The Merger Agreement Myth
This academic study is food for thought regarding the time spent negotiating walk-away rights in public M&A deals. Here is the abstract:
Practitioners and academics have long assumed that the legal terms of acquisition agreements add value to mergers, yet legal scholarship has failed to subject this premise to empirical scrutiny. The conventional wisdom is that markets must value the tremendous amount of time and money that M&A lawyers invest in negotiating and tailoring the legal provisions of acquisition agreements to address the distinctive risks facing each merger. Otherwise, the merging parties would not spend so much on legal fees. But the empirical question remains of whether the legal terms of acquisition agreements add any value beyond the financial terms of mergers (negotiated by investment bankers). For this reason we designed a modified event study of target company stock prices that shows that M&A lawyers' extensive negotiations on the legal terms of acquisition agreements do not add significant value to mergers.
Our analysis of target company stock prices leverages the fact that merger announcements (which lay out the financial terms) are generally disclosed one to four trading days before the disclosure of acquisition agreements (which delineate the legal terms). We focused on a data set of cash-only public company mergers spanning the decade from 2002 to 2011 to ensure that the primary influence on target company stock prices is the expected value of whether a legal condition will prevent the deal from closing.
Our analysis shows that there is no economically consequential market reaction to the disclosure of the acquisition agreement. Markets appear to recognize that parties publicly committed to a merger have strong incentives to complete the deal regardless of what legal contingencies are triggered. We argue that the results suggest that M&A lawyers are fixated on the wrong problems by focusing too much on negotiating "contingent closings" that allow clients to call off a deal, rather than "contingent consideration" that compensates clients for closing deals that are less advantageous than expected. This approach can enable M&A lawyers to protect clients against the effects of the clients' own managerial hubris in pursuing mergers that may (and often do) fall short of expectations.