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miércoles, 29 de septiembre de 2010

Más sobre Ebay vs. Craiglist

Del análisis jurídico que contiene la sentencia resulta de mucho interés el status quaestionis que recoge el Juez sobre la validez de las llamadas poison pills, es decir, las decisiones de los administradores – en Europa son imposibles porque los administradores no tienen tales competencias y porque son contrarias al principio de igualdad de trato de los accionistas – consistentes en establecer que si un solo accionista supera un determinado porcentaje del capital social, se pondrá en marcha una ampliación de capital gratuita o a un precio muy bajo cuyas acciones podrán suscribir los accionistas, todos menos el accionista que haya superado ese porcentaje del capital social. El efecto sobre el accionista que pretende hacerse con el control de la compañía es devastador porque ve diluida su participación (ya que no suscribe su parte proporcional de las nuevas acciones) sobre todo en términos económicos, porque las nuevas acciones se han emitido por debajo de su valor real cuando no se han entregado gratuitamente. Lo interesante para Europa es que los tribunales de Delaware han considerado legítimas las poison pills cuando constituyen una medida de defensa frente a una “OPA coactiva
eBay Classifieds (Kijiji) Free Local Classifieds
Dice el juez Chandler,
For example, the Delaware Supreme Court originally validated the use of a rights plan (una poison pill) so that boards could protect target stockholders from two-tiered, front-end loaded, structurally coercive offers… use the protection of a rights plan to respond to an underpriced bid, counter the tender offeror’s timing and informational advantages, and force the hostile acquirer to negotiate with the board (See City Capital Assocs. v. Interco Inc., 551 A.2d 787, 798 (Del. Ch. 1988) (“If [a board’s determination of price inadequacy] is made in good faith . . . it alone will justify leaving a poison pill in place, even in the setting of a noncoercive offer, for a period while the board exercises its good faith business judgment to take such steps as it deems appropriate to protect and advance shareholder interests in light of the significant development that such an offer doubtless is. That action may entail negotiation on behalf of shareholders with the offeror, the institution of a Revlon-style auction for the Company, a recapitalization or restructuring designed as an alternative to the offer, or other action.”) (citation omitted). Cf. Paramount Commc’ns, Inc. v. Time Inc., 1989 WL 79880 (Del. Ch. July 14, 1989), aff’d, 571 A.2d 1140 (Del. 1990)…
What remains fairly litigable is the degree to which a board can keep the shield of a rights plan in place under the situationally specific circumstances of a given case.
A board similarly can use a rights plan creatively to protect the value of a corporate asset for the benefit of its stockholders See, e.g., Selectica, Inc v. Versata Enters., Inc., 2010 WL 703062 (Del. Ch. Feb. 26, 2010) (declaring valid a board’s decision to adopt and deploy a poison pill with a low trigger of 4.99% in an effort to preserve the company’s right to use its tax-advantageous net operating losses)… or to block a creeping takeover See, e.g., Yucaipa, 2010 WL 3170806; Louisiana Mun. Police Employees’ Ret. Sys. v. Fertitta, 2009 WL 2263406, at *5 (Del. Ch. July 28, 2009) (noting that although a board must have been aware of defendant’s creeping takeover, the board did nothing to stop the accumulation of shares, such as reach a standstill agreement or adopt a rights plan). Cf. Ivanhoe Partners v. Newmont Mining Corp., 535 A.2d 1334 (Del. 1987) (holding that a comprehensive defensive scheme— consisting of a dividend, a standstill agreement, and a street sweep—met the Unocal test for a reasonable and proportional response to a perceived threat to the corporation).
Y añade que, en lo que conoce, el caso Craiglist constituye el primero en el que se usa una poison pill en una sociedad cerrada, esto es, en una sociedad con pocos socios y que no cotiza en Bolsa donde tienen justificación las poison pills precisamente para resolver problemas de acción colectiva de los accionistas dispersos:
In cases involving rights plans to date, Delaware courts have typically and understandably approved the use of rights plans to remedy the collective action problems that stockholders face, including but not limited to the classically coercive prisoner’s dilemma imposed by a two-tiered offer. At the same time, Delaware courts have guarded against the overt risk of entrenchment and the less visible, yet more pernicious risk that incumbents acting in subjective good faith might nevertheless deprive stockholders of value-maximizing opportunities.
Y, más adelante, se ocupa de si “defender una cultura corporativa” determinada puede ser suficiente justificación para poner en marcha una píldora envenenada. Lo que dice está muy bien (cómo usar un precedente y compararlo con el caso que se está juzgando)
It is true that on the unique facts of a particular case—Paramount Communications, Inc. v. Time Inc.—this Court and the Delaware Supreme Court accepted defensive action by the directors of a Delaware corporation as a good faith effort to protect a specific corporate culture.102 It was a muted embrace. Chancellor Allen wrote only that that he was “not persuaded that there may not be instances in which the law might recognize as valid a perceived threat to a ‘corporate culture’ that is shown to be palpable (for lack of a better word), distinctive and advantageous.” This conditional, limited, and double-negativeladen comment was offered in a case that involved the journalistic independence of an iconic American institution. Even in that fact-specific context, the acceptance of the amorphous purpose of “cultural protection” as a justification for defensive action did not escape criticism
Y añade que, en todo caso, tiene que existir alguna relación entre el objetivo de la actuación de los administradores - “proteger la cultura corporativa” (pero “Giving away services to attract business is a sales tactic, however, not a corporate culture”) frente a un depredador – y el bienestar de los accionistas, esto es, el interés social en sentido estricto como interés de todos los accionistas en maximizar el valor de su inversión:
More importantly, Time did not hold that corporate culture, standing alone, is worthy of protection as an end in itself. Promoting, protecting, or pursuing nonstockholder considerations must lead at some point to value for stockholders. When director decisions are reviewed under the business judgment rule, this Court will not question rational judgments about how promoting non-stockholder interests—be it through making a charitable contribution, paying employees higher salaries and benefits, or more general norms like promoting a particular corporate culture—ultimately promote stockholder value. Under the Unocal standard, however, the directors must act within the range of reasonableness
Es decir, una vez más, los jueces resuelven sobre la base de distribuir la carga de la argumentación: el juez da el beneficio de la duda a los administradores y acepta, en principio, que cualquier actuación de éstos, aunque no esté aparentemente relacionada con el bienestar de los accionistas y lo esté más claramente con el bienestar de otros grupos de interesados, es una actuación conforme con el interés social si no se toma en una situación de conflicto de interés o no le beneficia personalmente, porque puede beneficiar a los accionistas en términos generales. Ahora bien, si no se ve razonablemente cómo puede acabar beneficiando a los accionistas una medida de cierta entidad, la impugnación tendrá éxito. Por ejemplo, hacer una donación a una ONG es legítimo sin más mientras que regalar el principal activo de la compañía a las Hermanas de la Caridad requiere de un gran esfuerzo argumentativo por parte de los administradores para ser aceptada como conforme con el interés social.
Y, a continuación, le dicen a Jim y a Craig, los accionistas mayoritarios, que si querían hacer caridad o prestar servicios a la comunidad con su empresa, se equivocaron de forma jurídica
Jim and Craig did prove that they personally believe craigslist should not be about the business of stockholder wealth maximization, now or in the future. As an abstract matter, there is nothing inappropriate about an organization seeking to aid local, national, and global communities by providing a website for online classifieds that is largely devoid of monetized elements. Indeed, I personally appreciate and admire Jim’s and Craig’s desire to be of service to communities. The corporate form in which craigslist operates, however, is not an appropriate vehicle for purely philanthropic ends, at least not when there are other stockholders interested in realizing a return on their investment. Jim and Craig opted to form craigslist, Inc. as a for-profit Delaware corporation and voluntarily accepted millions of dollars from eBay as part of a transaction whereby eBay became a
stockholder
. Having chosen a for-profit corporate form, the craigslist directors are bound by the fiduciary duties and standards that accompany that form”…Thus, I cannot accept as valid for the purposes of implementing the Rights Plan a corporate policy that specifically, clearly, and admittedly seeks not to maximize the economic value of a for-profit Delaware corporation for the benefit of its stockholders—no matter whether those stockholders are individuals of modest means or a corporate titan of online commerce.
La creación de la “poison pill” no fue una forma de defender una cultura corporativa, sino un castigo a Ebay por haber empezado a competir con Craiglist.
kijiji_logo.jpg
A continuación evalúa si la decisión de los mayoritarios de privar a Ebay del derecho a designar un consejero (instaurando un staggered board), de forma semejante a una decisión en España de destituir al administrador designado por el sistema representación proporcional. Y dice que la medida es razonable porque Ebay se había convertido en un competidor de Craiglist y uno no quiere tener a competidores en el Consejo de Administración. Y eso era lo que habían acordado ambas partes en el pacto parasocial que habían firmado años antes: que si Ebay entraba en el mercado de Craiglist, dejaba de tener derecho a un puesto en el Consejo “Jim and Craig approved the Staggered Board Amendments in good faith to prevent eBay, a business competitor, from having access to confidential craigslist board discussions”
Y sobre el hecho de que, al parecer, Ebay había utilizado ya la información confidencial a la que tuvo acceso para competir con Craiglist, dice el Juez
     Evidence presented in this case suggests that eBay liberally passed nonpublic craigslist information around within eBay’s departments. Some of this nonpublic information was information eBay obtained at craigslist board meetings (e.g., craigslist’s 2007 budget). It even appears that eBay used some of craigslist’s nonpublic information to develop and launch Kijiji. Moreover, by the time Jim and Craig implemented the Staggered Board Amendments they were aware that Google AdWords were misdirecting internet users searching for “craigslist” to Kijiji. Jim and Craig had reason to suspect eBay was behind the misdirection, particularly because no one at eBay responded to Jim’s accusation that eBay was misusing the AdWords. It was reasonable for Jim and Craig to further suspect that if eBay was willing to misuse AdWords to advantage Kijiji at craigslist’s expense, eBay would also be willing to use, for its own advantage, nonpublic craigslist information obtained in craigslist board meetings. I discuss the evidence of eBay’s alleged misuse of craigslist’s nonpublic information simply to better illustrate why it would be rational for a corporate board to wish to limit competitor access to nonpublic information. Jim and Craig’s suspicion that eBay was misusing information is not a basis for my opinion regarding the propriety of the staggered board; Jim and Craig would have acted rationally even if they did not already suspect eBay of malfeasance when they staggered the board. Whether there has been actual malfeasance or not, a rational business purpose is served by limiting a competitor’s access to nonpublic information
Por último, considera a los accionistas mayoritarios y administradores en conflicto de interés respecto del aumento de capital (a cambio de otorgar un derecho de adquisición preferente a la sociedad sobre sus acciones). Y considera que la medida beneficiaba en particular a Jim y a Craig porque sus acciones estaban ya sometidas a una limitación en su transmisibilidad, mientras que las de eBay eran libremente transmisibles por lo que conceder un derecho de adquisición preferente a la sociedad era más costoso para eBay y no se veía de qué modo la medida beneficiaba a la sociedad
The ROFR/Dilutive Issuance is invalid under Delaware law because Jim and Craig have sought to control craigslist’s stockholder composition for their personal and sentimental benefit at eBay’s expense

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