On July 8, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued its opinion in In re Appraisal of DFC Global Corp.  A financial buyer, Lone Star Fund VIII, acquired DFC Corporation in June 2014 for $9.50 per share in an all-cash deal.  Using a combination of a discounted cash flow analysis, comparable companies analysis, and the merger price, Chancellor Bouchard determined the fair value of DFC as a stand-alone entity at the time of closing to be $10.21 per share, or 7% above deal price, before adding statutory interest.

While observing “merger price in an arm’s-length transaction that was subjected to a robust market check is a strong indication of fair value,” the Court also cautioned that merger price “is reliable only when the market conditions leading to the transaction are conducive to achieving a fair price.”  Concluding that deference to merger price would be improper, the Court highlighted that “[t]he transaction here was negotiated and consummated during a period of significant company turmoil and regulatory uncertainty” arising from possible regulatory changes affecting payday lenders, such as DFC, in the countries in which they operate.  These potential regulatory changes could have had the negative effect of rendering DFC’s business not viable or the positive effect of reducing DFC’s competition in certain markets.  As a result of this uncertainty, DFC repeatedly lowered guidance throughout the sales process and potential bidders were deterred.  Indeed, Lone Star itself cited the uncertainty surrounding DFC as a reason it perceived value in acquiring the DFC.  Because of these regulatory uncertainties and their impact on management’s forecasts, the Court gave equal weight to its DCF analysis, the comparable companies analysis, and the merger price.

The Court’s opinion is also notable for its extensive discussion of the relevant beta to applySpecifically, the Court declined to rely upon Barra beta, a proprietary model designed to measure a firm’s sensitivity to changes in the industry or the market.  While not rejecting the use of Barra beta wholesale, the Court reiterated that in order to rely upon it, the expert applying the model must be able to re-create its findings and explain its predictive effectiveness, something DFC’s expert was found unable to do.  The Court also reiterated its preference for a beta that applies a measurement period of five years rather than two years unless “a fundamental change in business operations occurs.”

Finally, the Court rejected Petitioners’ expert’s use of a 3-stage DCF model.  As the Court recognized, “that the growth rate drops off somewhat sharply from the projection period to the terminal period is not ideal but not necessarily problematic.”  The Court was particularly reluctant to perform a 3-stage DCF that extrapolated from forecasts it found to be flawed given the regulatory uncertainty.  Accordingly, the Court performed a 2-stage DCF, the analysis of which is regularly cited in Owen v. Cannon, a case on which we’ve blogged on previously.

Ultimately, dissenters are receiving $10.21 per share, along with interest accruing from the June 13, 2014, closing at the statutory rate of 5% over the Federal Reserve discount rate, compounded quarterly.  A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that, as of this posting, the appraisal award thus rises to approximately $11.50 total, or approximately 21% over the merger price, once interest is factored in.