The Case for Non-Binary, Contingent, Shareholder Action
33 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2020 Last revised: 21 Jul 2020
Date Written: February 2, 2020
Shareholder action is exercised mainly through a binary system: for example, the shareholders vote either to approve a proposal or to reject it. They either follow the recommendation of management and vote with management or vote against it. In case of contention between incumbents and insurgents, shareholders need to determine whom to trust. Disclosures and proxy advisory firms’ recommendations add to the information the shareholders might consider before casting their binary vote. However, retail investors as well as small investors are generally underequipped and restricted economically from reaching an informed and educated shareholder decision, and thus vote infrequently. Abuse of insider information further disadvantages retail investors. Yet, corporate decisions are based on the choice of the majority of the shareholder vote and retail investors are assumed to rely on disclosed information when making investment decisions.
The new generation of Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs), currently representing about half of the U.S. going-public transactions, is one example that illustrates the weakness of the binary system and the consequent vulnerability of small and unsophisticated shareholders. Remarkably, investors in SPACs can vote yes on management proposed acquisition transactions and, nonetheless, simultaneously choose to redeem their shares. Unsophisticated retail investors may not realize that they, as well, will be better off if they redeem their shares even though the transaction received the approval of the majority of the shareholder vote.
This Article puts forward a proposal to amend the law and allow shareholders to act in a way that is contingent upon a simultaneous non-contingent action by other shareholders. For example, a shareholder of a SPAC should be able to choose to redeem her shares iff at least a specified percentage of redemption rights are exercised unconditionally. Similarly, a shareholder who has preemptive rights should have the right to exercise her rights with a limit that caps her participation and maintains her percentage holdings in the company.
Generally, shareholders should have the option to act contingently when they are exercising a shareholder right, such as preemptive rights, appraisal rights, and when they are given a choice to participate in transactions such as tender offers and stock-buybacks. Unlike mandatory disclosure rules imposed on insiders, the proposed non-binary, contingent, shareholder action treats all shareholders equally and increases the power of the shareholder's action without incurring high costs of collaboration and communication among the shareholders..
Keywords: corporate governance, shareholder action, SPACs, blank-check companies, preemptive rights, minority shareholders, public shareholders, rights offers, tunneling, tender offers
JEL Classification: G14, G18, G32, G34, G38, K22
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation