Majority of Minority (MOM) approval is a common mechanism used in many jurisdictions to control conflicts of interest in related party transactions. Recently, in M & F Worldwide, the Delaware Supreme Court held that MOM approval in a controlling shareholder freezeout shifted the standard of review from Entire Fairness to Business Judgement Rule. In this article, I investigate how MOM approval functions in the presence of active shareholders (both hedge funds and actively managed mutual funds).
After reviewing the potential benefits and problems with MOM approval, I review the use of MOM provisions in controlling shareholder freezeouts in the U.S. between 2010 and 2017. I combine this with three case studies involving MOM approval: the Dell MBO; the Oracle/NetSuite merger; and the unsuccessful effort by the Dolan family to take Cablevision private in 2007. I then briefly consider a quite different sort of MOM approval: the EU Takeover Directive’s requirement that conditions mandatory freezeouts on achieving a very high level of ownership (90-95%), typically through a tender offer.
The principal lessons of this investigation are ambiguous. First, I do not find significant evidence that the use of MOM conditions in Delaware has attracted the sort strategic behavior by hedge funds or actively managed mutual funds that transactional lawyers have worried about. Except for the 2007 Cablevision deal (an unhappy experience for both investors and the controlling shareholder), I have not found any cases in which shareholders have successfully used MOM provisions to block transactions. Second, as far as I can tell, the MOM condition also does not seem to do much good. I have not found any cases in which shareholders have successfully threatened to block a deal as a way of increasing the consideration paid by the controlling shareholder. Contrary to the hopes of optimists, the MOM condition does not seem to have empowered even large active shareholders to negotiate with controlling shareholders over price. Although it is possible that the MOM condition serves as a shareholder referendum on the performance of the special committee, there is little evidence that it has done so. Third, EU directive’s mandatory version of MOM (the 90-95% threshold for freezeouts) does seem to attract strategic investors who block transactions until they are bought out at a higher price.
The lack of observable effects of MOM approval raise a question whether an independent special committee combined with MOM approval provides sufficiently robust protections of non-controlling shareholders to relieve Delaware courts of their traditional role in scrutinizing conflicted controlling shareholder transactions for Entire Fairness.
Date of Authorship for this Version
Rock, Edward, "MOM Approval in a World of Active Shareholders" (2018). New York University Law and Economics Working Papers. 456.