Delaware's Takeover Law: The Uncertain Search for Hidden Value
46 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2002
It is easy sport to criticize the Delaware takeover cases as inconsistent with the empirical evidence, each other, and a sensible allocation of power between managers and shareholders. We in fact believe all of these things. Here, however, we offer a more sympathetic account of the core Delaware takeover cases. We argue that they reflect an often unstated "hidden value" model, in which a firm's true value is visible to corporate directors but not to shareholders or potential acquirers. We explore the assumptions needed to make the hidden value model internally consistent, and contrast those assumptions to those that underlie to a "visible value" model in which shareholders and potential acquirers are well informed about firm value or can be made so through disclosure by the target's board. (One outcome of carefully stating the hidden value model's assumptions is to expose the model's problems.) We also address and reject a "control premium" theory, sometimes invoked by the Delaware courts, in which control is a corporate asset that the law protects by imposing Revlon duties on the target's board. Assuming that the Delaware courts continue to embrace hidden value, we argue that takeover decisions should, at a minimum, be governed by a bilateral decision-making structure, in which a target board's initial decision to approve an acquisition, block a takeover bid, or choose one bidder over another must be approved or rejected by shareholders. Under this approach, target boards could adopt modest deal protections and say "no" to a takeover bid by adopting a poison pill, but could not say "never" by using a staggered board to block a bid after the bidder wins a proxy contest. The courts must also strictly limit efforts by target boards to stuff the ballot box or otherwise alter shareholder vote outcomes.
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