As we’ve previously covered in this blog, the Delaware Legislature has proposed two changes to its appraisal statute in response to an increasing number of appraisal filings. The first proposal, the De Minimis Exception, would require that anyone bringing an appraisal action have, at minimum, a $1 million stake in the company or 1 percent of its shares. The second proposal, the Interest Reduction Amendment, would allow companies subject to appraisal actions to prepay any desired amount on the merger consideration. This prepaid amount would count toward any final judgment rendered by the Court, and would not be subject to the prejudgment interest rate.
With these proposals in mind, academics Wei Jiang, Tai Li, Danqing Mei, and Randall Thomas have considered whether these proposed reforms will achieve their stated goals. They provide a statistical analysis of the rise of appraisal actions in their article “Reforming the Delaware Appraisal Statute to Address Appraisal Arbitrage: Will It Be Successful?” First, they find that, in recent years, hedge funds have dominated the appraisal arbitrage strategy, with the top seven hedge funds accounting for over 50 percent of the dollar volume of all appraisal petitions. Second, most appraisal petitions target deals with potential conflicts of interest, such as going-private deals, minority squeeze-outs, and short-form mergers. Each of these deals is associated with a 2-10 percent increase in the probability of an appraisal filing. Low takeover premiums also generate a higher probability of appraisal petitions.
The authors find that the De Minimis Exception will likely lead to a 23 percent drop in the number of appraisal filings. Although about 39 percent of appraisal petitions between 2000 and 2014 failed to meet the De Minimis Exception, about 16 percent of these petitions were short-form mergers, which would be excluded from this exception. The authors contend that this 23 percent drop provides an accurate estimate of how many claims would be barred in the future if the De Minimis Exception were to pass.
The authors argue that the Interest Reduction Amendment would have a much larger impact on appraisal filings, though this blog recently covered an opposing view. Interest accounted for about 60 percent of the returns in appraisal arbitrage trials between 2000 and 2014, and 11 percent of cases would have had negative raw returns were it not for the interest rate. The authors conclude that the current interest rate likely stimulated 45 percent of all the appraisal petitions filed. Based on this rationale, the prepayment amendment could significantly lower how much interest accrued, and in turn, theoretically lower the number of appraisal petitions filed as it would change the economic calculus of filing a petition. However, as we’ve previously posted, the prepayment amendment may just as well increase the number of filings, since stockholders would have more liquidity and could redeploy the prepayment capital to their next appraisal case.
Whether the amendments will ultimately become law remains to be seen, as well as their ultimate effect on appraisal proceedings.
* The Appraisal Rights Litigation Blog thanks Trevor Halsey, a student at Brooklyn Law School and summer law clerk for Lowenstein Sandler for his substantial contribution to this post.