Freezing out the minority shareholders of Altice Europe: how protective is Dutch law?

On 11 September 2020, Altice Europe announced that it had entered into an agreement with its 78% controlling shareholder, Patrick Drahi, on an all-cash offer of EUR 4.11 per share for all shares in Altice Europe. Mr Drahi has also announced his intention to freeze out any non-tendering shareholders, either through a statutory squeeze-out procedure or through a post-offer merger or asset sale.

In two letters (available here and here), Lucerne Capital Management, a hedge fund, voiced its opposition against the deal, stating that “the vast majority of Altice Europe’s minority shareholders believe that the public offer is nothing more than an illicit attempt by Mr Drahi to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic to yet again transfer massive value to himself, to the detriment of the minority shareholders”. Lucerne also initiated proceedings with the Amsterdam Enterprise Chamber, requesting the court to appoint three independent directors and to block the post-offer merger and asset sale. Three other investment funds, Sessa, Sheffield and Winterbrook filed similar proceedings. Their main criticism was aimed at the post-offer freeze-out techniques. Continue reading “Freezing out the minority shareholders of Altice Europe: how protective is Dutch law?”

De nieuwe procedure voor ‘related party transactions’ na de wet tot omzetting van de Tweede Aandeelhoudersrichtlijn

Wet van 29 april 2020

Op 6 mei 2020 verscheen de wet van 29 april 2020 die de Tweede Aandeelhoudersrichtlijn (2017/828) omzet (hierna: de “Omzettingswet”) in het Belgisch Staatsblad (de tekst van de Omzettingswet vindt u hier; een gecoördineerde versie van het WVV vindt u hier). Deze wet “repareert” enkele bepalingen in het WVV en bevat een aantal wijzigingen die de Tweede Aandeelhoudersrichtlijn omzetten, onder andere op het gebied van de betrokkenheid van aandeelhouders, volmachtadviseurs, het remuneratiebeleid en -verslag, en de procedure voor related party transactions in art. 7:97, 7:116 en 7:117 WVV.

Deze blogpost bespreekt enkel de wijzigingen met betrekking tot de procedure voor related party transactions. De focus ligt hierbij voor de eenvoud op de procedure bij een monistisch bestuursmodel in art. 7:97 WVV – de procedure voor het duale bestuursmodel in art. 7:116 en 7:117 WVV werd op analoge wijze gewijzigd door de Omzettingswet. Deze bepalingen bevatten belangenconflictprocedures die als doel hebben om de aandeelhouders te beschermen bij transacties met verbonden partijen in genoteerde vennootschappen waarvoor het bestuursorgaan bevoegd is.

Continue reading “De nieuwe procedure voor ‘related party transactions’ na de wet tot omzetting van de Tweede Aandeelhoudersrichtlijn”

Revised €1,3 billion settlement in the Fortis case approved by Dutch court

On 13 July 2018, the Court of Amsterdam approveda revised €1.308,5 million class action settlement between Ageas (Fortis’ legal successor) and four claimant organizations ((VEB, Deminor, SICAF and Stichting FortisEffect) concerning allegedly false or misleading statements by Fortis during the financial crisis in 2007 and 2008. In an earlier decision of 16 June 2017, the court had declined to approve the settlement (discussed on this blog here). According to the court, the main reasons for this where the unjustified differences in compensation awarded to “active claimants” (those who filed a legal procedure or registered with any of the claimant organizations) and “non-active claimants” (those who didn’t), as well as the exorbitant fees for the claimant organizations.

After the court’s first decision, the parties reached a new settlement agreementon 12 December 2017, which took into account the court’s criticism and included a €100 million increase in the settlement amount. This time, ConsumentenClaim, one of the most important opponents during the first trial, also supported the agreement. Although the court remained critical for one of the claimant organizations (VEB), the court now approved the settlement and declared it binding on all shareholders that do not opt out within five months. This way, more than ten years after the facts, the shareholders of Fortis will get compensation and Ageas can leave this legacy behind.

Continue reading “Revised €1,3 billion settlement in the Fortis case approved by Dutch court”

Are loyalty voting rights efficient?

Some reflections on the Belgian proposals

Especially after the financial crisis, many people have drawn attention to the problem of short-termism. There are many possible strategies to address this problem, including awarding additional voting rights to loyal shareholders (“loyalty voting rights”). Both France and Italy have introduced loyalty voting rights, and now the Belgian proposal for a new Companies and Associations Code also contains the possibility of loyalty voting rights in listed companies (discussed in previous blog posts here and here).

Of course, this raises the question how effective loyalty voting rights, as proposed in the Belgian Company Law Reform, are in addressing the short-termism problem. In this blog post, I argue that loyalty voting rights are unlikely to increase the holding periods of investors, as the evidence suggests that they are only used by the controlling shareholders. However, loyalty voting rights will allow a controlling shareholder to insulate itself from short-term market pressures. On the other hand, insulation also comes with the disadvantage of higher agency costs.

Therefore, I argue that loyalty voting shares are in fact nothing else than a type of control-enhancing mechanism. This implies that shareholders should be protected against midstream introductions of loyalty voting rights. On this ground, I question the wisdom of lowering the threshold to introduce loyalty voting rights, as the Belgian legislator is proposing, inspired by the French and Italian examples. In addition, I propose an additional majority for the introduction of loyalty voting rights, inspired by the idea of “majority of the minority” approval.

Continue reading “Are loyalty voting rights efficient?”

Verplicht bod en meervoudig stemrecht

Hoe het WVV de Overnamerichtlijn schendt en het verplicht bod uitholt

Inleiding

Ondertussen is het algemeen bekend onder vennootschapsjuristen en lezers van Corporate Finance Lab dat het WVV het loyauteitsstemrecht zal toelaten voor genoteerde vennootschappen (zie eerder op deze blog hier). Minder algemeen bekend is misschien dat ook winstbewijzen met meervoudig stemrecht mogelijk worden, zelfs in de genoteerde NV en zonder loyauteitsvoorwarde. Los van de fundamentele wenselijkheidsvragen die dergelijke afwijkingen van het “one share, one vote” beginsel oproepen, rijst er ook een juridisch-technische vraag: hoe verhoudt dit meervoudig stemrecht zich tegen drempels die geformuleerd worden als een bepaald percentage van “de effecten met stemrecht” of “de stemrechten”, en meer bepaald met de drempel voor het verplicht openbaar bod?

In deze blogpost bespreek ik de nieuwe bepaling in het WVV die stelt dat de 30% grens voor het verplicht openbaar bod moet berekend worden als “30% van de effecten met stemrecht”, en dus niet als 30% van de stemrechten. In de woorden van de memorie van toelichting wordt het (eventueel) dubbel stemrecht voor loyale aandeelhouders en het (eventueel) meervoudig stemrecht voor winstbewijshouders “geneutraliseerd” voor doeleinden van het verplicht bod. Als een aandeelhouder bijvoorbeeld 25% van de aandelen in zijn bezit heeft, maar door het dubbel loyauteitsstemrecht of door het houden van één enkel winstbewijs met meervoudig stemrecht, meer dan 30% van de stemrechten bezit, dan moet hij volgens het WVV geen verplicht bod uitbrengen.

Ik zal argumenteren dat dit (1) in strijd is met de tekst van de Overnamerichtlijn, en (2) in strijd is met de ratio van het verplicht bod. Ten slotte zal ik ook enkele opties bespreken voor hoe de verhouding tussen meervoudig stemrecht en verplicht bod anders kan worden opgelost, met verwijzingen naar Frankrijk en Italië.

Continue reading “Verplicht bod en meervoudig stemrecht”

De pro rata going concern waarde als uitgangspunt bij de waardering in geschillenregeling

10 argumenten tegen controlepremies, minderheidsdécotes en illiquiditeitsdécotes

In een eerdere blogpost zette ik reeds de theorie van de pro rata going-concern waarde uiteen, en argumenteerde ik op basis hiervan tegen de toepassing van controlepremies, minderheidsdécotes en illiquiditeitsdécotes bij de waardering van aandelen in geschillenregeling. In een recent artikel, verschenen in het TRV-RPS, ontwikkel ik deze argumenten verder. Hieronder vind u een samenvatting van de 10 voornaamste argumenten tegen premies en décotes.

Continue reading “De pro rata going concern waarde als uitgangspunt bij de waardering in geschillenregeling”

The Anatomy of Corporate Law (Third Edition) – Book Review

Cover for 

The Anatomy of Corporate Law

A previous blogpost already announced the publication of the third edition of “The Anatomy of Corporate Law”. The first chapter of the book can be read here. This blogpost reviews The Anatomy in more detail. A Dutch version of this review was published in “Tijdschrift voor Privaatrecht” (TPR).

The Anatomy of Corporate Law is, without a doubt, one of the most important works in the comparative and economic analysis of corporate law.
The Anatomy studies almost all of the important topics in corporate law, ranging from the basic governance structure to takeovers and securities regulation. It should be mandatory reading for corporate law scholars all over the world and can serve as an excellent basis for teaching comparative corporate law to students. Continue reading “The Anatomy of Corporate Law (Third Edition) – Book Review”

Uitstoting van minderheids-aandeelhouders uit genoteerde vennootschappen

Over “squeeze-outs”, “freeze-out mergers” en “pre-wired asset sales”

Een eerdere blogpost rapporteerde over de toekenning van de TRV-RPS Prijs 2016 voor mijn masterthesis over “Freeze-outs of minority shareholders: a comparative law and economics approach” (hier beschikbaar). Ondertussen werd er een herwerkte en ingekorte versie gepubliceerd als artikel in het “Tijdschrift voor Rechtspersoon en Vennootschap – Revue pratique des sociétés” (TRV-RPS). Hieronder volgt een samenvatting van de belangrijkste stellingen. Continue reading “Uitstoting van minderheids-aandeelhouders uit genoteerde vennootschappen”

The AkzoNobel Case: An Activist Shareholder’s Battle against the Backdrop of the Shareholder Rights Directive

Article in European Company Law

In two earlier blogposts on this blog (here and here), I commented (together with Thom Wetzer for the first post) on the two recent decisions of the Dutch courts in the AkzoNobel case. In a recently published article in the journal “European Company Law”, I further develop my arguments about this case. Continue reading “The AkzoNobel Case: An Activist Shareholder’s Battle against the Backdrop of the Shareholder Rights Directive”

Are markets efficient? A discussion between Thaler and Fama

An earlier blogpost reported the award of the Nobel Prize in Economics 2017 to Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago for his work on behavioural economics.

In this video of the Chicago Booth Review, Thaler, a vehement critic of the idea of market efficiency, engages in an interesting discussion with Eugene Fama, another University of Chicago Nobel Prize laureate (2013) and widely regarded as “the father of the efficient-market hypothesis”.

In his previous work, Eugene Fama introduced the model of “efficient capital markets”, i.e. markets that fully reflect all available information (see the paper: “Efficient Capital Markets: A Review of Theory and Empirical Work”). The most common version of this model that is defended today, is the “semi-strong version”, according to which all publicly available information is incorporated in stock prices (but information that is held privately by some investors not necessarily so).

Thaler has spent much of his time writing about how people are not completely rational, an assumption that strongly underpins the efficient-markets hypothesis, for example in his book “Nudge” (together with Cass Sunstein) and in his book “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics”.

In the discussion with Fama, Thaler distinguishes two aspects of the efficient-markets hypothesis: “One is whether you can beat the market. The other is whether prices are correct.” On the first aspect, Fama and Thaler are in agreement: generally, even professional mutual fund managers fail to consistently beat the market, after subtracting management costs (Michael Jensen from Harvard University first provided evidence for this hypothesis in this paper).

Fama and Thaler do disagree (and rather strongly) about the second aspect, however. In the video, Fama argues as follows about the efficient-market hypothesis: Continue reading “Are markets efficient? A discussion between Thaler and Fama”

The second episode in the AkzoNobel saga: activist shareholders lose again in Dutch court, but reach settlement

Decision of 10 Augustus 2017 by the Dutch court in summary proceedings (“voorzieningenrechter”)

In a decision of 10 Augustus 2017, the Dutch court in summary proceedings (“voorzieningenrechter”) denied the request of two activist shareholders of AkzoNobel, Elliott and York, to convene an extraordinary general meeting (“EGM”) to dismiss Akzo’s chairman of the supervisory board. The reason for the shareholders’ request was the decision of Akzo’s board not to engage in negotiations with PPG concerning its takeover bid on Akzo. The Dutch court, however, held that the shareholders failed to show a “reasonable interest” and should await the general meeting of 8 September 2017, where Akzo’s board will provide further explanation on this topic. Shortly after this decision, on 16 August 2017, Elliott and Akzo reached a standstill agreement, where Elliott agreed to suspend further litigation for at least three months. Continue reading “The second episode in the AkzoNobel saga: activist shareholders lose again in Dutch court, but reach settlement”

New ECJ ruling on price adjustments in mandatory bids in case of collusion

Marco Tronchetti Provera SpA e.a. v. Consob on article 5(4) of the Takeover Directive

In a decision of 20 July 2017 in the case Marco Tronchetti Provera SpA e.a. v. Consob, the European Court of Justice ruled for the first time on the interpretation of article 5(4) of the Takeover Directive, which covers the possibility for the national supervisory authority to adjust the price of a mandatory bid. In this case, the Italian supervisory authority, the Consob, had decided to increase the price because it believed that there was collusion between the bidder and one of the sellers. This price adjustment was allowed by Italian takeover law, but the bidder believed that the Italian law violated the Takeover Directive, arguing that the criteria for a price adjustment were insufficiently clear. Continue reading “New ECJ ruling on price adjustments in mandatory bids in case of collusion”

€1,2 billion settlement in Fortis case rejected by Dutch Court

On 16 June 2017, the Court of Amsterdam refused to approve the settlement reached in a Dutch mass claims procedure between Ageas (Fortis’ legal successor) and four claimant organisations (VEB, Deminor, SICAF and Stichting FortisEffect) concerning allegedly false or misleading statements by Fortis during the financial crisis in 2007 and 2008. The €1,2 billion settlement was the largest of its kind in Europe. The main rationale for the court’s decision? The court held that the distinction in compensation between “Active Claimants” (those who filed a legal procedure or registered with any of the claimant organisations) and “Non-Active Claimants” (those who didn’t) was unjustified and that the fees for claimant organisations were exorbitant.

This means that Ageas and the claimant organisations will have to renegotiate their settlement agreement and address the concerns of the Court, if they want to have an agreement that is binding on all potential claimants. Continue reading “€1,2 billion settlement in Fortis case rejected by Dutch Court”

Akzo Nobel: Activist Shareholders Hit Wall of Dutch Stakeholder Model

An analysis by Tom Vos & Thom Wetzer

An attempt at courtship has ended up in court. Over the past months, US paints and coatings giant PPG Industries (‘PPG’) has tried to woe the management and shareholders of Dutch rival Akzo Nobel (‘Akzo’) with friendly takeover offers. It has been rewarded by a consistently aloof response from Akzo’s boards, and especially its Chairman Antony Burgmans, who has so far refused to enter talks. On May 29, the Enterprise Chamber of Amsterdam (a Dutch commercial court) rejected efforts by some of Akzo’s shareholders, led by activist investor Elliott Management Corp. (‘Elliott’), to force a shareholder vote intended to oust Mr. Burgmans.

The case comes at a critical time in what has become an increasingly bitter exchange. Akzo has so far rejected three unsolicited friendly offers from PPG, arguing that they undervalue the company, do not make any serious commitments to its stakeholders, demonstrate a cultural lack of understanding, and entail significant risks and uncertainties (including lengthy reviews by the EU’s competition authority). Continue reading “Akzo Nobel: Activist Shareholders Hit Wall of Dutch Stakeholder Model”

“Nee is nee” – lessen uit de zaak Telegraaf Media Groep (TMG)

Concurrerende bieder bij een bod door de controlerende aandeelhouder

Afgelopen dinsdagavond deed de Ondernemingskamer te Amsterdam een uitspraak in de zaak rond de overname van Telegraaf Media Groep (TMG) door Mediahuis en de familie Van Puijenbroek (samen het “consortium”). Kort gezegd wees de rechter de voorziening van concurrerende bieder Talpa af, zodat de weg voor een overname door het consortium nu open ligt.

Deze beslissing is één van de weinige Nederlandse uitspraken over concurrerende biedingen bij een openbaar overnamebod. Het gaat in op een aantal interessante vragen over de rol van de raad van bestuur, de raad van commissarissen en de controlerende aandeelhouder bij een overname. Deze blogpost is een eerste commentaar die deze zaak in de ruimere juridische context kadert, parallellen trekt met de Amerikaanse overname-rechtspraak, en bespreekt welke lessen getrokken kunnen worden uit deze zaak. Continue reading ““Nee is nee” – lessen uit de zaak Telegraaf Media Groep (TMG)”