May 22, 2013

NetSpend: Delaware Chancery Criticizes Single-Buyer Negotiating, Use of DADW & Revlon Process, But Denies Injunction

Here’s news from Greenberg Traurig’s Cliff Neimeth: Vice Chancellor Glasscock’s decision yesterday in Koehler v. Netspend is an interesting read. In certain respects it’s classic Delaware Court of Chancery. Juxtapose it with Vice Chancellor Nobel’s decision last week in In re Plains Exploration & Production Co. Shareholder Litigation.

In a nutshell, plaintiff’s motion to enjoin Total System Services’s $16 per share/$1.4 billion (cash) acquisition of Netspend Holdings was denied because the balance of the equities tipped in favor of the defendants (i.e., the court’s perceived risk to the target’s stockholders of a deal that might fail in the face of a MAC or breach when it was the only deal on the table) even though Vice Chancellor Glasscock concluded that it was reasonably likely that at trial the plaintiff would successfully establish that the Netspend board did not conduct a reasonable Revlon value maximizing process.

The key facts and observations in the case included, among others:

– A single-buyer negotiating strategy employed by the Netspend Board with no formal pre-sign check (although a go-shop was asked for several times in the negotiations and repeatedly rejected by the buyer, the repeated asks appear to have helped obtain the $16 per share price.

– An unaffected 45% premium without giving effect to an immediate pre-sign, positive earnings release by Netspend).

– Netspend had prior bad experience with collapsed sale processes and, therefore, it was queasy about undertaking another formal or elongated process.

– Netspend was not “for sale” and responded to Total System’s initial IOI and commenced discussions mainly because Netspend’s 31% stockholder and 16% stockholder wanted to exit an illiquid and volatile stock (Netspend was content to execute management’s stand-alone operating strategy absent a compelling price).

– Appraisal rights are available under DGCL 262; Vice Chancellor Glasscock questioned whether Netspend’s directors had a “reliable body of evidence” and “impeccable knowledge” of the company’s intrinsic value in the absence of a pre-sign market check and despite Netspend’s prior failed sale processes some years before.

– The fairness opinion obtained by the Netspend board was “weak” under all of the circumstances (putting more pressure on the directors’ understanding of the company’s intrinsic value).

– No interloper surfaced even after the transaction litigation delays (putting maximum pressure on plaintiff’s demand for an injunction); the deal protection package was pretty plain vanilla (the break up fee was in the “northern sector” of the range at 3.9% of total equity value, but certainly not preclusive or coercive; matching rights and other buyer protections were customary).

– A reasonable arms-length negotiating strategy was employed to obtain the $16 per share.

– Netspend’s CEO (who led the negotiations with appropriate Board participation and oversight) was not conflicted (in fact, he was found to be aligned with the non-affiliate stockholders in several respects).

– The nominees of Netspend’s 31% stockholder and 16% stockholder constituted a majority of the Netspend Board (but Vice Chancellor Glasscock found that their interests were aligned with the non-affiliate shareholders).

– Two private equity firms had conducted diligence and looked at buying a significant stake in the company from Netspend’s 31% stockholder and 16% stockholder at a materially lower price than Total System’s initial (and final) bid, but they never indicated a desire to buy 100% of Netspend.

– The support agreements entered into between Total Systems and each of the two large stockholders were coterminous with the merger agreement (but were not terminable upon the Netspend Board’s withdrawal of its declaration of advisability of the merger agreement).

In a noteworthy passage, Vice Chancellor Glasscock faulted the decision of the Netspend Board not to waive the “don’t ask-don’t waive” clauses in the confi-standstills with the two private equity firms at the time discussions commenced with Total Systems and, in the case of any post-sign unsolicited “superior offers” that might arise, he noted the ineffectual fiduciary out to the no-shop covenant in the merger agreement which required Netspend to enforce and not waive pre-existing standstills (thus, the private equity firms were precluded from lobbing in a post-sign jumping bid).

Vice Chancellor Glasscock refers to Vice Chancellor Laster’s In re Genomics decision and to Chancellor Strine’s decision in In re Ancestry pointing up, again, the Court’s sensitivity to, and the highly contextual nature of, DADW provisions in pre-sign confi-standstill agreements and perhaps further underscoring the distinction between using a DADW in a single-buyer negotiating strategy vis a via using one in a formal auction setting or where a full pre-sign market check is conducted.