Advisory Board

  • Cai Hongbin
  • Peking University Guanghua School of Management
  • Peter Clarke
  • Barry Diller
  • IAC/InterActiveCorp
  • Fu Chengyu
  • China National Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec Group)
  • Richard J. Gnodde
  • Goldman Sachs International
  • Lodewijk Hijmans van den Bergh
  • De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek N.V.
  • Jiang Jianqing
  • Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Ltd. (ICBC)
  • Handel Lee
  • King & Wood Mallesons
  • Richard Li
  • PCCW Limited
  • Pacific Century Group
  • Liew Mun Leong
  • CapitaLand Limited
  • Martin Lipton
  • New York University
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  • Liu Mingkang
  • China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC)
  • Dinesh C. Paliwal
  • Harman International Industries
  • Leon Pasternak
  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch
  • Tim Payne
  • Brunswick Group
  • Joseph R. Perella
  • Perella Weinberg Partners
  • Baron David de Rothschild
  • N M Rothschild & Sons Limited
  • Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara
  • Temasek Holdings
  • Shao Ning
  • State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council of China (SASAC)
  • John W. Snow
  • Cerberus Capital Management, L.P.
  • Former U.S. Secretary of Treasury
  • Bharat Vasani
  • Tata Group
  • Wang Junfeng
  • King & Wood Mallesons
  • Wang Kejin
  • China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC)
  • Wei Jiafu
  • China Ocean Shipping Group Company (COSCO)
  • Yang Chao
  • China Life Insurance Co. Ltd.
  • Zhu Min
  • International Monetary Fund

Legal Roundtable

  • Dimitry Afanasiev
  • Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev and Partners (Moscow)
  • William T. Allen
  • NYU Stern School of Business
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (New York)
  • Johan Aalto
  • Hannes Snellman Attorneys Ltd (Finland)
  • Nigel P. G. Boardman
  • Slaughter and May (London)
  • Willem J.L. Calkoen
  • NautaDutilh N.V. (Rotterdam)
  • Peter Callens
  • Loyens & Loeff (Brussels)
  • Bertrand Cardi
  • Darrois Villey Maillot & Brochier (Paris)
  • Santiago Carregal
  • Marval, O’Farrell & Mairal (Buenos Aires)
  • Martín Carrizosa
  • Philippi Prietocarrizosa & Uría (Bogotá)
  • Carlos G. Cordero G.
  • Aleman, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Panama)
  • Ewen Crouch
  • Allens (Sydney)
  • Adam O. Emmerich
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (New York)
  • Rachel Eng
  • WongPartnership (Singapore)
  • Sergio Erede
  • BonelliErede (Milan)
  • Kenichi Fujinawa
  • Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu (Tokyo)
  • Manuel Galicia Romero
  • Galicia Abogados (Mexico City)
  • Danny Gilbert
  • Gilbert + Tobin (Sydney)
  • Vladimíra Glatzová
  • Glatzová & Co. (Prague)
  • Juan Miguel Goenechea
  • Uría Menéndez (Madrid)
  • Andrey A. Goltsblat
  • Goltsblat BLP (Moscow)
  • Juan Francisco Gutiérrez I.
  • Philippi Prietocarrizosa & Uría (Santiago)
  • Fang He
  • Jun He Law Offices (Beijing)
  • Christian Herbst
  • Schönherr (Vienna)
  • Lodewijk Hijmans van den Bergh
  • Royal Ahold (Amsterdam)
  • Hein Hooghoudt
  • NautaDutilh N.V. (Amsterdam)
  • Sameer Huda
  • Hadef & Partners (Dubai)
  • Masakazu Iwakura
  • Nishimura & Asahi (Tokyo)
  • Christof Jäckle
  • Hengeler Mueller (Frankfurt)
  • Michael Mervyn Katz
  • Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs (Johannesburg)
  • Handel Lee
  • King & Wood Mallesons (Beijing)
  • Martin Lipton
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (New York)
  • Alain Maillot
  • Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier (Paris)
  • Antônio Corrêa Meyer
  • Machado, Meyer, Sendacz e Opice (São Paulo)
  • Sergio Michelsen Jaramillo
  • Brigard & Urrutia (Bogotá)
  • Zia Mody
  • AZB & Partners (Mumbai)
  • Christopher Murray
  • Osler (Toronto)
  • Francisco Antunes Maciel Müssnich
  • Barbosa, Müssnich & Aragão (Rio de Janeiro)
  • I. Berl Nadler
  • Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP (Toronto)
  • Umberto Nicodano
  • BonelliErede (Milan)
  • Brian O'Gorman
  • Arthur Cox (Dublin)
  • Robin Panovka
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (New York)
  • Sang-Yeol Park
  • Park & Partners (Seoul)
  • José Antonio Payet Puccio
  • Payet Rey Cauvi (Lima)
  • Kees Peijster
  • COFRA Holding AG (Zug)
  • Juan Martín Perrotto
  • Uría & Menéndez (Madrid/Beijing)
  • Philip Podzebenko
  • Herbert Smith Freehills (Sydney)
  • Geert Potjewijd
  • De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek (Amsterdam/Beijing)
  • Qi Adam Li
  • Jun He Law Offices (Shanghai)
  • Biörn Riese
  • Mannheimer Swartling (Stockholm)
  • Mark Rigotti
  • Herbert Smith Freehills (Sydney)
  • Rafael Robles Miaja
  • Robles Miaja (Mexico City)
  • Alberto Saravalle
  • BonelliErede (Milan)
  • Maximilian Schiessl
  • Hengeler Mueller (Düsseldorf)
  • Cyril S. Shroff
  • Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (Mumbai)
  • Shardul S. Shroff
  • Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co.(New Delhi)
  • Klaus Søgaard
  • Gorrissen Federspiel (Denmark)
  • Ezekiel Solomon
  • Allens (Sydney)
  • Emanuel P. Strehle
  • Hengeler Mueller (Munich)
  • David E. Tadmor
  • Tadmor & Co. (Tel Aviv)
  • Kevin J. Thomson
  • Barrick Gold Corporation (Toronto)
  • Yu Wakae
  • Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu (Tokyo)
  • Wang Junfeng
  • King & Wood Mallesons (Beijing)
  • Tomasz Wardynski
  • Wardynski & Partners (Warsaw)
  • Rolf Watter
  • Bär & Karrer AG (Zürich)
  • Xiao Wei
  • Jun He Law Offices (Beijing)
  • Xu Ping
  • King & Wood Mallesons (Beijing)
  • Shuji Yanase
  • OK Corporation (Tokyo)
  • Alvin Yeo
  • WongPartnership LLP (Singapore)

Founding Directors

  • William T. Allen
  • NYU Stern School of Business
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  • Nigel P.G. Boardman
  • Slaughter and May
  • Cai Hongbin
  • Peking University Guanghua School of Management
  • Adam O. Emmerich
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  • Robin Panovka
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  • Peter Williamson
  • Cambridge Judge Business School
  • Franny Yao
  • Ernst & Young

Monthly Archives: January 2015

GLOBAL M&A STATISTICAL UPDATE – XBMA Annual Review for 2014

Editors’ Note: The XBMA Review is published on a quarterly basis using consistent metrics and sources of data in order to facilitate a deeper understanding of trends and developments.  We welcome feedback and suggestions for improving the Review or for interpreting the data.

Executive Summary/Highlights:

  • Global M&A was robust in 2014, hitting two noteworthy post-crisis high-water marks: total global volume reached US$3.5 trillion, and cross-border volume reached US$1.38 trillion.
  • Cross-border M&A reached its highest level since the financial crisis, accounting for 40% of global M&A in 2014, and included some of the year’s largest deals, including many above US$10 billion and a number of real blockbusters.
    • Deals involving an emerging economy acquirer and a developed economy target grew 26.7%, while deals involving a developed economy acquirer and an emerging economy target grew 4.7%.
  • Cross-border M&A volume involving a Chinese target or acquirer rebounded in 2014, with Chinese inbound M&A activity up 63% and outbound M&A activity up 42%.
  • “Megadeals” continued to make a comeback, with more than 90 deals over US$5 billion announced in 2014.
  • Drivers of the robust activity included strong corporate earnings, large corporate cash balances in search of yield, continued availability of highly attractive financing to well-capitalized borrowers, and generally high stock prices, as well as a focus on industry consolidation in a number of sectors and a thirst for technology, natural resources, and brands in growing economies.

Click here to see the Review

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and have not been endorsed, confirmed, or approved by XBMA or any of the editors of XBMA Forum, nor by XBMA’s founders, members, contributors, academic partners, advisory board members, or others. No inference to the contrary should be drawn.

CHINESE UPDATE – The Draft Foreign Investment Law and Its Impact on VIEs

Editors’ Note:  Contributed and authored by Adam Li (Li, Qi), a partner at Jun He and a member of XBMA’s Legal Roundtable. Mr. Li is a leading expert in international M&A, capital market and international financial transactions involving Chinese companies. He has broad experience with VIEs and other structures for foreign investment in China.


Executive Summary: 
China’s Ministry of Commerce released for comment major legislation, the draft Foreign Investment Law, to overhaul the regulation of foreign direct investment.  The article below discusses how these major changes could impacting foreign investment enterprises and variable interest entities.


MAIN ARTICLE

The best way to understand the draft Foreign Investment Law (“Draft”), circulated by the Ministry of Commerce of the PRC (“MofCom”) on Jan. 19, 2015, is to read it in the context.  Fortunately for Jun He, we were invited by MofCom to participate in a number of discussions since 2013, and more than a dozen of our partners had been involved in giving feedback before the draft became public a few days ago.  Here is how we look at this Draft.

  1. Background:

It is clear the PRC government wants to shift the focus of the regulation of foreign direct investment (“FDI”, in the forms of equity joint ventures, contractual joint ventures, foreign invested enterprise, etc.) away from the case by case approval system.  The current foreign investment enterprise (“FIE”) laws focus more on the corporate governance, and the governance structure differs among different forms of FIEs, and these stipulations may also conflict with the Company Law that is supposed to govern all companies in China.  The MofCom and its local counterparts spend mountains of resources to review and approve each investment, and the super-majority of these reviews is just a matter of formality wasting roughly one month time.  On the other hand, things like national security often casually slip from the mind of the reviewer because, among other things, it is not the focal point of local government that is designed to attract, not to resist, foreign investment of any form.  The existing FIE laws seem quite lagged behind.  However, the biggest legacy of the PRC government is that there is competing interest among different government agencies, and without masterful communication and alignment of interest, any grand plan could easily result in a mere wishful thinking.

  1. The Draft

So, the Draft is a much calculated effort of MofCom to test whether its new master plan to regulate FIEs would be embraced by interested people.  These people include different regulators, at both national and provincial levels, and domestic and international businesses.  You can imagine there are a lot of lobbying forces.

The skyline under the Draft includes the following important parts:

  1. The gist of the new incorporation system is, unless you are in the Negative List (defined below), FIEs would not have to be approved to be incorporated. (Art. 26)
  2. There is a negative list to be provided by the State Council (“Negative List”), the executive branch of Chinese national government. (Art. 22) That is, the Negative List would have to consider all interests of different ministries of PRC, different localities and China’s treaty duties before it is launched.
  3. Negative List concerns size of the FDI or the intended investment industries. If an FDI warrants a review by MofCom, the review would be focused on national security (Arts. 48-74 are designated exclusively to codify the current national security review system), regulated industry, benefit to the general public or innovation, monopoly concern, treaty duties, background of the investors, etc. (Art. 32).  There is a time limit for review (usually 30 days).  Public hearings may be convened and appeals are available if review results in rejection or conditional approval.  (Arts. 35, 39 & 40)
  4. The Draft sets up a new information reporting system that requires foreign investors and FIEs to report, for example, their investment in stock markets, and change of investment profiles. (Arts. 75-99)
  5. The Draft assigns chapters to legislate promotions and protections of foreign investments, inspections of and complaints by foreign investors and FIEs. (Chapters 6,7, 8 & 9)  All these systems are novice to the whole FIE regulations, and it looks they are designed to create a more predictable investment environment.
  1. Implications on VIEs

While the Draft is new, many of the changes indicated in the law started to take shape a while ago.  For example, the national security review is already regularly practiced.  The Negative List has been adopted in China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone (“FTZ”) for a while.  However, the change of the definition of foreign investment has raised the eyebrows of many.

In its Article 18(3), the Draft expands the definition of FDI to include contractual control by foreign investors.  If implemented, many companies, including more than 200 listed companies that use so called variable interest entities (“VIEs”), might have to go through structural changes.

VIEs are typically used to bypass Chinese restriction on certain market access to foreign investors, or make Chinese businesses available for foreign stock markets because these stock exchanges do not accept Chinese companies to be listed.  Many of the VIEs companies are in hi-tech, service industries or internet-related businesses.  The new definition would make it difficult for foreign investors to sneak into otherwise restricted industries.  That does not mean, however, the FDI investment is becoming generally more hostile to foreign investors.  The Negative List has gradually lifted restriction to foreign investors so the VIEs may no longer be necessary anyway.  Online retailing, a restricted business to foreign investors, is now opened up in the FTZ.  (See Jun He Bulletin, January 15, 2015, Shanghai Free Trade Zone, New Shanghai FTZ Policy Further Loosening Shareholding Restriction in E-commerce Sector, authored by Liu Ning) So, perhaps one has to look at interplays of different sets of rules before she can make an assessment if the Draft is more investor friendly or less so.

There are more than 200 companies listed in the U.S. stock market using VIE structures.  With the Draft, people may wonder whether these companies would have to undertake structural changes.  For such listed companies that are actually “controlled” by Chinese investors (defined in Art. 12), perhaps the change of the law would not be an issue because under the Draft, these FIEs in form would not be considered as owned by foreigners in substance.  For those actually “controlled” by foreign investors (definition in Art. 11), they may have to seek licenses for their VIEs from the government, and the government might not grant these licenses.  Would that mean all these companies have to be delisted?  We don’t know the answer, but remain optimistic.  Chinese government has been very pragmatic and the stake of VIE-related business is huge.  When China introduced the M&A Rules that regulated foreign investors’ acquisition of Chinese domestic businesses in 2006, they grandfathered the prior transactions.  In the MofCom’s explanatory remarks accompanying the Draft, they made it clear that MofCom would not rush into any decision simply to close down all the non-compliant VIEs if the Draft is actually promulgated as a law.  (Section 3)

We anticipate, based on our experience involved in many legislative exercises, that it would take a while for the Draft to be officially promulgated.  When it is launched, the Foreign Investment Law would probably be a different shape because MofCom will listen to different voices.  The Draft is a start of a public discussion, not the conclusion of it.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and have not been endorsed, confirmed, or approved by XBMA or any of the editors of XBMA Forum, nor by XBMA’s founders, members, contributors, academic partners, advisory board members, or others. No inference to the contrary should be drawn.

U.S. UPDATE – 2015 Checklist for Successful Acquisitions in the U.S.

Editors’ Note:  This submission updates a checklist co-authored by Messrs. Emmerich and Panovka, members of XBMA’s Legal Roundtable, with their colleagues at Wachtell Lipton David A. Katz, Scott K. Charles, Ilene Knable Gotts, Andrew J. Nussbaum, Joshua R. Cammaker, Mark Gordon, Eric M. Rosof, Joshua M. Holmes, T. Eiko Stange, Gordon S. Moodie, Raaj Narayan and Francis J. Stapleton.

Highlights:

  • M&A was robust in 2014, hitting several noteworthy post-crisis high-water marks: total global volume reached US$3.5 trillion, cross-border volume reached US$1.3 trillion (37% of the total) and cross-border M&A involving U.S. companies reached US$770 billion (45% of which was incoming).
  • We expect current trends to continue in 2015, driven, in several key regions, by strong corporate earnings, large corporate cash balances in search of yield, continued availability of highly attractive financing to well-capitalized borrowers and generally high stock prices. A focus on industry consolidation in a number of sectors and a thirst for technology and brands in growing economies similarly are expected to continue to motivate cross-border deals.
  • Even in a world that is increasingly fractured by international tensions and profound disagreements on politics and policy, U.S. deal markets continue to be relatively hospitable to offshore acquirors and investors.
  • This post updates our checklist of issues that should be considered in advance of an acquisition or strategic investment in the U.S.

MAIN ARTICLE

M&A was robust in 2014, hitting several noteworthy post-crisis high-water marks: total global volume reached US$3.5 trillion, cross-border volume reached US$1.3 trillion (37% of the total) and cross-border M&A involving U.S. companies reached US$770 billion (45% of which was incoming).  Acquirors from Germany, France, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom accounted for 67% of the incoming acquisitions into the U.S., and acquirors from China, India and other emerging economies accounted for approximately 7%.  Cross-border deals announced in 2014 included some of the year’s largest, including many above US$10 billion and a number of real blockbusters.

We expect current trends to continue into 2015, driven, in several key regions, by strong corporate earnings, large corporate cash balances in search of yield, continued availability of highly attractive financing to well-capitalized borrowers and generally high stock prices.  A focus on industry consolidation in a number of sectors and a thirst for technology and brands in growing economies similarly are expected to continue to motivate cross-border deals.

Even in a world that is increasingly fractured by international tensions and profound disagreements on politics and policy, often violently so, U.S. deal markets continue to be relatively hospitable to offshore acquirors and investors.  With careful advance preparation, strategic implementation and sophisticated deal structures that anticipate likely concerns, most acquisitions in the U.S. can be successfully achieved.  Cross-border deals involving investment into the U.S. are more likely to fail because of poor planning and execution than fundamental legal or political restrictions.

The following is our updated checklist of issues that should be carefully considered in advance of an acquisition or strategic investment in the U.S.  Because each cross-border deal is unique, the relative significance of the issues discussed below will depend upon the specific facts, circumstances and dynamics of each particular situation:

  • Political and Regulatory Considerations. Even though non-U.S. investment in the U.S. remains generally well-received and is generally not politicized, prospective non-U.S. acquirors of U.S. businesses or assets should undertake a thoughtful analysis of U.S. political and regulatory implications well in advance of any acquisition proposal or program, particularly if the target company operates in a sensitive industry or if the acquiror is sponsored or financed by a foreign government, or organized in a jurisdiction where a high level of government involvement in business is generally understood to exist.  It is imperative that the likely concerns of federal, state and local government agencies, employees, customers, suppliers, communities and other interested parties be thoroughly considered and, if possible, addressed prior to any acquisition or investment proposal becoming public.  It is also essential that a comprehensive communications plan be in place prior to the announcement of a transaction so that all of the relevant constituencies can be addressed with the appropriate messages.  It will often be useful, if not essential, to involve local public relations firms at an early stage in the planning process.  Similarly, potential regulatory hurdles require sophisticated advance planning.  In addition to securities and antitrust regulations, acquisitions may be subject to CFIUS review (discussed below), and acquisitions in regulated industries (g., energy, public utilities, gaming, insurance, telecommunications and media, financial institutions, transportation and defense contracting) may be subject to an additional layer of regulatory approvals.  Regulation in these areas is often complex, and political opponents, reluctant targets and competitors may seize on perceived weaknesses in an acquiror’s ability to clear regulatory obstacles.  While we expect to see continuity in the enforcement policies at the federal level for the foreseeable future, it will be particularly important during the final phase of the Obama administration to pay careful attention to the perspectives of both parties and the political dynamics at work in Washington.  Finally, depending on the industry involved and the geographic distribution of the workforce, labor unions will continue to play an active role during the review process.
  • Transaction Structures. Non-U.S. acquirors should be willing to consider a variety of potential transaction structures, especially in strategically or politically sensitive transactions.  Structures that may be helpful in sensitive situations include no-governance and low-governance investments, minority positions or joint ventures, possibly with the right to increase ownership or governance over time; partnering with a U.S. company or management or collaborating with a U.S. source of financing or co-investor (such as a private equity firm); or utilizing a controlled or partly controlled U.S. acquisition vehicle, possibly with a board of directors having a substantial number of U.S. citizens and a prominent U.S. citizen as a non-executive chairman.  Use of preferred securities (rather than ordinary common stock) or structured debt securities should also be considered.  Even more modest social issues, such as the name of the continuing enterprise and its corporate location or headquarters, or the choice of the nominal acquiror in a merger, can affect the perspective of government and labor officials.
  • CFIUS. Under current U.S. federal law, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) — a multi-agency governmental body chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury, and the recommendations of which the President of the United States has personal authority to accept or reject — has discretion to review transactions in which non-U.S. acquirors could obtain “control” of a U.S. business or in which a non-U.S. acquiror invests in U.S. infrastructure, technology or energy assets.  Although filings with CFIUS are voluntary, CFIUS also has the ability to investigate transactions at its discretion, including after the transaction has closed.  Three useful rules of thumb in dealing with CFIUS are:
    • first, in general it is prudent to make a voluntary filing with CFIUS if the likelihood of an investigation is reasonably high or if competing bidders are likely to take advantage of the uncertainty of a potential investigation;
    • second, it is often best to take the initiative and suggest methods of mitigation early in the review process in order to help shape any remedial measures and avoid delay or potential disapproval; and
    • third, it is often a mistake to make a CFIUS filing prior to initiating discussions with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and other officials and relevant parties. In some cases, it may even be prudent to make the initial contact prior to the public announcement of the transaction.  CFIUS is not as mysterious or unpredictable as some fear — consultation with Treasury and other officials (who generally want to be supportive and promote investment in the U.S. economy) and CFIUS specialists will generally provide a good sense of what it will take to clear the process.  Retaining advisors with significant CFIUS expertise and experience is often crucial to successful navigation of the CFIUS process.  Transactions that may require a CFIUS filing should have a carefully crafted communications plan in place prior to any public announcement or disclosure of the pending transactions.
  • Acquisition Currency. While cash remains the predominant (although not exclusive) form of consideration in cross-border deals, non-U.S. acquirors should think creatively about potential avenues for offering U.S. target shareholders a security that allows them to participate in the resulting global enterprise.  For example, publicly listed acquirors may consider offering existing common stock or depositary receipts (g., ADRs) or special securities (e.g., contingent value rights).  When U.S. target shareholders obtain a continuing interest in a surviving corporation that had not already been publicly listed in the U.S., expect heightened focus on the corporate governance and other ownership and structural arrangements of the non-U.S. acquiror, including as to the presence of any controlling or large shareholders, and heightened scrutiny placed on any de facto controllers or promoters.  Creative structures, such as the issuance of non-voting stock or other special securities of a non-U.S. acquiror, may minimize or mitigate the issues raised by U.S. corporate governance concerns.  However, the world’s equity markets have never been more globalized, and the interest of investors in major capital markets to invest in non-local business never greater, and equity consideration, or equity issuance to support a transaction, should be carefully considered in appropriate circumstances.
  • M&A Practice. It is essential to understand the custom and practice of U.S. M&A transactions.  For instance, understanding when to respect — and when to challenge — a target’s sale “process” may be critical.  Knowing how and at what price level to enter the discussions will often determine the success or failure of a proposal; in some situations it is prudent to start with an offer on the low side, while in other situations offering a full price at the outset may be essential to achieving a negotiated deal and discouraging competitors, including those who might raise political or regulatory issues.  In strategically or politically sensitive transactions, hostile maneuvers may be imprudent; in other cases, unsolicited pressure might be the only way to force a transaction.  Takeover regulations in the U.S. differ in many significant respects from those in non-U.S. jurisdictions; for example, the mandatory bid concept common in Europe, India and other countries is not present in U.S. practice.  Permissible deal protection structures, pricing requirements and defensive measures available to U.S. targets also may differ from what non-U.S. acquirors are accustomed to in deals in their home countries.  Sensitivity must also be given to the distinct contours of the target board’s fiduciary duties and decision-making obligations under U.S. law.
  • U.S. Board Practice and Custom. Where the target is a U.S. public company, the customs and formalities surrounding board of director participation in the M&A process, including the participation of legal and financial advisors, the provision of customary fairness opinions and the inquiry and analysis surrounding the activities of the board and the financial advisors, can be unfamiliar and potentially confusing to non-U.S. transaction participants and can lead to misunderstandings that threaten to upset delicate transaction negotiations.  Non-U.S. participants need to be well-advised as to the role of U.S. public company boards and the legal, regulatory and litigation framework and risks that can constrain or prescribe board action.  These factors can impact both tactics and timing of M&A processes and the nature of communications with the target company.
  • Distressed Acquisitions. Distressed M&A is a well-developed specialty in the U.S., with its own subculture of sophisticated investors, lawyers and financial advisors.  The U.S. continues to be a popular destination for restructurings of multinational corporations, including those with few assets or operations in the country, because of its debtor-friendly reorganization laws, expansive bankruptcy jurisdiction and relative predictability.  In addition, large foreign companies that file insolvency proceedings outside of the U.S. have increasingly turned to Chapter 15 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, which accords foreign debtors key protections from creditors in the U.S. and has facilitated restructurings and asset sales approved abroad.  Firms evaluating a potential acquisition of a distressed target in a U.S. bankruptcy should consider the full array of tools that may be available, including acquisition of the target’s fulcrum debt securities that are expected to become the equity through an out-of-court restructuring or plan of reorganization, acting as a plan investor or sponsor in connection with a plan, backstopping a plan-related rights offering or participating as a bidder in a court-supervised “Section 363” auction process, among others.  Transaction certainty is of critical importance to success in a “Section 363” sale process or confirmation of a Chapter 11 plan, and non-U.S. participants accordingly need to plan carefully (especially with respect to transactions that might be subject to CFIUS review, as discussed above) for transaction structures that will result in a relatively level playing field with U.S. participants.  Acquirors also need to consider the differing interests and sometimes conflicting agendas of the various constituencies, including bank lenders, bondholders, distressed-focused hedge funds and holders of structured debt securities and credit default protection.
  • Financing. Volatility in the global credit markets in 2014 was more pronounced than in the immediate past, which resulted in more frequent closings of the “windows” in which particular sorts of financing are available, particularly for non-investment grade issuers.  While the volume of financing and the rates at which financing has been available for investment grade issuers continues to be favorable and has facilitated acquisitions, a divergence has emerged for high-yield issuers looking for acquisition financing, where the availability of committed financing, particularly for deals requiring a long closing period or a substantial amount of financing, has become constrained and more costly.  This has resulted in part from activities of regulators worldwide, and particularly in the U.S., to reduce financing activity for highly leveraged deals – a trend that may continue for some time.  Important questions to consider when financing a transaction include where financing with the most favorable terms and conditions is available; how committed the financing is; which lenders have the best understanding of the acquiror’s and target’s businesses; whether to explore alternative, non-traditional financing sources and structures, including seller paper; whether there are transaction structures that can minimize refinancing requirements; and how comfortable the target will feel with the terms and conditions of the financing.
  • Litigation. Shareholder litigation accompanies virtually every transaction involving a U.S. public company but is generally not a cause for concern.  Excluding the context of competing bids in which litigation plays a role in the contest, and of going-private transactions initiated by controlling shareholders or management, which form a separate category requiring special care and planning, there are virtually no examples of major acquisitions of U.S. public companies being blocked or prevented due to shareholder litigation, nor of materially increased costs being imposed on acquirors.  In most cases, where a transaction has been properly planned and implemented with the benefit of appropriate legal and investment banking advice on both sides, such litigation can be dismissed or settled for relatively small amounts or other concessions, with the positive effect of foreclosing future claims and insulating the company from future liability.  Sophisticated counsel can usually predict the likely range of litigation outcomes or settlement costs, which should be viewed as a cost of the deal.  In all cases, the acquiror, its directors, shareholders and offshore reporters and regulators should be conditioned in advance (to the extent possible) to expect litigation and not to view it as a sign of trouble.  In addition, it is important to understand the U.S. discovery process in litigation as it is significantly different than the process in other jurisdictions and, even in the context of a settlement, will require the acquiror to provide responsive information and documents (including emails) to the plaintiffs.
  • Tax Considerations. U.S. tax issues affecting target shareholders or the combined group may be critical to structuring the transaction. In transactions involving the receipt by U.S. target shareholders of non-U.S. acquiror stock, the potential application of so-called “anti-inversion” rules, which could render an otherwise tax-free transaction taxable to exchanging U.S. target shareholders and result in potentially significant adverse U.S. tax consequences to the combined group, must be carefully evaluated.  Non-U.S. acquirors frequently will need to consider whether to invest directly from their home jurisdiction or through U.S. or non-U.S. subsidiaries, the impact of the transaction on tax attributes of the U.S. target (e.g., loss carryforwards), the deductibility of interest expense incurred on acquisition indebtedness, and eligibility for reduced rates of withholding on cross-border payments of interest, dividends and royalties under applicable U.S. tax treaties.  Because the U.S. does not have a “participation exemption” regime that exempts dividend income from non-U.S. subsidiaries, a non-U.S. acquiror of a U.S. target with non-U.S. subsidiaries may wish to analyze the tax cost of extracting such subsidiaries from the U.S. group.
  • Disclosure Obligations. How and when an acquiror’s interest in the target is publicly disclosed should be carefully controlled and considered, keeping in mind the various ownership thresholds that trigger mandatory disclosure on a Schedule 13D under the federal securities laws and under regulatory agency rules such as those of the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  While the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act (HSR) does not require disclosure to the general public, the HSR rules do require disclosure to the target’s management before relatively low ownership thresholds can be crossed.  Non-U.S. acquirors have to be mindful of disclosure norms and timing requirements relating to home country requirements with respect to cross-border investment and acquisition activity.  In many cases, the U.S. disclosure regime is subject to greater judgment and analysis than the strict requirements of other jurisdictions.  Treatment of derivative securities and other pecuniary interests in a target other than common stock holdings also varies by jurisdiction and such investments have received heightened regulatory focus in recent periods.
  • Shareholder Approval. Because few U.S. public companies have one or more controlling shareholders, obtaining public shareholder approval is typically a key consideration in U.S. transactions.  Understanding in advance the roles of arbitrageurs, hedge funds, institutional investors, private equity funds, proxy voting advisors and other important market players — and their likely views of the anticipated acquisition attempt as well as when they appear and disappear from the scene — can be pivotal to the success or failure of the transaction.  It is advisable to retain a proxy solicitation firm to provide advice prior to the announcement of a transaction so that an effective strategy to obtain shareholder approval can be implemented.
  • Integration Planning. One of the reasons deals sometimes fail is poor post-acquisition integration, particularly in cross-border deals where multiple cultures, languages and historic business methods may create friction.  If possible, the executives and consultants who will be responsible for integration should be involved in the early stages of the deal so that they can help formulate and “own” the plans that they will be expected to execute.  Too often, a separation between the deal team and the integration/execution teams invites slippage in execution of a plan that in hindsight is labeled by the new team as unrealistic or overly ambitious.  However, integration planning needs to be carefully phased in as implementation cannot occur prior to the receipt of certain regulatory approvals.
  • Corporate Governance and Securities Law. U.S. securities and corporate governance rules can be troublesome for non-U.S. acquirors who will be issuing securities that will become publicly traded in the U.S. as a result of an acquisition.  SEC rules, the Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank Acts and stock exchange requirements should be evaluated to ensure compatibility with home country rules and to be certain that the non-U.S. acquiror will be able to comply.  Rules relating to director independence, internal control reports and loans to officers and directors, among others, can frequently raise issues for non-U.S. companies listing in the U.S.  Non-U.S. acquirors should also be mindful that U.S. securities regulations may apply to acquisitions and other business combination activities involving non-U.S. companies with U.S. security holders.
  • Antitrust Issues. To the extent that a non-U.S. acquiror directly or indirectly competes or holds an interest in a company that competes in the same industry as the target company, antitrust concerns may arise either at the federal agency or state attorneys general level.  Although less typical, concerns can also arise if the foreign acquiror competes either in an upstream or downstream market of the target.  As noted above, pre-closing integration efforts should also be conducted with sensitivity to antitrust requirements that can be limiting.  Home country competition laws may raise their own sets of issues that should be carefully analyzed with counsel.  The administration of the antitrust laws in the U.S. is carried out by highly professional agencies relying on well-established analytical frameworks.  The outcomes of the vast majority of transactions can be easily predicted.  In borderline cases, while the outcome of any particular proposed transaction cannot be known with certainty, the likelihood of a proposed transaction being viewed by the agencies as raising substantive antitrust concerns and the degree of difficulty in overcoming those concerns can be.  In situations presenting actual or potential substantive issues, careful planning is imperative and a proactive approach to engagement with the agencies is generally advisable.
  • Due Diligence. Wholesale application of the acquiror’s domestic due diligence standards to the target’s jurisdiction can cause delay, waste time and resources or result in missing a problem.  Due diligence methods must take account of the target jurisdiction’s legal regime and, particularly important in a competitive auction situation, local norms.  Many due diligence requests are best channeled through legal or financial intermediaries as opposed to being made directly to the target company.  Making due diligence requests that appear to the target as particularly unusual or unreasonable (not uncommon in cross-border deals) can easily cause a bidder to lose credibility.  Similarly, missing a significant local issue for lack of local knowledge can be highly problematic and costly.
  • Collaboration. Most obstacles to a deal are best addressed in partnership with local players whose interests are aligned with those of the acquiror.  If possible, relationships with the target company’s management and other local forces should be established well in advance so that political and other concerns can be addressed together, and so that all politicians, regulators and other stakeholders can be approached by the whole group in a consistent, collaborative and cooperative fashion.

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As always in global M&A, results, highpoints and lowpoints for 2015 are likely to include many surprises, and sophisticated market participants will need to continually refine their strategies and tactics as the global and local environment develops.  However, the rules of the road for successful M&A transactions in the U.S. remain well understood and eminently capable of being mastered by well-prepared and well-advised acquirors from all parts of the globe.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and have not been endorsed, confirmed, or approved by XBMA or any of the editors of XBMA Forum, nor by XBMA’s founders, members, contributors, academic partners, advisory board members, or others. No inference to the contrary should be drawn.

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