M & A Law Prof Blog

Editor: Brian JM Quinn
Boston College Law School

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Termination Fees in US and UK - standards vs. rules

John Coates' new paper, M&A Break Fees: US Litigation vs. UK Regulation, takes a look at the question ex ante rules vs ex post standards with respect to break fees.  One of the numerous results worth noting was that in the US Coates observed an increase in the size of break fees (presumably as parties litigated and searched for a level that courts would accept).  In the UK on the other hand, Coates reports that break fees started near the permitted cap and stayed there.

Abstract:  This paper contrasts UK and US governance of M&A break fees to see what the contrast can teach us about trade-offs between litigation and regulation as modes of governance, including how laws change under each regime over time. Data on 1,136 bids in 1989-2008 and 61 fee disputes show: (1) the UK caps fees at a low level with a simple ex ante rule based not on regulatory expertise but on an arbitrarily chosen percentage of bid value, which nonetheless has the virtues of clarity and lower litigation costs, and enhances competition conditional on an initial bid, and (2) US courts evaluate fees ex post with a complex and vague standard, allowing for greater variation and higher average fees, reducing bid competition and increasing bid completion rates, and possibly increasing M&A overall, at the cost of legal uncertainty and litigation (although less than might be expected), in part because courts resist articulating clear rules. Laws in each nation exhibit inertia; are protected by entrenched interest groups (institutional investors in the UK, lawyers in the US); and co-exist with the opposite approach (litigation in the UK, regulation in the US), even within the domain of M&A law. Subject to strong limits on external validity, the case study suggests that interest groups may be the most important factors shaping the initial choice between regulation and litigation, even for otherwise similar nations in a similar context, and that a combination of interest groups formed in response to a given choice, as well as lawmaker incentives, may preserve those choices even after the conditions giving rise to the initial choice have passed away.

-bjmq


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