Throughout this entire lesson we have focused our attention on making the merger and acquisition process work. In this final part, we will do just the opposite; we will look at ways of discouraging the merger and acquisition process. If a company is concerned about being acquired by another company, several anti-takeover defenses can be implemented. As a minimum, most companies concerned about takeovers will closely monitor the trading of their stock for large volume changes.
a. Poison pill
One of the most popular anti-takeover defenses is the poison pill. Poison pills represent rights or options issued to shareholders and bondholders. These rights trade in conjunction with other securities and they usually have an expiration date. When a merger occurs, the rights are detached from the security and exercised, giving the holder an opportunity to buy more securities at a deep discount. For example, stock rights are issued to shareholders, giving them an opportunity to buy stock in the acquiring company at an extremely low price. The rights cannot be exercised unless a tender offer of 20% or more is made by another company. This type of issue is designed to reduce the value of the Target Company. Flip-over rights provide for purchase of the Acquiring Company while flip-in rights give the shareholder the right to acquire more stock in the Target Company. Put options are used with bondholders, allowing them to sell-off bonds in the event that an unfriendly takeover occurs. By selling off the bonds, large principal payments come due and this lowers the value of the Target Company.
b. Golden Parachutes
Another popular anti-takeover defense is the Golden Parachute. Golden parachutes are large compensation payments to executive management, payable if they depart unexpectedly. Lump sum payments are made upon termination of employment. The amount of compensation is usually based on annual compensation and years of service. Golden parachutes are narrowly applied to only the most elite executives and thus, they are sometimes viewed negatively by shareholders and others. In relation to other types of takeover defenses, golden parachutes are not very effective.
c. Changes to the Corporate Charter
If management can obtain shareholder approval, several changes can be made to the Corporate Charter for discouraging mergers. These changes include:
Staggered Terms for Board Members: Only a few board members are elected each year. When an acquiring firm gains control of the Target Company, important decisions are more difficult since the acquirer lacks full board membership. A staggered board usually provides that one-third are elected each year for a 3 year term. Since acquiring firms often gain control directly from shareholders, staggered boards are not a major anti-takeover defense.
Super-majority Requirement: Typically, simple majorities of shareholders are required for various actions. However, the corporate charter can be amended, requiring that a super-majority (such as 80%) is required for approval of a merger. Usually an "escape clause" is added to the charter, not requiring a super-majority for mergers that have been approved by the Board of Directors. In cases where a partial tender offer has been made, the super-majority requirement can discourage the merger.
Fair Pricing Provision: In the event that a partial tender offer is made, the charter can require that minority shareholders receive a fair price for their stock. Since many countries have adopted fair pricing laws, inclusion of a fair pricing provision in the corporate charter may be a moot point. However, in the case of a two-tiered offer where there is no fair pricing law, the acquiring firm will be forced to pay a "blended" price for the stock.
Dual Capitalization: Instead of having one class of equity stock, the company has a dual equity structure. One class of stock, held by management, will have much stronger voting rights than the other publicly traded stock. Since management holds superior voting power, management has increased control over the company.
One way for a company to avoid a merger is to make a major change in its capital structure. For example, the company can issue large volumes of debt and initiate a self-offer or buy back of its own stock. If the company seeks to buy-back all of its stock, it can go private through a leveraged buy out (LBO). However, leveraged re-capitalization require stable earnings and cash flows for servicing the high debt loads. And the company should not have plans for major capital investments in the near future. Therefore, leveraged recaps should stand on their own merits and offer additional values to shareholders. Maintaining high debt levels can make it more difficult for the acquiring company since a low debt level allows the acquiring company to borrow easily against the assets of the Target Company.
Instead of issuing more debt, the Target Company can issue more stock. In many cases, the Target Company will have a friendly investor known as a "white squire" which seeks a quality investment and does not seek control of the Target Company. Once the additional shares have been issued to the white squire, it now takes more shares to obtain control over the Target Company.
Finally, the Target Company can do things to boost valuations, such as stock buy-backs and spinning off parts of the company. In some cases, the target company may want to consider liquidation, selling-off assets and paying out a liquidating dividend to shareholders. It is important to emphasize that all restructuring should be directed at increasing shareholder value and not at trying to stop a merger.
Other Anti Takeover Defenses
Finally, if an unfriendly takeover does occur, the company does have some defenses to discourage the proposed merger:
Stand Still Agreement:
The acquiring company and the target company can reach agreement whereby the acquiring company ceases to acquire stock in the target for a specified period of time. This stand still period gives the Target Company time to explore its options. However, most stand still agreements will require compensation to the acquiring firm since the acquirer is running the risk of losing synergy values.
Green Mail: If the acquirer is an investor or group of investors, it might be possible to buy back their stock at a special offering price. The two parties hold private negotiations and settle for a price. However, this type of targeted repurchase of stock runs contrary to fair and equal treatment for all shareholders. Therefore, green mail is not a widely accepted anti-takeover defense.
White Knight: If the target company wants to avoid a hostile merger, one option is to seek out another company for a more suitable merger. Usually, the Target Company will enlist the services of an investment banker to locate a "white knight." The White Knight Company comes in and rescues the Target Company from the hostile takeover attempt. In order to stop the hostile merger, the White Knight will pay a price more favorable than the price offered by the hostile bidder.
Litigation: One of the more common approaches to stopping a merger is to legally challenge the merger. The Target Company will seek an injunction to stop the takeover from proceeding. This gives the target company time to mount a defense. For example, the Target Company will routinely challenge the acquiring company as failing to give proper notice of the merger and failing to disclose all relevant information to shareholders.
Pac Man Defense: As a last resort, the target company can make a tender offer to acquire the stock of the hostile bidder. This is a very extreme type of anti-takeover defense and usually signals desperation.
One very important issue about anti-takeover defenses is valuations. Many anti-takeover defenses (such as poison pills, golden parachutes, etc.) have a tendency to protect management as opposed to the shareholder. Consequently, companies with anti-takeover defenses usually have less upside potential with valuations as opposed to companies that lack anti-takeover defenses. Additionally, most studies show that anti-takeover defenses are not successful in preventing mergers. They simply add to the premiums that acquiring companies must pay for target companies.