peer lending sites. (The other is Lending Club.)
Here is one of the risk factors in Prosper’s filings:
In the unlikely event that PFL receives payments on the Borrower Loan corresponding to an investor’s Note after the final maturity date, such investor will not receive payments on that Note after maturity.
Each Note will mature on the initial maturity date, unless any principal or interest payments in respect of the corresponding Borrower Loan remain due and payable to PFL upon the initial maturity date, in which case the maturity of the Note will be automatically extended to the final maturity date. If there are any amounts under the corresponding Borrower Loan still due and owing to PFL on the final maturity date, PFL will have no further obligation to make payments on the related Notes, even if it receives payments on the corresponding Borrower Loan after such date.
To understand how this works, you need to understand a little about how the Prosper site works. When a loan is funded by the peer-to-peer lenders on Prosper's site, the borrower signs a note payable to Prosper. Prosper, in turn, issues notes to the peer-to-peer lenders, but Prosper promises to make payments only to the extent that the underlying borrowers pay their notes to Prosper. In other words, Prosper is essentially just passing through any payments made by the peer-to-peer borrowers, with no additional recourse against Prosper. But, because of the limitation quoted above, Prosper won’t even pass through all loan payments. It’s free to keep any payments made after the final maturity date.
Prosper is, of course, free to structure its contracts in any way it wants, and I can understand why a provision like this would be useful. Prosper does not want to maintain records on these loans and lenders in perpetuity, and the final maturity date is a convenient cut-off point.
However, this limitation produces a potential windfall to Prosper. Payment after the final maturity date may be unlikely, but surely some borrowers will make payments after that point. If a conscientious borrower decides to pay later, Prosper pockets all of the money.
I would think the peer-to-peer lending sites, eager to attract the “crowd” to their sites, would bend over backwards to demonstrate their fairness to potential lenders, even if it does increase their administrative costs. Apparently not.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
Are Crooked Executives Finally Going to Jail? DOJ’s New White Collar Criminal Guidelines and the Questions for Compliance Officers and In House Counsel
I think my life as a compliance officer would have been much easier had the DOJ issued its latest memo when I was still in house. As the New York Times reported yesterday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has heard the criticism and knows that her agency may face increased scrutiny from the courts. Thus the DOJ has announced via the “Yates Memorandum” that it’s time for some executives to go to jail. Companies will no longer get favorable deferred or nonprosecution agreements unless they cooperate at the beginning of the investigation and provide information about culpable individuals.
This morning I provided a 7-minute interview to a reporter from my favorite morning show NPR’s Marketplace. My 11 seconds is here. Although it didn’t make it on air, I also discussed (and/or thought about) the fact that compliance officers spend a great deal of time training employees, developing policies, updating board members on their Caremark duties, scanning the front page of the Wall Street Journal to see what company had agreed to sign a deferred prosecution agreement, and generally hoping that they could find something horrific enough to deter their employees from going rogue so that they wouldn’t be on the front page of the Journal. Now that the Yates memo is out, compliance officers have a lot more ammunition.
On the other hand, the Yates memo raises a lot of questions. What does this mean in practice for compliance officers and in house counsel? How will this development change in-house investigations? Will corporate employees ask for their own counsel during investigations or plead the 5th since they now run a real risk of being criminally and civilly prosecuted by DOJ? Will companies have to pay for separate counsel for certain employees and must that payment be disclosed to DOJ? What impact will this memo have on attorney-client privilege? How will the relationship between compliance officers and their in-house clients change? Compliance officers are already entitled to whistleblower awards from the SEC provided they meet certain criteria. Will the Yates memo further complicate that relationship between the compliance officer and the company if the compliance personnel believe that the company is trying to shield a high profile executive during an investigation?
I for one think this is a good development, and I’m in good company. Some of the judges who have been most critical of deferred prosecution agreements have lauded today’s decision. But, actions speak louder than words, so a year from now, let’s see how many executives have gone on trial.
September 10, 2015 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Lawyering, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (1)
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)
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
CALL FOR PAPERS: A Workshop on Vulnerability at the Intersection of the Changing Firm and the Changing Family (October 16-17, 2015 in Atlanta, GA)
UPDATE: The deadline for submissions has been extended to July 21.
[The following is a copy of the official workshop announcement. I have moved the "Guiding Questions" to the top to highlight the business law aspects. Registration and submission details can be found after the break.]
A Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative Workshop at Emory Law
This workshop will use vulnerability theory to explore the implications of the changing structure of employment and business organizations in the new information age. In considering these changes, we ask:
• 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 resilience?
• 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 might a conception of the vulnerable subject help our analysis of the changing nature of the firm? What relationships does it bring into relief?
• How have discussions about market vulnerability shifted over time?
• What forms of resilience are available for institutions to respond to new economic realities?
• How are business organizations vulnerable? How does this differ from the family?
• How does the changing structure of employment and business organization affect possibilities for transformation and reform of the family?
• What role should the responsive state take in directing shifting flows of capital and care?
• How does the changing relationship between employment and the family, and particularly the disappearance of the "sole breadwinner," affect our understanding of the family and its role in caretaking and dependency?
• 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?
• Will Airbnb and Uber be the new model for the employment relationships of the future?
July 14, 2015 in Business Associations, Call for Papers, Constitutional Law, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Law and Economics, Social Enterprise, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, July 6, 2015
I have been reading Paul Mahoney’s brilliant new book, Wasting a Crisis: Why Securities Regulation Fails (University of Chicago Press 2015). You should too.
Mahoney attacks the traditional market failure rationale for our federal securities laws. He argues that contrary to the traditional narrative, market manipulation was not rampant prior to 1933 and the securities markets were operating reasonably well. Mahoney concludes that “‘lax’ regulation was not a substantial cause of the financial problems accompanying the Great Depression and . . . most (although not all) of the subsequent regulatory changes were largely ineffective and in some cases counterproductive.”
Mahoney looks at state blue sky laws, the Securities Act, the Exchange Act, the Public Utility Holding Company Act, and, regrettably only briefly, the Investment Company Act. He concludes by discussing the Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank Acts. He discusses the rationales for each regulation and whether those rationales are supported by the facts. Mahoney backs up his argument with a great deal of empirical research, some of which has appeared in earlier articles. Warning: Some of that discussion may be a little difficult for those without a background in regression analysis or financial economics, but you can follow Mahoney’s conclusions without understanding all of the analytical detail.
Mahoney’s work is a nice counterpoint to the narrative that prevails in most securities treatises and casebooks. Every law library should have a copy. Everyone interested in securities regulation policy, and certainly everyone who teaches a securities law course, should read this book. Whether or not you ultimately agree with Mahoney (as it happens, I generally do), his arguments must be dealt with.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
It's barely July and I have received a surprising number of emails from my incoming business association students about how they can learn more about business before class starts. To provide some context, I have about 70 students registered and most will go on to work for small firms and/or government. BA is required at my school. Very few of my graduates will work for BigLaw, although I have some interning at the SEC. I always do a survey monkey before the semester starts, which gives me an idea of how many students are "terrified" of the idea of business or numbers and how many have any actual experience in the field so my tips are geared to my specific student base. I also focus my class on the kinds of issues that I believe they may face after graduation dealing with small businesses and entrepreneurs and not solely on the bar tested subjects. After I admonished the students to ignore my email and to relax at the beach during the summer, I sent the following tips:
If you know absolutely NOTHING about business or you want to learn a little more, try some of the following tips to get more comfortable with the language of business:
1) Watch CNBC, Bloomberg Business, or Fox Business. Some shows are better than others. Once we get into publicly traded companies, we will start watching clips from CNBC at the beginning of every class in the "BA in the News" section. You will start to see how the vocabulary we are learning is used in real life.
2) Read/skim the Wall Street Journal, NY Times Business Section or Daily Business Review. You can also read the business section of the Miami Herald but the others are better. If you plan to stay local, the DBR is key, especially the law and real estate sections.
3) Subscribe to the Investopedia word of the day- it's free. You can also download the free app.
4) Watch Shark Tank or The Profit (both are a little unrealistic but helpful for when we talk about profit & loss, cash flow statement etc). The show American Greed won't teach you a lot about what we will deal with in BA but if you're going to work for the SEC, DOJ or be a defense lawyer dealing with securities fraud you will see these kinds of cases.
5) Listen to the first or second season of The Start Up podcast available on ITunes.
6) Watch Silicon Valley on HBO- it provides a view of the world of re venture capitalists and funding rounds for start ups.
7) Read anything by Michael Lewis related to business.
8) Watch anything on 60 Minutes or PBS' Frontline related to the financial crisis. We will not have a lot of time to cover the crisis but you need to know what led up to Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank.
9 Watch the Oscar-winning documentary "Inside Job," which is available on Netflix.
10) Listen to Planet Money on NPR on the weekends.
11) Listen to Marketplace on NPR (it's on weekday evenings around 6 pm).
12) Read Inc, Entrepreneur, or Fast Company magazines.
13) Follow certain companies that you care about (or hate) or government agencies on Twitter. Key agencies include the IRS, SEC, DOJ, FCC, FTC etc. If you have certain passions such as social enterprise try #socent; for corporate social responsibility try #csr, for human rights and business try #bizhumanrights. For entrepreneurs try #startups.
14) Join LinkedIn and find groups related to companies or business areas that interest you and monitor the discussions so you can keep current. Do the same with blogs.
As I have blogged before, I also send them selected YouTube videos and suggest CALI lessons throughout the year. Any other tips that I should suggest? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments section or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, June 8, 2015
I was reading an article on securities crowdfunding in China and came across this description of Chinese practice:
Generally, in China, equity-based crowdfunding capital-seekers rely on the strength of experienced, leading investors to advise “follow-up” investors in locating investment projects. Leading investors are usually professionals with rich experience in private offerings and label themselves as holding innovative techniques in investment strategies and possessing sound insights. On the contrary, follow-up investors usually do not have even basic financial skills, but they do ordinarily control certain financial resources for investment. When a leading investor selects a target investment project through an equity-based crowdfunding platform, the leading investor usually invests personal funds into the project. Crowdfunding capital- seekers then take advantage of the leading investor’s funds to market the project to follow-up investors.
(This is from a recent article by Tianlong Hu and Dong Yang, The People’s Funding of China: Legal Developments of Equity Crowdfunding-Progress, Proposals, and Prospects, 83 U. CIN. L. REV. 445 (2014).)
This is not unique to China. Private offerings to accredited investors in the United States often follow a similar path. Smaller investors are more likely to commit once a well-known, sophisticated investor has made a commitment. But the article made me wonder if we could use that structure to create a new securities offering exemption—one that responds to some of the policy concerns people have about the existing exemptions.
Most unregistered primary offerings of securities in the United States are pursuant to Rule 506 of Regulation D, the regulatory safe harbor for the private offering exemption in the Securities Act. Offerings pursuant to Rule 506, either by law [Rule 506(c)] or for practical reasons [Rule 506(b)], are limited to “accredited investors,” a defined term.
Many people have argued that the definition of accredited investor in Regulation D is too broad. Some of the investors covered by the definition are sophisticated institutional investors who clearly can fend for themselves. But the definition also includes many unsophisticated individuals who meet relatively low net worth and income requirements. Many of these investors, it is argued, cannot adequately evaluate the merits and risks of Rule 506 private offerings.
On the other hand, some people have complained that limiting these offerings to accredited investors privileges wealthy people at the expense of “ordinary” investors. Rich people have the opportunity to participate in these sometimes-lucrative offerings, but the rest of us cannot. That was one of the arguments for the not-yet-implemented section 4(a)(6) crowdfunding exemption added by the JOBS Act.
One way to resolve the tension between these two arguments, and deal with both concerns, would be to allow unsophisticated investors to invest in an offering only after a sophisticated investor has made a commitment. Ordinary investors might not be able to protect themselves, but they could free ride on the sophisticated investor’s evaluation of the offering.
We could create a new category of super-accredited investors, consisting only of institutions or individuals who clearly have the sophistication to protect themselves. Once one of those investors purchases a significant stake in an offering, other investors could purchase on the same terms.
For example, if Startup Corporation wanted to raise $50 million in an unregistered offering, it could first sell $10 million of the securities to a large venture capital firm. After that, it would be free to sell the remaining $40 million on the same terms to any investor, accredited or non-accredited, wealthy or not.
The lead investor’s evaluation of the offering wouldn’t completely protect the other investors. In particular, the lead investor’s tolerance for risk might be much higher than most ordinary investors’. But lead investor's evaluation would help protect against fraud and overreaching by the issuer.
The exemption would have to include some additional requirements to make sure that the other investors can reasonably rely on the lead investor’s decision to invest:
1. No conflicts of interest. The lead investor could not have a relationship to the issuer. Otherwise, the lead investor’s decision to invest might be due to that relationship, not because it believes the investment is a good one.
2. Minimum Investment. There should be a minimum investment requirement for the lead investor, to give the lead investor sufficient incentive to review the deal. To take an extreme example, a lead investor’s decision to invest $1 in a $50 million offering tells us little about the quality of the deal.
3. Same Terms. The lead investor must be investing on the same terms as the subsequent investors. The lead investor’s decision that an investment is worthwhile offers no protection at all to subsequent investors if those subsequent investors are getting a materially different deal.
4. Exit. If the lead investor’s decision to invest provides a signal to the other investors, so does the lead investor’s decision to exit the investment. At a minimum, the lead investor should have to disclose to the other investors when it sells. And, if the issuer is repurchasing the lead investor’s securities, we might want to impose a requirement that the issuer also offer to repurchase the securities of the other investors who purchased in the exempted offering.
This is just a sketch of what such an exemption would look like, about as far as one can go in a blog post. The proposed exemption would not be perfect. It wouldn’t guarantee that investors were getting a good deal, or even that the offering was not fraudulent. But even registration can’t do that. And I think the proposal is a nice compromise between investor protection and capital formation concerns.