The public debate about hedge-fund activism has long been informed by academic literature that found increases in shareholder value and operating performance after activist interventions. But do hedge-fund activists actually do any long-term good for the companies that they target? Long-Term Economic Consequences of Hedge Fund Activist Interventions, from the Rock Center for Corporate Governance, examines just that question. The answer? Not so much. But not so much harm either.
In this report, Expanding the On-Ramp: Recommendations to Help More Companies Go and Stay Public, eight organizations—the American Securities Association, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Equity Dealers of America, Nasdaq, National Venture Capital Association, Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, TechNet and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—joined forces to make recommendations about how to revitalize the IPO market and make public company status more appealing. Many of these recommendations have in the past been the subject of legislation or proposed rulemaking or have otherwise been floated in the ether but, nevertheless, have not advanced. Will the weight of these groups propel any of these recommendations forward?
Many have recently lamented the decline in the number of IPOs and public companies generally (from about 8,000 in 1996 to about 4,000 now, according to EY), and numerous reasons have been offered in explanation, from regulatory burden to hedge-fund activism. (See this PubCo post and this PubCo post.) In response, some companies are exploring different approaches to going public, leading to a recent resurgence in SPACs (see, e.g., this WSJ article), while others are flirting with the possibility of “direct listings,” which avoid the underwritten IPO process altogether (see, e.g., this article discussing the pending NYSE rule change to facilitate direct listings). At the same time, companies are seeking ways to address some of the perceived afflictions associated with being public companies—including the pressures of short-termism, the risks of activist attacks and potential loss of control of companies’ fundamental mission—through dual-class structures and other approaches. Changing dynamics are not, however, limited to companies. And one of the most interesting proposals designed to address these issues is being introduced on completely different turf—a novel concept for a stock exchange, the Long-Term Stock Exchange. According to the LTSE blog, “[w]hile other proposed solutions target the IPO process, the LTSE’s mission is to transform the public company experience by relieving the short-term pressures that plague today’s businesses and laying the foundation for a healthier public market ecosystem.”
Are shareholders really the “owners” of corporations? Even though shareholders have no responsibilities to the corporations they “own”? Should corporations be managed for the sole purpose of maximizing shareholder value? Are shareholders even unanimous in that objective? Is shareholder centricity really the right model for good governance of corporations? What changes in corporate governance have been fueled by the shareholder primacy model? Do those changes make sense? What has been the adverse fallout from the current fastidious devotion to shareholder preeminence? These are just some of the issues addressed in this terrific piece by two Harvard Business School professors, Joseph L. Bower and Lynn S. Paine, in the Harvard Business Review. In their view, the “health of the economic system depends on getting the role of shareholders right.” Highly recommend.
by Cydney Posner Much has been written about the problems associated with the prevalence of short-term thinking in corporate America. As noted in a post from The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, a recent academic study revealed that “three quarters of senior American corporate officials […]
by Cydney Posner You probably recall that, on November 9, 2016, GAMCO Asset Management Inc. (entity affiliated with activist investor Mario Gabelli) and certain affiliates used the proxy access bylaws recently adopted at National Fuel Gas Company, an NYSE-listed diversified natural gas company, to nominate a candidate for election to the […]
Is a proxy contest preferable to a quick settlement with activists? Some institutional investors think so
by Cydney Posner The obvious tension between the interests of long-term investors, such as institutional shareholders, and short-term investors, principally represented by hedge fund activists, has been the subject of much discussion of late. Some observers have claimed, as argued in this NYT DealBook column, that the idea behind the financial […]
PwC 2015 board survey reveals increasing levels of shareholder communications and proactive steps to deter hedge fund activists
by Cydney Posner The recent PwC survey of almost 800 directors of public companies contains some interesting data on directors’ views of communications with hedge fund activist and institutional shareholders, as well as proactive approaches to mitigate the risk of an activist challenge. (For survey results regarding board diversity, see this […]
by Cydney Posner Today, at a meeting of the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee, the committee heard various updates regarding proxy season, shareholder rights and related matters. Pat McGurn of ISS discussed the past proxy season, which he viewed as “one of the strangest” ever. Why strange? Because of the impact […]