Thursday, February 26, 2009

Survey: VC, Startups Feel the Pain

A new survey that detailed trends in venture capital investments in the fourth quarter of 2008 has found that, like the rest of the economy, venture capital and startups are feeling more pain from the deepening global crisis.
BusinessWeek reported that the survey, conducted by California law firm Fenwick & West, analyzed the terms of venture deals for 128 companies headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area and found that valuations are falling for startups while venture capitalists are driving harder bargains.
Of the 128 companies that received financing, 33 percent of them experienced “down rounds,” or an investment that placed a lower valuation on the company than it received in the previous round.
In addition, the percentage of down rounds rose every month at year’s end, hitting 45 percent in December.
Go to Article from Business Week »

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

From the CorporateCounsel.Net Blog, February 17, 2009:
Late Friday, Congress finished its conferencing and passed the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act" - and law firms went to work drafting their memos analyzing this stimulus package (we'll be posting all these memos in our "American Recovery Act" Practice Area). The final text of the legislation is posted on the White House's site in five parts, along with the ability for anybody to post comments!
The most relevant part of the legislation for our members is the tax provisions in Division B, which includes the controversial executive compensation restrictions among others (eg. see this Hodak Value commentary) - even President Obama is not happy with what Senator Dodd inserted as the final exec comp language. Oddly, the stimulus legislation went from no new executive compensation restrictions on Friday morning to more restrictive than previously contemplated by the end of the day. More coverage to come...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Congress strengthens executives’ pay limits

CHICAGO — President Barack Obama’s economic team tried to keep Democratic allies negotiating the stimulus bill from limiting paychecks for executives at banks in need of a bailout. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and economic aide Lawrence Summers failed.
Sen. Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, inserted strict rules into the $787 billion economic stimulus package over the White House’s objections. Dodd’s limits on bankers’ bonuses are significantly more aggressive than those sought by Obama or Geithner in recent days, with much fanfare.
Dodd, D-Conn., said the restrictions — an executive making $1 million a year in salary could receive only $500,000 in bonus money, for example — are necessary if Obama plans to ask Congress for more money to save the financial sector.
“It will never happen as long as the public perceives that there are people getting rich,” Dodd said in an interview. “Save their pay or save capitalism.”
That tone among Democrats flavored much of the discussion about how to write the stimulus bill, which the president planned to sign on Tuesday in Denver. Despite direct appeals from Geithner, Summers and White House officials, Democrats didn’t budge, according to administration officials.
The Obama administration’s proposed restrictions applied only to banks that receive “exceptional assistance” from the government. It set a $500,000 cap on pay for top executives and limited bonuses or additional compensation to restricted stock that could only be claimed after the firm had paid the government back.
The stimulus bill, however, sets executive bonus limits on all banks that receive infusions from the government’s $700 billion financial rescue fund. The number of executives affected depends on the amount of government assistance they receive. But as a rule, top executives will be prohibited from getting bonuses or incentives except as restricted stock that vests only after bailout funds are repaid and that is no greater than one-third of the executive’s annual compensation.
The prohibition would not apply to bonuses that are spelled out in an executive’s contract signed before Feb. 11, 2009.
At banks that received $25 million or less, the bonus restriction would apply only to the highest paid executives. At banks that receive $500 million or more, all senior executives and at least 20 of the next most highly compensated employees would fall under the bonus limits.
The White House claimed partial victory in this area. Officials also said that it would be up to Geithner to implement the bill and cautioned that the administration might be able to work out a deal with leaders on the Hill to modify some of the rules later.
The original bill said all banks receiving bailout money could give no bonuses to their top 25 employees. The White House worried that would dissuade smaller banks from taking — or keeping for long — the bailout money, which would slow their lending rates.
Administration officials also said they were worried Dodd’s plan would still allow multimillion dollar paychecks, just not structured as bonuses. The Obama plan would cap the entire compensation at $500,000 — with anything above that coming from restricted stock. Dodd’s plan provides no limit to base salary pay, which typically is relatively small but supplemented with gigantic bonuses.
Even so, the final bill was far stricter than the White House wanted.
“As he has already expressed, the president shares a deep concern about excessive executive compensation at financial firms that are receiving extraordinary assistance from American taxpayers,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Saturday.
White House officials took credit for influencing other parts of Congress’ plan, including shareholder say on pay and a requirement for companies to disclose luxury expenditures, administration officials said.
Negotiators had removed a $400,000 pay cap included in an earlier draft. The Congressional Budget Office said it would cost some $11 billion in lost tax revenues by 2019.
Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington and Martin Crutsinger in Rome contributed to this report.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Pssst Wall Street: Change the Name from Bonuses to “Making Work Pay” Credits

From Truth on the Market, by Thom Lambert, February 2, 2009

President Obama, widely admired for his willingness and ability to engage in nuanced analysis, painted with pretty broad strokes when he attacked the bonuses recently paid by Wall Street banks:

"One point I want to make is that all of us are going to have responsibilities to get this economy moving again. And when I saw an article today indicating that Wall Street bankers had given themselves $20 billion worth of bonuses — the same amount of bonuses as they gave themselves in 2004 — at a time when most of these institutions were teetering on collapse and they are asking for taxpayers to help sustain them, and when taxpayers find themselves in the difficult position that if they don’t provide help that the entire system could come down on top of our heads — that is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful."

Obama’s message has resonated with millions of Americans and no doubt scored him lots of “forthrightness” points. Indeed, two of my colleagues, both of whom I respect greatly, told me how refreshing it was to hear their leader speak in such black and white terms, calling this sort of behavior “shameful.”
With all due respect, I’m afraid I must dissent.
Putting aside that it’s generally unfair (un-nuanced?) to lump groups of disparate individuals together to make a political point, it’s important to note:
* that many of the institutions in this bonus pool didn’t receive TARP money;
* that a number of the banks (the biggies in particular) didn’t “ask[] for taxpayers to help sustain them,” as this article explains (and note Secretary Geithner’s presence at the meeting described);
* that the bonuses were generally for the rank and file salespeople, not for senior executives, and were based on their individual performances;
* that the bonus pool was down 44% from last year; and
* that “Wall Street” (a group of disparate stock brokers, commodities traders, investment bankers, and administrative professionals who don’t work in concert) really had no more to do with this crisis than did the real estate agents who sold (and earned commissions on) homes they knew to be overvalued and who are now benefiting from Treasury’s purchase of mortgage-related assets.
Most importantly, though, it’s important to recognize that these “shameful” bonuses are effectively the wages of the working folks who did a good job this past year. Imagine you’re a salesperson at a company. In order to create an incentive for you to bust your tail, the company negotiates with you a leveraged compensation plan under which you receive a relatively small base salary plus fairly generous commissions on the sales you close. Suppose you do a bang up job one year, but the company as a whole suffers a loss because of some poor decisions beyond your control (or because of developments in the macroeconomy, such as the bursting of an asset bubble facilitated by government-sponsored entities). Now imagine that the government perceives your company to be strategically important and therefore decides to subsidize it by, say, buying its preferred stock or extending it a loan. Would it be “the height of irresponsibility” for your employer to honor your legitimate compensation expectations and pay you the wages that you effectively earned under your implicit deal with the firm? And what would happen if your employer didn’t pay you what you legitimately expected? Wouldn’t you and the other successful salespeople at your company immediately bolt, leaving the company with a much less effective sales force?
Look, I agree that private firms that get in bed with the government open themselves up to all sorts of meddling in their affairs and that it’s appropriate for the government to exercise some measure of control over the firms it subsidizes. But our leaders need to be fair in recognizing that the bonuses in this industry are really legitimate wages; that the rank-and-file workers to whom they’re being paid are not responsible for the mess we’re in; that the bonus recipients are the ones who did a good job last year and who deserve to have their legitimate wage expectations honored; and that we U.S. citizens — as preferred stockholders in these financial institutions — have an interest in retaining the firms’ best workers and in maintaining the sort of leveraged, “eat what you kill” compensation scheme that has proven to best incentivize performance.
In the end, these so-called shameful bonuses are really just a matter of “making work pay” in these struggling financial firms. Who could rail against that?

Another View: Lessons From the Budweiser Battle

Sabine Chalmers, the chief legal officer of Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Frank Aquila, a partner in the mergers and acquisitions group of Sullivan & Crowmell, were InBev’s lead internal and external lawyers, respectively, on the company’s successful bid to acquire Anheuser-Busch last year. Below, Mr. Aquila and Ms. Chalmers offer their views on what other unsolicited buyers can learn from this takeover battle.
Hostile to Whom? Unsolicited Offers Become MainstreamLessons From InBev’s Acquisition of Anheuser-Busch
The tactics and objectives of unsolicited offers in the 1970s and 1980s justifiably evoked images of raiders and pirates. Yet while these terms continue to be used — hostile bidder, bear hugs, poison pills and white knights — today’s strategic buyers have little in common with the greenmailers and corporate bust-up artists of that era. Today, such buyers view unsolicited bids as just another tool in their chest to achieve strategic objectives.
InBev was not alone among multinational strategic buyers in making unsolicited bids in 2008. Microsoft, United Technologies, Samsung, BHP Billiton and Electronic Arts, a veritable “who’s who” of multinational companies, were just a few that did so in the last year. Other blue-chip companies, including G.E. and I.B.M., have also pursued unsolicited offers as part of their M.&A. repertoire.
In the months and years to come, there will likely be a steady stream of such proposals. The continuing trend towards global consolidation, the current level of economic uncertainty and the recent precipitous drop in share prices come at a time when seller price expectations remain high and unsolicited bids are becoming increasingly respectable.
When undertaking any significant acquisition, solicited or unsolicited, planning is essential, because once an announcement is made, the deal team is at full stretch. No detail is too small, and every contingency must be given a thorough, 360-degree review well before the news is made public. While each situation will have its own dynamics, the lessons from InBev’s successful bid for Anheuser-Busch can be broadly applied by others considering a similar approach.
Lesson One: Define Success. An unsolicited acquisition that prevails at any cost may earn advisers a fee, but is unlikely to achieve all of the buyer’s key objectives. While the ultimate purpose of any acquisition is for the bidder to acquire the target company, the bidder will always have more nuanced objectives. From the outset, the InBev team was clear that it wanted its bid executed in such a way that the acquisition of Anheuser-Busch would proceed as quickly as possible, with a minimum of hostility and with financial discipline. This meant that while we had to move quickly, we would not vilify the other side or simply prevail by paying more than fair value. With these considerations in mind, the deal team developed an in depth plan that would set out to achieve all of InBev’s objectives.
Lesson Two: Turn Weaknesses to Advantage. Given the then developing credit crisis, we recognized that A-B’s board would focus on our financing and would likely reject our offer if there was the slightest weakness in the financing package. The deal team therefore explored the best and firmest financing arrangements that could be made available for the bid. As a consequence, InBev put in place an exceptionally strong, United Kingdom-style “certain funds” package. This not only removed financing as an issue in our negotiations with A-B, it ultimately allowed InBev to close a $55 billion financing in the midst of the severest credit crunch in more than a century.
Lesson Three: Anticipate Challenges and Be Proactive. From the outset, we had a carefully developed communications strategy ready for most possible scenarios. For example, we were ready with messages geared to the key constituencies. An outreach strategy was in place to address, early in the process, critical concerns of the employees, the wholesalers and the communities in which A-B operated. Beyond this initial program, we attempted to anticipate potential challenges to the bid and developed complete responses — press releases with detailed Q&As — that were ready to go when needed. This allowed InBev to respond to any rumor or charge within hours. Issues that might have played out over several days and become major distractions, instead became nonevents within less than a single news cycle.
Lesson Four: Don’t Expect to Win Round One. Developing a plan is important, executing that plan is essential. When the A-B board rejected InBev’s initial proposal, our hope of a quick, friendly deal began to evaporate. Rather than spending days contemplating our next move, the next phase of the plan went into high gear within hours of the A-B board’s decision. That same day, InBev filed a motion for declaratory judgment in Delaware Chancery Court making clear the company’s intention to remove and replace the A-B board by written consent. Without a moment’s hesitation, we began assembling our slate of nominees and our preparations for the consent solicitation.
Lesson Five: Dare to Think Big. In putting together our proposed slate of nominees for the A-B board, we sought well-known names that would give the consent solicitation process instant credibility. Hank McKinnell, the retired chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer, led our director slate of former chief executives and business luminaries. Mr. McKinnell is the chairman emeritus of the Business Roundtable, the “trade group” of America’s top C.E.O.’s, and a highly regarded business leader. A slate that also included Adolphus A. Busch IV, a leading member of the Busch family, and well-known former C.E.O.’s such as Mr. McKinnell, Ernie Mario, John Lilly, Bill Yost and Allen Loren clearly made a strong statement to the business world. It was unveiled on July 7; within hours, the A-B board met and discussions between InBev and Anheuser-Busch began the next day. The deal was approved by the two boards a few days later.
* * * *
A takeover battle that many predicted would never succeed, and most believed would play out over many months at a very minimum, was resolved with an agreed deal just 32 days after the initial proposal. Not only did InBev achieve its main objective of acquiring Anheuser-Busch, it did so in a quick and friendly way, and at a fair price.
While no two deals are ever the same, planning will always be crucial. Once the plan has been developed, it must be implemented with skill and discipline. InBev and its advisers anticipated a long and hard-fought battle, but by developing tactics that reflected InBev’s true objectives, we were able to achieve a quick resolution on a basis that was ultimately beneficial to all parties.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily represent those of either Anheuser-Busch InBev NV/SA or Sullivan & Cromwell L.L.P.