The Knight Capital convertible preferred documents are a mess. The basic structure is quite nice: Knight’s new investors are getting a preferred stock that, eliding the details below, pays a 2% dividend, converts into common at $1.50 a share, automatically converts once the common has traded above $3 for 60 days, and can be converted earlier at the holder’s option. Sensible enough: the holders get a liquidation preference if the company goes belly-up in the next few weeks; otherwise they get common that they can get out of quickly via an already-filed registration statement.

But that’s not quite right, since the investors are actually getting two sorts of preferred stock, A-1 and A-2, the first of which are convertible now and the second of which won’t be until, um, Saturday. The NYSE has rules saying that you can’t sell more than 20% of your common stock at below market prices without shareholder approval – to prevent you from screwing shareholders by selling control of the company to someone at sweetheart prices. This was a problem because Knight needed to raise more than their market cap, selling 73% of the company for $400mm. To do this, they took advantage of a NYSE rule that once looked quaint but has since oh say 2007 become all the rage in certain capital markets circles, Rule 312.05, which provides an exception to the shareholder approval requirement “upon application to the Exchange when (1) the delay in securing stockholder approval would seriously jeopardize the financial viability of the enterprise and (2) reliance by the company on this exception is expressly approved by the Audit Committee of the Board.”

But even that doesn’t get them out of the woods, because it requires the company to mail a letter about the stock issuance to shareholders and wait 10 days before issuing the common stock. This part still looks quaint – a letter! 10 days! – and its purpose is a little unclear to me, since stockholders can’t really do anything with this notice but silently fume at the series of mistakes that led them to receive it. I guess they can sue. Shareholders like to sue. And since this rule would otherwise be a good way for companies to screw shareholders by selling control at sweetheart prices, there’s no harm in giving shareholders ten days to get together and sue to block a bad deal.

You wouldn’t think this ten-day delay would be a big deal, and indeed it didn’t bother anyone much during the financial crisis. It doesn’t block Knight from selling the preferred stock to its rescuers, or more importantly getting their money. Nor is there any uncertainty as to whether the preferred can convert into common*: it will be convertible, definitely, after 10 days. The only concern is that, for ten days, you have to hold the preferred. But:

However, the investors in Knight’s capital raise were not willing to undertake the transaction absent a reduction in that time period and, as a result, Knight requested specifically that the Exchange assist Knight in providing an accommodation to that time period in light of the exceptional circumstances relating to Knight and its need to complete the capital infusion before the markets opened for trading this morning. After considering Knight’s request and the nature of the time constraints under which Knight was operating, including the fact that Knight believed that without the capital infusion there would be no assurance that Knight’s counterparties would continue support Knight’s activities, the Exchange will file on Monday a proposed rule change to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in a form that the Exchange anticipates will become immediately effective as proposed. In accordance with that rule change, on the date that is the later of August 11, 2012 and two days following the mailing of the letter to stockholders, the convertible preferred stock that would be convertible into more than 19.99% of Knight’s common stock outstanding prior to August 6, 2012 will** … become convertible into the underlying shares of Knight common stock and will become entitled to vote with the common stock on an as-converted basis.

This is weird. Some things to notice about it:

  • Knight is saving, by my count, three days: if they mailed the letters yesterday, then the ten-day delay should expire August 16; instead, the preferred will be convertible August 11, a Saturday, meaning in practice August 13.
  • To save Knight three days, the NYSE is permanently changing its rules.
  • Not only that, but normally a NYSE rule change itself takes time, usually thirty days, to allow for public notice and comment – but the NYSE and SEC are speeding up that process to, basically, zero days to accommodate Knight.***

Going through all of this just to be able to convert your preferred stock into common three business days earlier than you otherwise would is … strange, no? Remember that the preferred is better than the common: it’s the same as common for voting****, etc., but pays a 2% dividend and has some seniority in bankruptcy. And it’s not like you lose the ability to convert if you wait. So why do all of this?

I don’t know. None of the investors – Jefferies (who want you to know, btw, that they “conceived and structured the investment”), Blackstone, Getco, TD Ameritrade, Stephens Investments and Stifel – strike me as the sorts of people who would be restricted from holding preferred, and in fact Jefferies, Blackstone, and Getco each gets a board seat as long as they hold 25% of their preferred stock.***** So you wouldn’t think they’d be in a hurry to get out. But I guess when you’re in the habit of getting in and out of stocks in nanoseconds – and when you’re investing $400mm in a company with a track record of losing more than that in 45 minutes – you could get nervous at the thought of waiting an extra three days to get liquidity.

Knight Capital 8-K goodness [EDGAR]
Quick Lunge for a Lifeline Helped Knight Capital Skirt Collapse [DealBook]
Knight’s New Investors Ensured Privileged Position [WSJ]

* Unless of course someone successfully sues to block the deal on sweetheart-sale-of-control grounds, which seems far-fetched in this particular case. Though, I mean, in hindsight, they got a pretty good deal.

** The 19.99% point is why there is Series A-1 and A-2: $79.6mm of the investment is convertible immediately into just under 20% of the pre-investment common shares; the other $320.4mm has to wait on this procedure.

*** From the rule change filing:

A proposed rule change filed under Rule 19b-4(f)(6) normally does not become operative for 30 days after the date of filing. However, Rule 19b-4(f)(6)(iii) permits the Commission to designate a shorter time if such action is consistent with the protection of investors and the public interest. The Exchange requested that the Commission waive the 30-day operative delay so that the proposed rule change may take effect upon filing with the Commission pursuant to Section 19(b)(3)(A) and Rule 19b-4(f)(6) thereunder, and also become operative on that same date. The Commission believes that waiver of the 30-day operative delay is consistent with the protection of investors and the public interest.

**** Update: This is not quite right. The A-1 votes immediately on an as-converted basis, but the A-2 doesn’t vote: you have to convert it into A-1 after the conditions for convertibility have been satisfied. So this process does get them their voting rights three days earlier. I am not aware of any Knight shareholder votes scheduled for next week – next record date seems to be September – but, y’know, things move fast around there.

***** So, not long then, if it auto-converts in 2 months as long as the stock stays above $3? Also it’s not technically Getco that gets the board seat but General Atlantic, its controlling investor.

104 comments (hidden to protect delicate sensibilities)
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Comments (104)

  1. Posted by Just a Flesh Wound | August 7, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    Matt, have my babies.

  2. Posted by guest | August 7, 2012 at 2:29 PM

    Hurrying the old "in and out" is for teenagers and mormons.

  3. Posted by guest | August 7, 2012 at 2:31 PM

    same as common for voting – source?

  4. Posted by Brave Sir Robin | August 7, 2012 at 2:31 PM

    This scares me.

  5. Posted by Beerio | August 7, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    When are we getting a Standard Chartered post? I'm looking forward to that one…

  6. Posted by Congratulatory Quant | August 7, 2012 at 2:37 PM

    Matt, in the short time we haven't even really known each other you've used the word "eliding" more times than anyone else I have ever known, congratulations.

  7. Posted by guest | August 7, 2012 at 2:39 PM

    I believe the scientific term for this phenomenon is “wham bam thank you mam”

  8. Posted by Matt "00****" Levine | August 7, 2012 at 2:43 PM

    Well, they're in trubs, but really NBD because just like, providing liquidity, sanctions don't really work and Iran is screwed anyway because the secret team of Mossad hackers and former GS Global Alpha guys funded GS, KKR and SAC will have sent them back to the stone age soon enough.*

    *Reallllllllly hope they can't screw with my RSUs for talking about that one.

  9. Posted by Ivan | August 7, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    The COD doesn't COMPEL early conversion. Did the investors sign a side letter saying they would convert voluntarily, subject to no NYSE violations?

  10. Posted by Guest | August 7, 2012 at 2:48 PM

    So, the shareholders that got screwed ended up with shares worth $3 instead of $0? If I was a shareholder, color me happy to get $3 and the hope of living to fight another day.

  11. Posted by pazzo83 | August 7, 2012 at 2:49 PM

    "when you’re investing $400mm in a company with a track record of losing more than that in 45 minutes"

    – K Adoboli likes this

  12. Posted by John Meriweather | August 7, 2012 at 2:52 PM

    Amateur.

    -Guy who could outpace you even during his legitimate years.

  13. Posted by ILoveLamp | August 7, 2012 at 3:30 PM

    I stopped to look up "eliding" and never went back. Did I miss anything?

  14. Posted by Guest | August 7, 2012 at 3:43 PM

    I don't even feel anything. What's the point of staying longer.

  15. Posted by Matt chart quant | August 7, 2012 at 3:49 PM

    Two Matt posts in a row and no charts? To hell with footnotes.

  16. Posted by Rex Ryan, CFA Lv III | August 7, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    To hell with you.

    -Guy who would be a lot more pissed if not for the excitement of packing for CFA camp (especially the socks!)

  17. Posted by JohnnyCanes | August 7, 2012 at 4:34 PM

    How old are they? Could we open up for bidding?

  18. Posted by bathsalts guy | August 7, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    nope, it's eliding

  19. Posted by CFA | August 7, 2012 at 4:42 PM

    hes not chart erd

  20. Posted by Goods | August 7, 2012 at 4:44 PM

    nice post matt… i'll program my algo to buy high/sell low and sell low/buy high to take advantage of the price swings.

  21. Posted by Man AHL Fund | August 7, 2012 at 4:54 PM

    Hey !

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    talk to my mouthpiece you dirtball

  23. Posted by Guest | August 7, 2012 at 6:14 PM

    Tom Joyce has many many friends in the industry (and in the financial media). I'm not saying that's undeserved. But I wonder how this all would have gone down if the CEO of KCG was , say Dick Fuld or E.Stanley O'Neal

  24. Posted by charlie gaspipe | August 7, 2012 at 6:23 PM

    listen tom joyce is a friend of mine

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    I have been called a high frequency trader in bed. Now I know what that means

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    Another excellent post Matt. I appreciate the work you do in delving into the details of the filings, and the cross references – brilliant, and the footnotes – thrilling!…and yet…the tie in didn't do it for me. Where's the analysis from the NYSE and SEC point of view? C'mon, man!

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