Here’s a blog by Davis Polk’s Ning Chiu:
Governance surveys indicate that the S&P 500 companies have largely dismantled their takeover defenses and have established so-called “good” governance practices, but that is not the case for all of the large-cap companies. Netflix recently held its annual meeting where a nearly unprecedented five governance shareholder proposals were on the ballot. While none of the proposals’ sponsors actively campaigned, not even filing any notices of exempt solicitations, almost all of the proposals won by a vast majority that was far above the average vote results. The outcomes were particularly high given that insiders own more than 9% of the company.
A proposal to declassify the board received 89% in support. A proposal asking the board to adopt majority voting in director elections won 81%, while another seeking a simple majority vote as the criteria for shareholder approval was favored by 81% of shareholders. In what may be the strongest vote on this proposal, 73% of shareholders endorsed having an independent chair. Only a retail version of a proxy access proposal failed to garner majority support. In addition, likely in response to putting in place a poison pill last year without shareholder approval, 2 directors barely received a majority of votes for their election while one director received a little over 49%.
These results may be somewhat surprising in light of the well-publicized acquisition of Netflix shares by Carl Icahn in the fall, which led the company to adopt the poison pill and presumably argues for maintaining its available defenses. In addition, more than an 80% increase in the company’s stock performance since the beginning of the year did not seem to persuade shareholders to vote with the board’s recommendations.
As the company has faced similar results before without making changes, it is not clear that it will be following the majority of S&P 500 companies after this meeting. In 2011 a majority vote proposal received 73% support, while in 2012 both a proposal to declassify the board and give shareholders the right to call special meetings passed. According to SharkRepellent, Netflix is among only 7% of S&P 500 companies with a poison pill in force, 15% with a classified board, and 8% that have not adopted a majority or plurality-plus vote standard to elect directors. It is also in the minority in not giving shareholders the right to call special meetings and requiring a supermajority vote to amend certain charter and bylaw provisions.
This September-October issue of the Deal Lawyers print newsletter was just sent to the printer and includes articles on:
– Forum Selection Bylaws: The New Frontier
– Checklist: Shareholder Outreach Following M&A Transaction Announcements
– Lock-Ups: When Can They Give Rise to “Affiliate” Status & Potentially Implicate Rule 13e-3?
– Delaware Law: Amended to Provide for Ratification & Validation of Defective Corporate Acts
– A Dozen Take-Aways: In Re: Trados
If you’re not yet a subscriber, try a “Free for Rest of ’13” no-risk trial to get a non-blurred version of this issue on a complimentary basis.
John Grossbauer of Potter Anderson notes: Recently, in Arkansas Teacher Retirement System v Countrywide Financial Corp., the Delaware Supreme Court answered a certified question of law from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that questioned the standing of former Countrywide Financial Corp. stockholders to maintain a derivative action following Countrywide’s acquisition by Bank of America. The Court found standing had ceased, reiterating its holding in Lewis v. Anderson that a stockholder loses standing to maintain a derivative action when the stockholder’s shares are converted into cash or shares of another corporation in a merger, except where (1) the merger itself is subject to a claim of fraud as being “perpetrated merely to deprive shareholders of their standing to bring or maintain a derivative action,” or (2) the merger is “essentially a reorganization that does not affect the plaintiff’s relative ownership in the post-merger enterprise.”
The Court stated that the Lewis v. Anderson fraud exception had not been expanded by dictum in Arkansas Teacher Retirement System v. Caiafa, a previous ruling in a related case. The Court clarified that the “single, inseparable fraud” mentioned in the earlier dictum referenced the possible direct claims stockholders might have brought, and did not expand the category of derivative claims that could be maintained post-merger.
Here’s more on this case from Francis Pileggi…
Last week, CFIUS closed its investigation into the acquisition of Smithfield Foods by Shuanghui International Holdings. The Smithfield filing was evidence of the potentially broad reach of national security review to areas – such as agriculture and food production – that historically might not have been viewed as raising national security concerns. As noted in the memos posted in our “National Security Considerations” Practice Area, closing the Smithfield investigation is a good indicator that CFIUS will not expand its mandate beyond reviewing acquisitions of U.S. businesses by foreign persons for their impact on U.S. national security.
Tune in tomorrow for the webcast – “The Use of Social Media in Deals” – to learn from K&L Gates’ Mary Korby; Kekst and Company’s Lissa Perlman and K&L Gates’ Cedric Powell about how social media is being used in deals – and what that means for regulatory purposes, including:
– What are common examples of social media use in deals?
– How should social media communications be treated for SEC filing purposes? For Rule 425?
– What types of activities are permissible? Which are not?
– What is the best way to leverage social media in deals?
On Friday, Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Myron Steele announced that he would retire effective November 30th, three years ahead of the end of his 12-year term. As noted in this article, Chief Justice Steele has served on the bench in Delaware for 25 years – and as Chief Justice since ’04.
This is a big loss for the Delaware bench. I first met the Chief Justice when we taped a panel about director duties after the Disney case for our “2nd Annual Executive Compensation Conference” in 2005. He was also kind enough to participate in a webcast on this site in ’07 entitled “An M&A Conversation with Chief Justice Myron Steele.” We wish him the best of luck in retirement or whatever he plans to do!
Recently, Professor Lucian Bebchuk wrote this WSJ op-ed entitled “The Myth of Hedge Funds as ‘Myopic Activists,'” which summarizes his co-authored empirical study that purportedly refutes the long-held belief that hedge fund activists focused on short-term profits harm issuers’ and shareholders’ long-term interests. The study – entitled “The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism” – entails an analysis of 2,000 hedge fund “interventions” between 1994 and 2007 with tracking for five years subsequent to the hedge fund activists’ initial interventions.
And here are empirical & methodological concerns with the Bebchuk study raised by Wachtell Lipton…and then here is Lucian Bebchuk’s rebuttal to the rebuttal…