Month: June 2019

Does Mandatory Shareholder Voting Prevent Bad Acquisitions? The Case of the United Kingdom

A large number of studies have shown that many companies have made large acquisitions that their own shareholders probably would not have approved if given the opportunity to do so. In this Winter 2019 article, which summarizes the findings of their study published recently in the Review of Financial Studies, the authors present evidence that suggests the effectiveness of shareholder voting as a corporate governance mechanism designed to prevent such value-reducing acquisitions from taking place.

The authors’ study focused on acquisitions in the U.K. where proposed transactions that exceed a series of 25% relative size (target’s as a percentage of the acquirer’s) thresholds are defined as “Class 1” transactions and require shareholder approval. The authors found strikingly positive stock market reactions to the announcements of such Class 1 acquisitions—as compared to zero if not negative average announcement returns for Class 2 transactions that were not subject to a shareholder vote. And when the authors extended their analysis to U.S. M&A markets, they found that the larger (again, in relative size) U.S. deals—large enough that they would have required a shareholder vote in the U.K.—provided returns to their shareholders that were negative, and thus significantly lower than those of their U.K counterparts. In terms of the economic significance of their findings, the authors found that Class 1 transactions were associated with aggregate gains to acquirer shareholders of $13.6 billion. By contrast, U.S. transactions of similar size, which again were not subject to shareholder approval, were associated with aggregate losses of $210 billion for acquirer shareholders; and Class 2 U.K. transactions, also not subject to shareholder approval, were associated with aggregate losses of $3 billion.

In a further series of tests designed to shed light on how mandatory shareholder voting generates such substantial value improvements for acquirer shareholders, the authors also found evidence suggesting that when faced with the requirement of a shareholder vote, CEOs and boards are more likely to resist the temptation to overpay to close a deal. And the fact that the shareholders of the Class 1 acquirers did not end up blocking a single transaction that was submitted to a vote suggests that this mechanism works without the need for shareholders to actually vote down a deal. In other words, mandatory shareholder voting on acquisitions is a powerful deterrent to “bad deals” because, first of all, the vote is triggered automatically by the relative size tests and, second, CEOs and boards, with the help of their bankers, have a pretty good idea well in advance of the vote whether their shareholders are going to vote “no”—and such a vote would be viewed by top management as a major rejection, a strong vote of no confidence.

Authored by Marco Becht, Andrea Polo, and Stefano Rossi

The Effect of Shareholder Approval of Equity Issuances Around the World

Mandatory shareholder approval of equity issuances

Mandatory shareholder approval of equity issuances, and how it varies considerably across and within countries, is the subject of our third Winter 2019 article. In the United States and a few other countries, management typically needs the approval of only its board of directors to issue common stock. In most countries, however, by law or stock exchange rule, shareholders must vote to approve equity issuances when using certain methods or contemplating offers that exceed a specified fraction of outstanding shares. In some countries, shareholders must approve all equity issuances. Even in the United States, shareholder approval is mandatory under certain circumstances.

When managers issue stock without shareholder approval, as in the case of U.S. public offerings, returns are significantly negative and 4% lower, on average, than for shareholder-approved issues.

The differences in the stock market reaction to shareholder-approved equity issuances and to issues undertaken unilaterally by management are strikingly and consistently large. When shareholders approve stock issuances, whether public or rights offerings, or private placements, the average announcement returns are significantly positive, on the order of 2%. But when managers issue stock without shareholder approval, as in the case of U.S. public offerings, returns are significantly negative and 4% lower, on average, than for shareholder-approved issues. What’s more, the closer in time the shareholder vote is to the issue date, and the greater the required plurality (say, two-thirds instead of half the vote required for approval), the more positive is the market reaction to the issue—and these findings hold for each of the three main kinds of offerings that take place in all 23 countries in the author’s sample.

Also telling, in countries where shareholder approval is required, such as Sweden and Malaysia, rights offers predominate over public issues. But in countries like the U.S. and Japan, where managers may generally issue stock without shareholder approval, public offers predominate over rights issues. These findings suggest that agency problems—the tendency of corporate managements to put their own interests before their shareholders’—play a major role in equity issuances. Such findings are also largely inconsistent with the adverse selection, market timing, and signaling explanations that currently dominate academic thinking about equity issuances by public corporations.

Authored by Clifford G. Holdernes