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

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