EU financial policymakers appear to be once more in a deadlock situation over proposals to limit the sovereign risk exposure of European banks. The strong exposure of some banks in the southern European periphery in their national sovereign’s debt was seen by many as one of the contributing factors to the ongoing sovereign debt crisis (Acharya et al. 2014, Beltratti & Stulz 2015; Brunnermeier et al. 2016). Powerful incentives have encouraged financial institutions to buy and hold government bonds in the past (Gros 2013). In fact, this was the intellectual background for the policy framework known as the Banking Union, … Read more
On May 5, 2016, the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against 77 entities and individuals associated with the Waked Money Laundering Organization (“Waked MLO,” collectively, the “Waked Sanctions”). OFAC stated that the designation was necessary to disrupt the organization’s alleged activities in laundering drug trafficking proceeds by using trade-based methods, duty-free retail, real estate development and financial services throughout the region.
In coordination with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Customs and Border Protection and the Miami Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, OFAC stated that it determined that the Waked MLO uses … Read more
Customers sure love Uber. If you ask them to describe their experience with the ride-share firm, most Uber passengers will gladly tick off a long list of superlatives: Innovative! Economical! Revolutionary!
But a less-flattering picture of Uber has recently surfaced in courtrooms across the country. Told by aggrieved drivers, this countervailing narrative depicts Uber as a company that cheats its workers out of wages and denies them basic workplace rights. In fact, earlier this year, Uber agreed to pay upwards of $100 million to drivers in California and Massachusetts for alleged employment law violations.
So which is it? Is Uber … Read more
Unlike most other countries, the U.S. taxes corporations on earnings generated anywhere in the world. This means that U.S. corporations have a strong tax incentive to renounce their U.S. incorporation and redomicile in a foreign country. Enter the inversion, a legal maneuver that has become increasingly popular and politicized in recent years, most notably with the announcement of Pfizer’s plan to move to Ireland as part of its acquisition of Allergan. Although recent rule changes by the Treasury has caused Pfizer to abandon this plan for the moment, inversions will continue to occur because of the tax benefits to the … Read more
On May 6, 2016, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Delaware Chancery Court’s ruling that Zale Corporation’s sale to Signet Jewelers withstood scrutiny under the business judgment rule because the transaction was approved by a fully-informed, uncoerced vote of the disinterested stockholders, and that an aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty claim against Zale’s financial advisor failed as a matter of law where the plaintiff failed to establish that the Zale board had acted with gross negligence. In so holding, the Court reaffirmed its holding in Corwin v. KKR Financial Holdings LLC, 125 A.3d 304 (Del. 2015), that … Read more
|Rank||Name||School||Citations||Age in 2016|
|1||John Coffee, Jr.||Columbia University||1470||72|
|2||Lucian Bebchuk||Harvard University||1130||61|
|3||Stephen Bainbridge||University of California, Los Angeles||1010||58|
|4||Reinier Kraakman||Harvard University||820||67|
|5||Stephen Choi||New York University||780||50|
|6||Donald Langevoort||Georgetown University||770||65|
|7||Ronald Gilson||Columbia University||760||70|
|8||Lynn Stout||Cornell University||750||59|
|9||Roberta Romano||Yale University||730||64|
|10||Henry Hansmann||Yale University||720||71|
|11||Bernard Black||Northwestern University||630||63|
|12||James Cox||Duke University||620||73|
Since the Volkswagen story first broke in September 2015, most observers have just scratched their heads and muttered to themselves in amazement: “What were they thinking? How could you place ‘defeat devices’ in 11 million cars worldwide and expect that you were going to escape detection for long?” There is, however, an answer to this question—one that says much about what is wrong with current priorities and practices for the enforcement of white collar crime. This column begins with an assessment of the Volkswagen case and then turns to an analysis of white collar crime strategies. Finally, it proposes remedies … Read more
In Rule v. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, our client challenged MassMutual’s 2014 Proxy Statement seeking to change its company bylaws. The Proxy told the over 1 million policyholder-owners that the proposed bylaw changes were consistent with the company’s current practices, would bring the bylaws in alignment with widely held corporate governance best practices, and would enable management to better serve the policyholders. However, the bylaw changes were a radical departure from its current bylaws and were the antithesis of best practices (as discussed below). Nonetheless, a Massachusetts Appeals Court sustained dismissal of the proxy challenge on grounds … Read more
On April 21, 2016, the National Credit Union Administration (the NCUA) issued a proposed rule regarding incentive-based compensation paid by certain financial institutions (the Proposed Rule) to implement Section 956 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Section 956).1 Section 956 requires various Federal agencies to issue regulations that limit certain incentive compensation practices at financial institutions. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (the OCC), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (the FDIC) and the Federal Housing Finance Agency (the FHFA) released their respective versions of the proposed rule on April 26, 2016, and the … Read more
Corporate information that moves stock-market prices has long sat at the center of modern securities regulation in the United States. The Great Depression-era securities laws at the foundation of the field require much mandatory disclosure of this type of information. They also include a strict anti-fraud regime to ensure the credibility of those disclosures of that information. And for a half century now, that regime has been interpreted to prohibit insiders from trading on the same information. All of these laws have been motivated by both concerns for fairness and economic efficiency.
Today, a new body of securities law is … Read more
We recently published a paper on CEO compensation and value sharing between executives and shareholders. The paper is available here.
CEO compensation is a controversial subject that evokes considerable debate on whether public company CEOs are paid correctly relative to corporate performance. A recent survey by Heidrick & Struggles and the Rock Center for Corporate Governance highlights the extreme disconnect between public perception of CEO pay and the perception of directors responsible for designing pay packages at Fortune 500 companies. While 65 percent of directors believe that CEO pay is not a problem, a full 70 percent of the … Read more
A wide body of literature emphasizes that venture capitalists focus on young private companies, generally in high-tech industries. However, contrary to this notion, we find that 29% of the firms that were backed by VCs prior to the IPO received additional VC funding within the first five years after the IPO, in a sample of IPOs between 1988 and 2010.
We find that this post-IPO VC financing is focused on companies with high information asymmetry and substantial growth opportunities. These companies might otherwise find it difficult to raise capital at a viable price (see, e.g., Myers and Majluf, 1984). In … Read more
In a March 29, 2016 decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (the “Court of Appeals”) held that creditors are preempted from asserting state law constructive fraudulent conveyance claims by virtue of the Bankruptcy Code’s “safe harbors” that, among other things, exempt transfers made in connection with a contract for the purchase, sale or loan of a security (here, in the context of a leveraged buyout (“LBO”)), from being clawed back into the bankruptcy estate for distribution to creditors. The decision will serve to promote finality and certainty for investors by limiting the circumstances (e.g.… Read more
U.S. capital market has long been an attractive destination to foreign companies. Cross-listing by foreign firms on U.S. exchanges has been associated with major benefits such as increase in value, easier access to external finance, and lower cost of capital. A recent deregulation by SEC in 2007, Rule 12h-6, may have significant impact on the benefits of cross-listing and the attractiveness of U.S. capital market to foreign firms. Our study explores the long-term consequences of this deregulation and its implication for U.S. capital market.
The main drivers of the benefits enjoyed by cross-listed foreign firms is a subject of passionate … Read more
The rise of shareholder activism has become a global phenomenon. Shareholder activists are not only present–as they started–in the US, but also in European and Asian Markets. This situation has generated a vast literature about the desirability (or not) of shareholder activism.  In essence, there are two main positions: (i) those who argue that shareholder activists improve the corporate governance of the firm, and therefore they help increase the value of the firm; and (ii) those who claim that shareholder activists only improve the value of the firm in the short-term, and they encourage managers to cut … Read more
One down, three to go: SEC rulemaking is heating up.
Last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) finalized business conduct standards for security-based swap dealers (SBSDs). The completion of this rule by the SEC is significant because few security-based swap (SBS) rules have been finalized as compared to the numerous rules completed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) that govern other types of swaps. These business conduct standards represent the first of four rulemakings that must be finalized before SBSDs will have to register with the SEC.
The SEC’s rule will impact how SBSDs communicate … Read more
Corporate directors inevitably must make real-time decisions on complex and nuanced matters that impact not only the company, but also the company’s various stakeholders—e.g., shareholders, creditors, and employees. The pressure cooker that often is the corporate boardroom is not for the faint of heart. The directors’ job becomes even more challenging when the company experiences a financial or operational setback. The divergence in interests among the company’ stakeholders intensifies, and there rarely is one clear path forward.
In theory, state law fiduciary duties should guide directors’ decisions in these difficult situations and protect the company’s and its shareholders’ interests. In … Read more
On Monday, LendingClub Corp., a leader in the growing online lending space, announced the surprise resignation of its founder and CEO, Renaud Laplanche. Laplanche resigned in response to a board investigation that revealed a number of internal control failures, including the sale of more than $20 million in loans that failed to conform to the requirements imposed by the acquiring investors and the doctoring of dates on loan applications to cover up noncompliance with respect to $3 million in loans sold. These developments triggered a massive decline in LendingClub’s stock price, but also contribute to a growing cacophony of questions … Read more
General partnerships are a puzzling form of business in the modern world. A well-established business form with a deep history and sophisticated uniform laws, the general partnership finds itself in a strange position today: Virtually nobody would be well advised to create one.
As a result, general partnerships come about mainly by accident. Indeed, probably the most often litigated question in general partnership law is simply whether one exists in the first place, with the putative organizers trying to claim that they didn’t in fact create one.
General partnerships are the only multi-person business organization that can arise accidentally … Read more
The corporate board is commonly seen as a crucial governance device that operates to both monitor corporate management and provide strategic advice. Recent corporate governance research has discovered a broad range of evidence of internal board monitoring and advisory activities; but relatively little on the impact of the board’s interactions and connections with different external agents on firm value and corporate decisions. Yet, board members are typically experienced and powerful businessmen, and well embedded in the center of important business and social networks. Does it matter?
Yes, substantially. In our recent paper “Directors as Connectors: The Impact of the External … Read more
The Supreme Court decided to consider the meaning of the personal benefit requirement in an insider trading case based on a tipping violation. It accepted review of the Ninth Circuit’s decision in United States v. Salman, which reached substantially different conclusions about the meaning of the personal benefit requirement than the Second Circuit did in United States v. Newman.
The personal benefit requirement is an essential element of a tipping violation. For tipping to occur, an insider must breach a duty of trust and confidence by disclosing material nonpublic information to another person, and the test … Read more
Recently, there has been concern among investors, preparers, regulators, and standard setters that corporate disclosure (in particular the annual report, Form 10-K) is becoming increasingly lengthy, redundant, complex, and onerous. In December 2013, the SEC began a comprehensive review of current disclosure regulation with the intent of identifying the extent of excessive, unduly complex, and redundant disclosure. Similarly, the FASB has an ongoing agenda project, the Disclosure Framework, evaluating the effectiveness of firm disclosure. A variety of explanations have been offered for the apparent increase in the quantity and complexity of disclosure including the effects of litigation, increases in business … Read more
Limited liability companies, or LLCs, have quickly become the form of choice for new businesses. Companies ranging from the well known, like Chrysler, to the more experimental, such as French fry vending machine makers, to local flooring installers all organize as LLCs. One attraction is LLCs’ ability to replicate S-corporations’ robust limited liability protection and potential for single taxation of company profits. Another attraction is the wide contractual freedom permitted among owners and managers to divide up ownership and management rights and responsibilities. Most states impose few mandatory rules on this relationship. For instance, Delaware, the leader in out of … Read more
In 2009, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) mandated all registrants to file their 10-K and 10-Q in an interactive format using the eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL). The SEC adopted a phase-in implementation policy: the first phase started in 2009 and required companies with a worldwide public equity float of at least $5 billion to implement XBRL-based financial reporting; the second phase for all other large domestic filers with a public equity float of more than $700 million took effect in 2010; and the last phase took effect in 2011 with smaller reporting firms required to report financial … Read more
They say that one should not look a gift horse in the mouth. We decided to go against this proverb and look carefully in the mouth of one such gift horse. After all, we still remember from high school reading that in addition to the shirt of Nessus, the Trojan horse as being not such a tantalizing gift. In this blog, we examine corporate executives’ gifts of common stocks to see they resemble the shirt of Nessus or the Trojan horse.
We find that corporate executives’ gifts of stock while not quite poisonous, do have a dark side. We find … Read more
Plaintiffs sometimes have significant financial interests in their opponents, interests that extend beyond the boundaries of the lawsuits themselves. In some situations, plaintiffs maintain a “long” financial position. For instance, in securities litigation or direct or derivative litigation alleging a breach of fiduciary duties under state corporate law, the plaintiffs are typically a subset of the firm’s current shareholders. When the defendant-firm loses at trial and pays damages—or, more commonly, avoids trial by retaining defense counsel and/or making a settlement payment to plaintiffs and their counsel—while the plaintiff-shareholders may receive a direct monetary benefit, they also suffer an indirect loss … Read more
One of the primary rationales in favor of regulating disclosure is that more information may create positive externalities, or spillover effects, by helping investors learn about industry- or economy-wide trends and growth opportunities. In this way, a firm’s public disclosures informs investors not only about that specific firm’s prospects, but also about the prospects of related, peer firms. Thus, the more firms within an industry disclosing regular, publicly available information, the less uncertainty exists among investors regarding the value of all firms in that industry. Although the idea is intuitive, it has been difficult to empirically examine the existence of … Read more
The work of Columbia Law School Professor Kate Judge appears in the list of twelve best corporate and securities law articles in 2015, based on a poll conducted by the Corporate Practice Commentator. Teachers in corporate and securities law were asked to select the best corporate and securities articles from a list of articles published and indexed in legal journals during 2015. More than 540 articles were on the list. Professor Judge was selected for her article Intermediary Influence appearing in the University of Chicago Law Review.… Read more
In April of 2012, President Obama signed into the law the J.O.B.S. (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act. The law’s intent and design was to make it easier for small businesses to raise money by easing their regulatory burdens both on raising capital and operating as publicly traded companies on an ongoing basis. This article focuses on the J.O.B.S Act’s Title IV. Title IV revises an exempt offering provision referred to as Regulation A. Prior to its revision, Regulation A was a seldom used offering exemption because companies felt that the steps necessary to complete a Regulation A offering far outweighed … Read more
In an article recently posted on SSRN.com, I explain why the law requires agents to act with single-minded devotion to their principals. For example, a lawyer must do what is best for a client and may not subordinate a client’s interest to that of anyone else. This is true even when a lawful act beneficial to a client would subject a third party to serious harm. When representing a landlord who wants a derelict tenant evicted, for example, a lawyer must prosecute the eviction expeditiously even if the tenant has nowhere else to go.
In the parlance of legal … Read more
Intra-corporate dispute (ICD) arbitration may cover a wide range of disputes between shareholders, between shareholders and the company, and between shareholders and third parties such as the company directors. ICD arbitration has been practiced in the US for many years for resolving disputes both in non-listed and listed companies. It has also been used for shareholder claims for breach of fiduciary duty against the company’s directors in a takeover bid (tender offer). In my paper, I argue for the UK to facilitate ICD arbitration more widely and, in particular, for UK listed companies. However, I also discuss that although the … Read more
Work/life balance has been described as the issue of our age, but attainment of a balance, or the ‘good life’, is increasingly elusive. This is borne out by a study of Australian male and female corporate lawyers, the findings from which are explored in my recently-published article, “Work/Life or Work/Work? Corporate Legal Practice in the Twenty-First Century.”
Following the global financial crisis, a desire for capital accumulation led to the amalgamation of many of Australia’s largest national firms with elite northern hemisphere firms. The preoccupation with profitmaking in these global firms has seen the aggressive embrace of the long-hours … Read more
Whether one ascribes to the agency theory of shareholder primacy or the contractarian theory of director primacy, boards of directors have great discretion in determining whether, when, and how to sell the corporation. Defensive tactics, like poison pills, can be tools in wielding that discretion in the service of creating shareholder value. However, a poison pill designed either to oppress a minority shareholder, as in eBay v. Newmark, or to minimize the impact of activist shareholders, as in Versata Enterprises, Inc. v. Selectica, Inc., seems to exceed the “maximum dosage” of the pill. The “tax benefits preservation … Read more
There has been a recent surge in scholarship on the issue of concentration of power in the CEO, and the subsequent consequences for shareholder wealth maximization and board primacy. There is a general consensus among scholars that, in general, more powerful CEOs (relative to the board as representative of the corporate shareholders) can exacerbate agency conflict, resulting in suboptimal corporate strategies that are detrimental to corporate performance, and as a result, damaging to shareholder interests as well. The basic cause of this excessive power with CEOs lies in the outside board members being dependent on the CEO for their selection, … Read more
The equitable doctrine in pari delicto provides that a plaintiff who participated equally with a defendant in wrongdoing cannot pursue a claim against the defendant. In pari delicto is a shortened version of the phrase in pari delicto potior est conditio defendantis, which means “[i]n a case of equal or mutual fault . . . the position of the [defending] party . . . is the better one.”
Lawyers invoke in pari delicto when sued for malpractice for failing to protect a client from legal liability. A common scenario involves a lawyer advising a client to lie under oath; … Read more
In our recent paper forthcoming in The Financial Review (2016), we highlight the role of venture capital (VC) in spawning new ventures. That is, after acquisitions, IPOs and other successful exits, entrepreneurs backed by venture capitalists (VCs) tend to form new companies or become angels coaching and investing in entrepreneurs. In our recent paper, we examine for the first time the specific conditions under which entrepreneurs actually stick with entrepreneurship in the form of starting a new company or becoming an angel. We address the question of when does entrepreneurial finance spawn the creation of new ventures by examining detailed … Read more
Global business puts pressure on geographically limited courts. U.S. courts, for instance, can reach only defendants with contacts with the forum territory, usually the specific U.S. state in which the court is located. But litigation may be brought against part of a multinational business that has separately organized entities in different countries. Often the local subsidiary has direct contacts, but the plaintiffs want to sue the absent parent as well. Can they? The somewhat unsatisfactory answer is that it depends. Often it depends on whether the local subsidiary’s contacts with the forum territory “count” as those of the parent company. … Read more
Corporate governance scholarship has long considered the problems that arise in public companies with dispersed ownership. But the automaker Volkswagen does not suffer from a dispersed ownership structure. In fact, it has several strong and highly active owners. The Porsche and Piëch families have been involved with the company for many years and own 31.5% of Volkswagen’s equity. The German state where the company is headquartered, Lower Saxony, holds 12.4%, and an outside investor, Qatar Holding, owns 15.4%. With such powerful economic incentives in not one but three actors, management should have been subject to the kind of exacting oversight … Read more
Last week, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (Basel) proposed floors and other constraints on the use of internal models for calculating credit risk capital. The proposal aims to reduce complexity and variation in the calculation of regulatory capital among banking institutions, thus improving comparability. To that end, the proposal generally discourages (and in some instances prohibits) the use of internal ratings-based (IRB) approaches in calculating risk weighted assets (RWA) related to credit risk. The proposal’s objective is consistent with Basel’s other recent issuances, i.e., the re-proposed standardized approach for credit risk (issued last December),1 revised final capital requirements … Read more
In a recent paper, I considered the strength of securities fraud charges asserted in several computer hacker cases filed in mid-2015. Some of the defendants in the cases were the hackers who used computer methods to obtain unauthorized access to corporate press releases before they were released to the public. Other defendants were the traders who paid for the stolen information and used it to buy and sell securities. The press cast the scheme as an insider trading ring tied to computer hackers, but the SEC and criminal authorities asserted general securities fraud charges under Rule 10b-5.… Read more
Hedge fund activism is the latest rave in corporate governance. Activist hedge funds build stakes in target firms in order to press management for various changes. When managers are uncooperative, they may just be forced to step down. Lest you think only managers of small, not well-established firms have reason to fear, some of the most powerful managers in corporate America, for example the CEOs of Bob Evans, Hertz, Sotheby’s, Yahoo, etc., have all failed to avoid such fate. It appears that no firm is immune to the threat of HFA.
Managers, needless to say, have great incentive to avoid … Read more
Congress expanded the SEC’s ability to pursue enforcement actions in administrative proceedings in the Dodd Frank Act, bringing the agency’s use of proceedings before its own administrative law judges (ALJs) into the spotlight. A number of respondents have challenged the constitutionality of these proceedings, relying principally on arguments arising out of the Appointments Clause of the Constitution. Those disputes are currently being played out both before the SEC and in the courts, but they are unlikely to be a long-term obstacle to the SEC’s use of administrative proceedings.
Just six months ago, when the Supreme Court’s current term opened in October, things looked bleak for the class action. Three major cases were on the Court’s docket, and each seemed handpicked as a vehicle for the Court’s conservatives to curb the availability of the class action. Nonetheless, it has now become clear that this assault has fallen short. The high water mark in this hostile tide was probably reached in 2011 when the Court decided both Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes and AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion. In these cases, the Court both tightened the standards … Read more
Options backdating? Who would be so arrogant to be still backdating their options? It has been exactly ten years since the Wall Street Journal’s exposé on “lucky CEOs.” The intriguing question though is whether the executives could resist temptation for ten years. We decided to find out. We find that despite all the reforms enacted in response to the backdating scandal of 2006, manipulation of stock options as a form of incentive compensation is once again alive and well.
Let’s digress and explain the background first. Backdating an option refers to the practice of fraudulently picking a date in … Read more
The ‘Twin Peaks’ method of financial system regulation is widely regarded as the leading model for the regulation of a country’s financial system. Australia was the first to adopt the model in 1997, has been using it the longest, and fared the best among the G20 during the global financial crisis. As a result, Australia’s Twin Peaks model is being exported around the globe.
The model was first proposed by an Englishman, Dr Michael Taylor, in 1994. So-called because it proposes two, specialist, mega-regulators: one charged with the maintenance of financial system stability (ensuring banks don’t end-up bankrupt), and … Read more
Ever since the SEC adopted Rule 10b5-1in 2000 the rule has been the subject of controversy. Some have questioned its validity, others have claimed that it has been abused. The commentary that follows addresses one suspected abuse of Rule 10b5-1, whether persons who have created plans under Rule 10b5-1 and then time corporate disclosure to improve trading outcomes under those plans have violated the law.
The SEC’s position is that a trade made when an insider is in possession of material nonpublic information (MNPI) about the company is unlawful under the classical theory of insider trading. Rule 10b5-1 was designed … Read more
On January 7th 2016, Thomson Reuters and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) published their Exit Poll Report, which stated that in the U.S. 77 venture capital (VC)-backed initial public offerings (IPOs) raised $9.4 billion in 2015. Over the same period, 93 non-VC-backed U.S. companies went public, raising $23.9 billion (Ernest & Young – IPO Global Trends 2015). For experts in the field of VC investments these numbers cannot appear surprising: the contribution by VCs to the growth of American stock exchanges is a well-documented phenomenon (e.g., Megginson and Weiss, 1991; Lee and Wahal, 2004; Nahata, 2008). … Read more
The “meh” economy that accounts for some of the sourness in the American electorate is partly due to a design flaw in the US corporate governance system. One proffered diagnosis is that companies invest for the short term and are too quick to return cash to shareholders through stock repurchases. Why? It’s the attack of hedge funds, shareholder activists looking for short term gain even at the expense of investments that would produce higher returns over the long run, and, along the way, would lead to employment gains and then wage gains. What follows, then, is a prescription for changes … Read more