21 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2021 Last revised: 10 Mar 2021
Date Written: February 1, 2021
Although it is well understood that activist shareholders challenge management, they can also serve as a shield. This Article describes “validation capital,” which occurs when a bloc holder’s—and generally an activist hedge fund’s—presence protects management from shareholder interference and allows management’s pre-existing strategy to proceed uninterrupted. When a sophisticated bloc holder with a large investment and the ability to threaten management’s control chooses to vouch for management’s strategy after vetting it, this support can send a credible signal to the market that protects management from disruption. By protecting a value-creating management strategy that might otherwise be misjudged, providers of validation capital benefit all shareholders, including themselves. However, validation capital may also have a dark side: in theory, it could be used to entrench under-performing management from outside interference that would benefit the company and its shareholders. In this scenario, the bloc holder acts as a hired “bodyguard” who receives a side payment in exchange for the promise to ward off other investors. We theorize that legal and market forces do much to constrain the corrupt form of validation capital, and our empirical study of hedge fund activism events from 2015 offers evidence in support of our theory. We find that although side payments from corporate management to hedge funds are relatively common, they tend to be small, and not of the magnitude necessary to induce corruption of the sophisticated funds capable of generating a persuasive signal.
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