August 12, 2009

The Latest on “Private Equity Club Deals”

In his “Private Equity Law Review” Blog, Geoffrey Parnas continues to post interesting analysis, including this recent one below on private equity club deals:

Leveraged buyouts of companies by private equity consortia – also known as private equity club deals – often capture the headlines and the imagination of the business press. Buyouts that demand substantial equity investments, such as the $900 million injected into the failed Florida lender BankUnited Financial by a private equity group that included WL Ross & Co., the Carlyle Group, and Blackstone, often require several private equity firms to club together to come up with enough capital. Besides the large equity investment required, what distinguishes club deals from garden-variety leveraged buyouts is the need for multiple firms to agree on how the transaction will be managed. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the chief terms of interim investor agreements among members of a private equity consortium.

Interim investor agreements for private equity consortia are by their nature temporary: the agreement terminates either upon the successful closing of the transaction or the deal’s termination in accordance with the share or asset purchase agreement. If the transaction proceeds as planned, an interim agreement details the steps that need to be taken to complete the deal and lays down the groundwork for how the business will be operated after closing. On the other hand, an interim agreement specifies how the consortium’s members will allocate responsibility for transaction costs and other liabilities, such as reverse break-up fees, should the deal founder. The agreement is signed on the same day the private equity funds sign their respective equity commitment letters, the banks issue their debt financing commitment letters, and the consortium’s shell acquisition vehicle, or “Newco,” enters into the purchase agreement with the target company.

A few of the principal matters typically covered in an interim investor agreement include:

Pre-Closing Agreements and Covenants

The members of the private equity consortium agree to cooperate with one another to resolve any outstanding issues with the target company, negotiate definitive loan agreements with the consortium’s lenders, execute employment agreements with the future management of Newco, and nail down any other final terms and conditions. In addition to approving the purchase agreement and other transaction documents, the private equity firms memorialize their consent to the proposed transaction structure, usually by reference to the pre- and post-closing organizational charts of Newco and its subsidiaries prepared by the consortium’s accountants. If the target is a public company, the members promise to comply with all applicable securities laws and to file all necessary documents with governmental authorities, such as filings under the Securities Exchange Act’s Regulation 13D disclosing beneficial ownership interests.

Finally, the private equity firms confirm how Newco will be managed during the period between the signing of the purchase agreement and closing. The interim investor agreement identifies the number of representatives from each of the consortium’s members appointed to Newco’s interim board of directors, usually in proportion to their respective equity investments. Each of the private equity funds indemnifies (on a pro rata basis) and holds harmless Newco’s interim board of directors from any claims or other liabilities arising from any error or omission by a director. Directors appointed to Newco’s interim board are likely to become named defendants in any future lawsuit regarding the transaction, whether the plaintiff is a consortium member, one or more of the financing banks, or the target company or its shareholders.

Definitive Investors’ Agreement

The private equity sponsors agree to negotiate a definitive shareholders’ agreement promptly after the transaction closes and may identify any special tax or ERISA matters (in the case of a public company) that need to be addressed in the definitive agreement. Most important, this section of the interim agreement incorporates by reference the private equity consortium’s investor term sheet, which summarizes the principal terms of the future definitive shareholders’ agreement.

Advisers’ Fees and Transaction Costs

The interim investment agreement also handles the allocation of transaction fees among the private equity firms’ advisory arms and how transaction costs (including liabilities from potential lawsuits) will be handled both in the event the deal closes and in the event the deal is terminated. Upon completion of the deal, the advisory arms of the private equity firms that sourced the deal receive a transaction fee that usually reflects their proportionate ownership interests in Newco.

The agreement also specifies how the consortium’s financial, accounting, legal, and other advisers will be paid. If the deal closes successfully, the interim agreement provides that Newco picks up the private equity consortium’s advisers’ fees and expenses. The way advisers are paid in the event of a failed deal turns on whether or not the consortium is entitled to a break-up fee from the target. If there is no break-up fee in the purchase agreement, the private equity firms will share costs on a pro rata basis. If there is a break-up fee under the purchase agreement, then the amounts received will be applied first to pay the advisers’ fees and expenses and other transaction costs, with the remainder being distributed among the private equity firms. If the deal is terminated because one of the private equity funds fails to finance its equity commitment, the defaulting private equity firm will indemnify the non-defaulting firms and be liable for all transaction fees, expenses, and other liabilities.

A private equity consortium’s interim agreement typically also requires confidentiality and specifies whether disputes will be resolved through arbitration or judicial process. In our next post, we’ll explain how interim investor agreements address the consortium members’ equity syndication procedures.