In a highly anticipated appraisal decision, Vice Chancellor Laster today valued Dell’s common stock at $17.62 per share, reflecting a 28% premium above the $13.75 merger price that was paid to Dell shareholders on October 29, 2013. The court further ordered that interest shall accrue on this amount at the statutory rate of interest (5% over the Federal Reserve discount rate), compounding quarterly, from the merger date until the date of payment.
Today’s New York Times ran this piece analyzing the proposed Delaware amendments on appraisal proceedings, which we blogged about last week. The New York Times shares our own observation that the proposed legislation’s provision allowing for prepayment by the M&A target could have the unintended effect of increasing appraisal filings: “Rather than discourage appraisal petitions, the elimination of interest accrual through prepayment may actually spur more appraisal actions because hedge funds would be paid sooner and be able to use that money to bring more appraisal actions.”
Proposed changes to the Delaware appraisal statute have cleared Delaware’s House of Representatives without dissent, and now move on to the state Senate. The new legislation, which we blogged about in March, sets a floor for the number of shares and value of suit necessary to bring an appraisal action. It also permits M&A targets to prepay merger consideration to dissenting shareholders to avoid interest accruing on the prepaid amounts. We note that the target’s ability to prepay some or all of the merger consideration could have the unintended effect of increasing the number of appraisal filings by ameliorating an investor’s illiquidity problem in prosecuting an appraisal action. Investors may now be enabled to redeploy their otherwise trapped capital in a new appraisal case; while investors would obviously lose their statutory interest on the prepaid amount, that might be a trade-off they can live with.
On May 11, Vice Chancellor Laster issued an opinion in the Dell case denying the T. Rowe Price lead petitioner’s entitlement to proceed with its appraisal case on the grounds that it (inadvertently) voted in favor of the merger, when it should have abstained or voted against. The ruling did not address the underlying valuation issue, which is still outstanding.
The highlights of this ruling:
- The record evidence shows that T. Rowe instructed Cede via its custodian to vote in favor of the merger; the arguments that those instructions were mistaken and unintended are irrelevant.
- The Transkaryotic, BMC Software and com line of cases allowing appraisal arbitrage is irrelevant, as those cases involved an absence of proof regarding how the petitioners’ shares were voted; here there is record evidence of how those shares voted. It is not enough to rely on Cede having generally voted enough shares against the merger as was true in the Transkaryotic cases. To read more from previous posts on this topic, click here and here.
- Also irrelevant was the apparent confusion caused by the proxy statement that was issued after the shareholder meeting was rescheduled, telling shareholders that that there was no need to re-vote if they had previously voted (and here, T. Rowe had previously voted “Against”).
- The court was unapologetic and unequivocal in reaching this decision. This is unlike the court’s July 2015 opinion which dismissed approximately 1 million petitioning shares based on the violation of the continuous holder requirement, in which the chancery court so much as asked the Supreme Court to reverse that decision. That decision arose from certain petitioners’ custodians having directed Cede to re-certificate the shares in the names of their own nominees rather than that of Cede.
- Rowe was given the merger price, without interest (the merger closed in October 2013).