Saturday, November 10, 2018

Appraisal and Market Efficiency

Jonathan Macey and Joshua Mitts have just posted an intriguing new article, Asking the Right Question: The Statutory Right of Appraisal and Efficient Markets, regarding calculation of value for the purposes of an appraisal action.

As I’ve posted about previously (here and here), Delaware is in the midst of a judicial reinterpretation of its appraisal statute, placing new emphasis on market pricing for determining the value of publicly traded stock.  Currently, one open question is whether “market” pricing refers to the deal price, assuming the process was relatively clean, or the unaffected trading price of the stock. 

Macey & Mitts begin by agreeing with VC Laster’s opinion in Verition Partners Master Fund, Ltd., et al. v. Aruba Networks, Inc., that valuation should be based on the trading price, and not the deal price, and their discussion after is where things get interesting.

First, they point out that apparently, Delaware courts only will consider trading price relevant to an appraisal action if price is efficient.  But they argue that even prices of stock that trades inefficiently would serve as a better indicator of value than more traditional calculations like discounted cash flow, in part because there are many different types of “inefficient” markets and some will process the most important information about the company and produce a reasonably accurate price – perhaps with the judge adjusting for any information that was not assimilated.  The test for market efficiency in an appraisal action is, in their view, too demanding.

Part of the reason I find this argument so interesting is that it mirrors the same kind of arguments we’ve been having in the fraud on the market space for over a decade, namely, how efficiently must the stock trade before plaintiffs are entitled to the fraud on the market presumption?  In that context, just like Mitts and Macey, Donald Langevoort (among others) has argued that courts have demanded too high a standard of efficiency when a lesser one would do for the purposes of the inquiry – a point that the Supreme Court seems to have found persuasive.  Of course, in the Section 10(b) context, we’re talking about informational efficiency; Mitts and Macey's argument depends on markets being efficient for fundamental value, or at least more accurate than other types of analysis.

The second argument that Macey and Mitts make is that the stock price reaction of the acquirer may indicate whether the deal price was too high, in which case, any appraised value should be lower.  I.e., if the acquirer’s stock price drops in response to announcement of the deal, that would suggest that the market believes the target was overvalued.  That’s a really clever suggestion, though I do wonder about their argument that the analysis holds even for private targets – we might legitimately ask whether the market knows enough about private targets to make an informed assessment of the appropriateness of the deal price and the target’s effect on the acquirer’s value.

Of course, overall, their argument would push Delaware’s law even further toward eliminating appraisal for all but the most egregious cases; in recent years, many scholars have argued that appraisal can be used as a kind of substitute for a broken system of fiduciary duty litigation.  Macey and Mitts believe that if fiduciary litigation is broken, it should be fixed, rather than substituting in a different cause of action to do that work.

Ann Lipton | Permalink


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