Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How Tightening Credit Is Hitting Venture Debt Firms

DealJournal,, August 27, 2008:

Providers of loans to start-up and other venture-backed companies are feeling the pinch of the credit problems plaguing Wall Street.
The latest is publicly traded venture debt provider Hercules Technology Growth Capital, which on Monday said it secured a $50 million line of credit from Wells Fargo–much smaller than the $250 million in available credit it secured from Citigroup and Deutsche Bank last year. “We’ve been in discussions, and continue to be in discussions [with Citigroup and Deutsche Bank] about continuing the existing facility, but their appetite to expand the facility we have with them is somewhat limited,” said Scott Harvey, Hercules Technology’s chief legal officer.
Most venture debt providers use a combination of equity and debt to provide loans to small, privately held life science and technology businesses. These firms will still be able to make loans from their own equity, but expect fewer venture-backed companies to be on the receiving end of those loans. “The best companies can still find credit at attractive terms, but as the available credit shrinks, the marginal companies are having more trouble getting deals done,” as are those companies looking for bigger financings, said Maurice Werdegar, an investment partner with Western Technology.
But even the highest-quality venture-backed companies might begin to see tougher terms and higher interest rates as the credit crunch continues. “It’s fair to say that this is starting to trickle down into the borrowing base. As the cost of capital goes up, that has to get passed along,” said Harvey, who added that he expects to begin seeing higher rates in the next three to six months.
Harvey said $50 million is adequate to meet the firm’s needs, and Hercules won’t be looking to add to the facility for at least another three months, but could raise as much as $300 million over the next two years. Harvey added that the company is being cautious about expanding the line of credit because there is a nonuse fee built into it.
Hercules, which has made about $1.3 billion in commitments to life science and technology companies since its inception in 2003, isn’t alone. This month, Western Technology Investment disclosed that its $125 million credit facility is being pulled by J.P. Morgan Chase and Deutsche Bank. “This is not isolated to us or our industry. Basically, the banks are unwinding the lending process,” said Ron Swenson, Western Technology’s chief executive.
Western Technology still has $220 million in equity remaining in its twelfth and most recent fund, which closed in February 2007.

–Scott Denne is a reporter at VentureWire, a Dow Jones publication and a contributor to Deal Journal.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Record Pace for Buying Minority Stakes in Companies

WSJ DealJournal, August 26, 2008:

Takeover activity may be down in the dumps, but acquisitions of minority stakes in companies are on a record pace, with financial industry purchases dominating the category.
Roughly $496 billion has been spent this year buying minority stakes in companies, the highest year-to-date figure recorded by data provider Dealogic, and 30% more than the $381 million of deals struck in the year-earlier period. The financial sector is the most targeted industry, with acquisitions totaling $88.9 billion, followed by mining sector and oil-and-gas companies, at $49.8 billion and $44.4 billion, respectively.
The largest completed acquisition of a minority stake this year is Aluminium Corp. of China and Alcoa’s spending $14.3 billion to buy a 12% stake in miner Rio Tinto. Last month’s $9.1 billion purchase by German ball-bearing concern Schaeffler Group of a stake in tire maker Continental is the most recent large deal.
U.S. companies have been the most targeted, with deals valued at $83.9 billion completed this year, followed by the U.K. at $60 billion and Germany at $37.1 billion.
Goldman Sachs Group tops the rankings for advising on minority acquisitions, with deal credits totaling $49.5 billion, $6 million ahead of second-place Credit Suisse Group.

–Harry Wilson is investment banking editor at Financial News, a Dow Jones publication and a contributor to Deal Journal.

When will Lehman Brothers die?

NYT DealBook, by Andrew Ross Sorkin, August 26, 2008:

Judging by the headlines, you’d think the troubled investment bank would go belly up any day now. In fact, it probably never will.
Lehman may not be too big to fail, but it may be too important to fail. Why? Because Richard S. Fuld Jr., Lehman’s chairman and chief executive, is too important. He is a member of an exclusive club: the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
It’s hard to believe that the Fed would let one of its own fail the way Bear Stearns did. Another member of club Fed, James Dimon, JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive, was handed the deal of a lifetime. Alan D. Schwartz of Bear Stearns? Not a member.
Given Mr. Fuld’s access to Fed chief Ben S. Bernanke and Mr. Bernanke’s man on Wall Street, Timothy F. Geithner, Mr. Fuld is in a much better position than his rivals to keep his firm alive. A prediction: Watch the Fed’s discount window for loans to brokerage firms. It won’t close until Mr. Fuld is out of the woods.

Monday, August 25, 2008

PE Sales to Strategic Buyers Defy Weak Exit Market

WSJ DealJournal, August 25, 2008:

With a lackluster IPO market and continued weakness in the appetite of financial buyers, strategic acquirers have been a key source of liquidity for firms that look to sell assets.
U.S. sales to strategic, or corporate, buyers by private-equity firms are up 46% to $63.1 billion through Aug. 20, from $43.1 billion a year earlier, according to data provider Dealogic. though the number of such deals fell to 70 from 88.
This theme is playing out more modestly around the globe. Sales to corporate buyers world-wide are up 8% to $107.5 billion from $99.4 billion, with the number of deals falling to 255 from 356. By contrast, secondary buyouts–or sales to other PE firms–are down 93% in the U.S. and 83% globally.
Buyout shop executives and intermediaries alike say since the credit markets seized up, strategic buyers have come back with a vengeance, after previously losing auctions repeatedly to cash-rich financial sponsors. For PE firms, it is a silver lining in an otherwise bleak exit environment.
Chicago Growth Partners and ClearLight Partners stand to receive more than three times their money when their sale of campus-services company U.S. Education to education concern DeVry for $290 million is complete. while Carlyle Venture Partners, Wachovia Capital Partners and Spire Capital Partners sold security company Sonitrol to Stanley Works last month for $276 million, or about 10 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. That is more than twice what the PE firms paid for Sonitrol in 2004 and on top of a sonitrol dividend the sponsors paid themselves in 2005.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Germany backs law to protect firms from foreigners

BERLIN, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Germany's cabinet agreed on Wednesday to bring in rules to protect domestic firms from foreign buyers, notably sovereign wealth funds (SWFs), who could exert political influence, a German government official said.
Under the new rules, the government will be able to review and veto purchases of stakes of 25 percent or more in German firms made by buyers outside the EU or European Free Trade Association if it deems German security is at risk.
The rules, to stop cash-rich SWFs from countries including Russia, China and Gulf states exerting leverage in strategic sectors, extend the law -- which currently applies only to the arms industry -- to all sectors.
SWFs control an estimated $3 trillion in assets globally.
Economists and some industry groups have warned that any signs the government of the world's No.1 goods exporter is taking steps which could be viewed by markets as protectionist may frighten off foreign investors.
The government has stressed it would intervene only in exceptional cases.
The Economy Ministry will be able to look at a purchase up to three months after the acquisition is made or the intention to make an acquisition is made public. It then has two months to decide whether to veto the purchase.
Parliament still has to pass the plans. For a factbox on the rules, please click on [ID:nLJ374737] (Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Monday, August 18, 2008

In an Ohio State of Mind

August 15, 2008, NYT Times DealBook, by Steven M. Davidoff, The Deal Professor.

In light of Delaware’s dominance of takeover regulation, it is easy to forget that other states have their own, sometimes very different, takeover laws and procedures.
California rejects Delaware’s Revlon doctrine, which requires that a board obtain the highest price reasonably available when a break-up or sale of the company is inevitable; Texas requires a two-thirds vote to approve a takeover via a merger; and Pennsylvania has the toughest antitakeover laws in the nation, the result of an attempt in the 1980s to protect its industrial enterprises from out-of-state acquirers.
I was thinking about this in light of Thursday’s moves by Harbinger Capital Management.
Harbinger, a hedge-fund firm much in the headlines these days, has delivered a control share acquisition statement to Cleveland-Cliffs under Ohio’s Control Share Acquisition Statute, proposing to acquire up to one-third of Cleveland-Cliffs.
Cleveland-Cliffs is a mining company incorporated under the laws of Ohio and therefore governed by Ohio’s takeover laws. Harbinger took this step in order to block Cleveland’s pending acquisition of Alpha Natural Resources.
Cleveland is the proposed acquirer of Alpha, but it is required to hold a vote to approve the acquisition under Ohio law (and New York Stock Exchange rules, for that matter).
A quirky Ohio antitakeover statute (Section 1701.83 of the Ohio General Corporate law) requires Cleveland-Cliffs to have a vote of its shareholders to approve any issuance of its shares in an acquisition transaction in which it issues stock representing more than than one-sixth of its voting power.
The vote requirement is not the quirk; NYSE rules require a similar vote if a company issues more than 20 percent of its voting power. But rather the quirk is that two-thirds of Cleveland’s shareholders must approve the acquisition under the statute.
This is a problem for Cleveland. Harbinger already owns 15.57 percent of the company. If it acquires all of the shares it seeks, or even a significant portion of them, it will be able to block Cleveland-Cliffs’ acquisition of Alpha.
But before Harbinger can acquire this position, it must comply with another Ohio law, the Ohio Control Share Acquisition Statute (Section 1701.831 of the Ohio General Corporate Law).
This species of law is common in many states, but is not the law of Delaware. Control share acquisition statutes, along with other state antitakeover laws, were often passed in the 1980s to stem hostile takeovers of local enterprises.
Ohio’s version of the control share acquisition statute requires that shareholders pre-approve any acquisition that, when added to the proposed buyer’s current share ownership, would equal one-fifth or more of the company’s voting power as relates to the election of directors.
So, Harbinger’s delivery of a control share acquisition statement is the first step required in this process.
Ultimately, the statute requires that Harbinger’s acquisition be approved by a majority of those shares that are present at the shareholder meeting voting on this acquisition. However, the count excludes all interested shares; interested shares are defined to include the acquiring person’s shares (in this case Harbinger).
Notably, Ohio, in its infinite wisdom, has also adopted an anti-arbitrageur provision to this statute. This so-called “arb” provision was added in 2003 after Northrop Grumman’s acquisition of TRW, which was based in Ohio. It effectively disenfranchises from voting at the meeting, for the purposes of the control share acquisition statute, any shareholder who acquires a block of shares constituting more than 0.5 percent of the company — in this situation, Cleveland-Cliffs — after the announcement of the control share acquisition.
In Cleveland’s case, that cutoff date was Thursday. Be careful out there.
Now, Cleveland is in a race, with two separate shareholder meetings on the horizon. One is to approve or reject the Alpha Natural Resources acquisition. The second will decide whether or not Harbinger can acquire a sufficient number of shares to block the Alpha transaction.
The question is this: Can Cleveland hold a vote to approve the acquisition of Alpha before the vote to authorize Harbinger’s acquisition of more shares in order to block the transaction?
Or, more appropriately, can Cleveland set the record date for the Alpha meeting — the date on which it counts shareholders eligible to vote — before Harbinger acquires the shares it seeks?
If Cleveland can do so, then Harbinger will need to obtain the votes of other shareholders to block the transaction. Harbinger is stuck until then. Though it can conduct a proxy solicitation against the vote, under the law it can’t acquire more than one-fifth of Cleveland without this shareholder approval.
For those handicapping this race, the determinant of whether or not Cleveland can indeed set this record date before the Alpha meeting will be Cleveland’s ability to clear its pending registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission in time.
Under Ohio law, the Harbinger meeting can be set by the Cleveland board on a date any day 50 days after Thursday, and the record date any day in that period.
That is a decent amount of time, and so I am betting that Cleveland will win this race.
Of course, Cleveland could simply cut through all this by adopting a poison pill to block the acquisition.
Ultimately, Harbinger is posturing here: At this point, Harbinger can likely pull together the remaining shares to block this deal even if it cannot purchase them. The Alpha deal is unlikely to be completed and the question is whether or not Cleveland actually pushes this to a vote and Alpha, out of hope or simply because they are furious, requires that Cleveland do so.
In the meantime, Alpha disclosed in the Cleveland registration statement that it had other suitors (Arcelor Mittal?) though not at the right price.
Will those suitors return? Of course, there are other questions too, such as, what does Harbinger really want? And why didn’t Cleveland get better assurances from Harbinger before agreeing to this acquisition?
This battle also points to the absurdity of the Ohio Control Share Acquisition statute and similar laws. They were adopted back in the 1980s, before the poison pill, to provide companies a defense against tender offers.
Putting aside the appropriateness of states protecting inefficient enterprises and their doubtful economic efficiency, the threat the tender offer posed back then no longer exists. A company can adopt a poison pill to stop a tender offer in its tracks.
So at this point, these statutes are a needless procedural formality. Though for companies like Cleveland Cliffs and Diebold, which is the subject of a hostile offer by United Technologies, they’re a nice protective boon.
Harbingers control share acquisition statement is available here.

Friday, August 08, 2008

U.S. Regulations Did Not Hurt Companies, Study Finds

It has become received wisdom on Wall Street that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act has damaged American competitiveness. It made listing in the American market less attractive to foreign companies and drove initial public offerings overseas. It raised costs for American companies without providing any significant benefit.
But do the facts support that wisdom?
The answer, according to The New York Times’s Floyd Norris: No.
A new study of the foreign companies that fled the American market after the Securities and Exchange Commission made it easy for them to do so in 2007 suggests that the companies that left were largely ones whose slow growth, and poor market performance, had reduced their need and ability to attract American capital. There is even some indication that the market punished companies that decided to leave even though they could still use the capital.
What the study shows, said one of the authors, G. Andrew Karolyi, a finance professor at Ohio State, is that the market did not react favorably when companies got out from under American regulation.
Instead, the paper by Mr. Korolyi, along with RenĂ© M. Stulz, also of Ohio State, and Craig Doidge of the University of Toronto, found that share prices suffered in the few cases where foreign companies with good growth prospects left the American market. “When they choose to leave even though they are benefiting” from the American listing, Mr. Karolyi said in an interview, “shareholders may wonder if there is something sneaky going on.”
There has long been evidence that overseas firms benefit, through a lower cost of capital, when they choose to list their shares in the United States. Their shares trade for higher prices than do those of similar companies that do not choose to list here.
Why is that? The traditional answer is that investors have more faith in companies that comply with American disclosure rules and reconcile their books to United States accounting standards.
The advantage of an American listing faded early in this decade, although it did not vanish. The scandals at Enron and WorldCom did not renew faith in American rules, and it turned out that the American listing premium had soared in the late 1990s in part because foreign technology companies flocked to the United States to take advantage of what turned out to be a bubble. Their collapse made the American premium seem smaller.
The premium hit bottom in 2002, and recovered somewhat after that. Was that a reflection of investor confidence being renewed by passage of Sarbanes-Oxley? Not to hear the critics tell it. The Committee on Capital Markets Regulation, an independent panel whose creation in 2006 was heralded by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., cited that data as proof that Sarbanes-Oxley hurt the markets. Their logic: The average premium after 2002, when the law passed, was lower than it was before the bubble burst. The committee ignored the fact the premium rose after the law was passed.
There is no question that the costs of complying with Section 404 of the law — requiring audits of corporate internal controls — has scared executives in the United States and abroad. The first year of audits found lots of problems, but for the vast majority of large companies those problems have since been fixed. And the costs of audits, which soared, have stabilized.
That does not prove the audits were worth the cost, although the fact that so many problems were fixed — in some cases requiring substantial accounting restatements — does indicate there was considerable benefit.
Go to Article from The New York Times »