If you’ve seen the internet today you know that everyone wants to talk about their feelings regarding the union of Yahoo! and Tumblr, those icons of two different generations of internet orthography. Do you prefer the florid olden style of Extraneous Punctuation! or the sleek postmodern vibe of Mssng Lttrs?1 Let us know in the comments or, of course, on your Tumblr. Here’s Goldman’s note:
Management cited the “uncanny” fit between Tumblr, with its fast-growing but largely unmonetized usage, and Yahoo, with its strengths in monetization but declining engagement.
Many people would think “avaricious widely disliked company” and “well-liked nonprofit, more or less,” would not be a good fit for each other, but I guess “uncanny” doesn’t actually mean “good.”
The press release is … terrible? Unspeakable. “Per the agreement and our promise not to screw it up, Tumblr will be independently operated as a separate business,” begins the second paragraph. Are you encouraged? If you’re a Tumblr user? (Not really, right?2 ) If you’re a Yahoo! shareholder? I drew you a picture:
Etc., etc., there is this: Read more »
Man, the resistance to this Dell deal is crumbling pretty fast isn’t it? Blackstone dropped its bid two weeks ago, Icahn and Southeastern have been relatively quiet since Icahn defended his right to a free exchange of ideas just before Blackstone dropped out, and the stock is at $13.33, ~2% below the $13.65 deal price, after being as high as $14.51 in the hopes of a better deal.
Dell filed its revised merger proxy today, with revisions presumably mostly driven by the SEC’s comments on its first draft from March. It doesn’t look like the SEC put up much resistance either; here’s a crappy redline and the changes are smallish. Here’s my favorite piece of SEC nitpicking:
Get it? That’s: Read more »
A good public-relations rule of thumb is that, when you and your nemesis sign an agreement putting aside your differences, you should probably also agree on how you’ll announce your new friendship to the world. What you don’t want to do is, for instance, to sign a standstill agreement with a potential buyer in your strategic process, and announce that standstill agreement one morning, and then a few hours later have the potential buyer put out his own announcement taking issue with your characterization. Another rule of thumb might be, keep Carl Icahn away from your strategic process if at all possible.
This morning Dell sort of blandly announced that Carl Icahn had agreed not to buy more than 10% of Dell’s shares, or enter into agreements with other shareholders that would get him above 15%. And this afternoon Icahn announced that that agreement meant nothing and nobody should give it a second thought: Read more »
Two ideas at the heart of modern financial economics are the efficient markets hypothesis, which says that investing doesn’t work, and the Modigliani-Miller theorem, which says that corporate finance doesn’t work.1 Also there is a financial industry which is pretty much organized around ignoring those ideas. Hahaha how stupid of David Einhorn to think that he could make Apple more valuable just by issuing some preferred stock! But also how stupid of David Einhorn to think he should invest in Apple rather than a market-cap weighted index of all the companies! I mean, stock picking, so last century, just index.
Management buyouts are one place where those two efficiency hypotheses break down in obvious ways. Of course management knows more about a company’s prospects than public shareholders do, and so will be able to buy when the company is undervalued.2 And of course adding giant gobs of debt to the balance sheet, with the attendant tax benefits, will make the stock more valuable. This doesn’t always work out – managements have their own problems estimating their company’s prospects, and leverage is risky – but it’s a perfectly plausible theory.
Or so I think but I come from a corporate finance background. Neil Irwin is an economics guy so he is puzzled: Read more »
My thinking on Carl Icahn changes day to day but my current model is that he is a man who after a long and successful career in money management retired in March of 2011 to spend more time on his hobbies. And that his hobbies are irritating Bill Ackman, hijacking public company M&A deals, and threatening his foes with “years of litigation.”1 I’ve got nothing against Bill Ackman, but otherwise that sounds like my dream retirement too.
We talked about Icahn’s Dell stake a little yesterday; I predicted that today Ackman would announce that Dell is a pyramid scheme, and I will award myself partial credit insofar as today a well-known short seller did come out calling Dell a bad and plummeting-cash-flow company, though not quite a pyramid scheme. But as for Icahn’s plans I’m still a bit lost, though his letter to Dell’s board has now been made public. This is the core proposal: Read more »
In a Black-Scholes world you wouldn’t have long tedious arguments about whether an LBO represents a good deal for shareholders. You think Dell is undervalued at $13.65 a share? Hey that’s super. Pay $13.66 for 51% of the shares and vote the deal down.1 The end. There’s a certain class of debates that can be reduced to just making a market and putting your money on it, and that class is probably much larger than the class of debates that actually get resolved that way.
But LBO value disputes mostly aren’t in it, because in real life the financing and friction-cost and legal and other obstacles to accumulating 51% of a big public company are daunting. Southeastern Asset Management, which thinks $13.65 is an insulting lowball offer for Dell, has awkwardly been selling shares for less. We mostly don’t live in a Black-Scholes world. But maybe Carl Icahn does? That is one hypothesis. Another is that Carl Icahn reads the paper every day and is like “oh, a situation is in the news, let me come in and fuck about with it for a while.” Tomorrow we’ll read he’s accumulated an 8% stake in the sequester.
Anyway: Read more »
Classically, the “Background of the Merger” section of a merger proxy is where you get the fun details of how the deal came to be, from which you can perhaps extract a sense of whether or not the deal is a good one for shareholders. But it’s written by lawyers so sometimes their idea of “fun details” differs from yours and mine. Here is a critical moment a week before Heinz agreed to be bought by 3G and Berkshire Hathaway, from Heinz’s merger proxy:
On February 8, 2013, representatives of Davis Polk and Kirkland & Ellis had a conference call to continue negotiations concerning the merger agreement. During the call, Kirkland & Ellis noted that the Investors were willing to accede to Heinz’s request that Heinz be permitted to pay regular quarterly dividends prior to closing of the Merger. Kirkland & Ellis noted that, while Heinz had reserved comment on the remedies for a debt financing failure proposed by Kirkland & Ellis in the initial draft of the merger agreement, the Investors’ willingness to enter into a transaction was conditioned on Heinz’s remedies in those circumstances being limited to receipt of a reverse termination fee. Kirkland & Ellis noted, however, that the Investors would withdraw their initial proposal that Heinz would not be entitled to any remedies if the merger were not consummated due to a failure of the debt financing that resulted from a bankruptcy of those financing sources. In addition, Kirkland & Ellis stated that they expected that the Investors would be willing by their guarantees to guarantee liabilities of Parent and Merger Sub under the merger agreement (including liabilities for breach of the merger agreement) up to a cap on liability equal to the reverse termination fee if it became payable (as the Investors had previously proposed). Kirkland & Ellis also reiterated that the Investors were unwilling to agree to a “go-shop” provision but confirmed that they were willing to accept a customary “no-shop” provision with a fiduciary out, which would allow the Heinz Board, subject to certain conditions, to accept a superior offer made following the announcement of the merger agreement. Davis Polk replied with a slanderous description of Kirkland’s mother’s sexual proclivities. Davis Polk suggested that, in lieu of a “go-shop” provision, Heinz might consider a two-tiered termination fee, with a lower fee payable by Heinz if it terminated the merger agreement to enter into an alternative transaction within a limited period of time post-signing. Kirkland & Ellis responded that, while the Investors might have some flexibility on the size of the termination fee, the Investors would not accept a two-tiered fee. Finally, Kirkland & Ellis noted that the standard for efforts to obtain antitrust approvals proposed in the most recent draft of the merger agreement was too onerous in light of the circumstances, but that the Investors would agree not to acquire other food manufacturers during the period prior to closing of the merger if doing so would interfere with obtaining antitrust approvals.
Oh so that’s what happened!1 Read more »
Dell reported earnings today and they feel a little pointless, as Dell is no longer particularly an earnings play, unless of course it is. Dan Primack is mad because of the irrelevancy of the exercise:
What Dell did not want to talk about, however, was its pending $28 billion buyout by company CEO Michael Dell and private equity firm Silver Lake Partners. It also chose not to provide guidance for further quarters, or even make Michael Dell available to analysts.
Apparently the company already thinks it’s been taken private. … Dell is asking shareholders to approve a $13.65 per share deal (plus a $0.16 per share dividend) that is being opposed by the company’s two largest outside shareholders. Wouldn’t such shareholders benefit from knowing how the company views its future financial prospects, before casting their ballots?
Ha, sure they would. But they can’t because it’s illegal. Not “illegal” in the sense of “against the law,” but “illegal” in the sense of “if they did it, Dell’s lawyers would have heart attacks and die, and then they’d have no lawyers, and they’d probably go do things that are against the law, so it ends up in the same place.” The thing is: Read more »
One way in which my deep personal laziness manifests itself is my fascination with ways of getting paid not to do things.1 Contested M&A deals turn out to be full of such opportunities, from greenmail to don’t-work-for-a-hostile-bidder law-firm retainers. Break-up fees are a favorite of mine, and a place where I really feel mystified by the financial world. I have seen people lose out on a deal to a topping bid, putting them in line for an eight-figure break-up fee, and I have seen the look on their faces and: they were sad. Sad! To get paid tens of millions of dollars to stop working on the deal! I had to keep working on the deal, and no one was giving me millions of dollars.
At some intellectual level I understand this. So, in the Dell deal for instance, Silver Lake want to put $1.4 billion into Dell today and exit in five years and make 5x their money, I get it. But: that’s hard! You have to, like, manage Dell. Seems like a big company, has some problems. Your $1.4 billion is at risk, you have debt covenants to worry about, and, I dunno, wristwatch computers or something to make. Or someone can just write you a check for $450 million and you can not do any of that.2 I mean: go ahead, write me a check for $450 million, and I will happily not manage Dell. 450 dollars, really. Buy me a drink and I will spend as long as you want not running Dell. I’d be at least as good at it as Silver Lake.
On the other hand, if you’re a Dell shareholder, what do you win if you vote down the buyout deal? Read more »
It’s always a little awkward for a company to issue a statement saying “we’re not really that good a company,” but Dell’s Special Committee did a decent job of it today:
In the course of its deliberations, the Special Committee of Dell’s Board considered an array of strategic alternatives. In addition to working through financial and capital allocation issues with its independent financial advisors, the Committee retained a prominent management consultant to help it assess the Company’s strategic position. Based on that work, the Board concluded that the proposed all-cash transaction is in the best interests of stockholders. The transaction offers an attractive and immediate premium for stockholders and shifts the risks facing the business to the buyer group.
I think that this says that the board hired McKinsey1 to figure out how to improve Dell’s business, and they looked around and said: “It’s hopeless, burn the place down, or take whatever you can get for it.” And they did, agreeing to an LBO led by Michael Dell and Silver Lake at $13.65 a share, which some shareholders find a bit light.
One question you might ask is: who knows Dell’s strategic position better, Michael Dell or McKinsey (or whoever)? I don’t know that there’s an obvious answer. You could very reasonably take the view that Michael Dell, chairman and CEO and founder and namesake of the company, really is stealing it away from shareholders at a low valuation and taking all of the upside for himself and his private equity sponsors. On this view the board has no particular choice but to sell to him – he’s offering a premium and no other buyer is likely to compete with the CEO and founder’s offer – and so has brought in McKinsey to provide litigation-friendly rubber-stamping for that decision. This fits nicely with the notion that management buyouts always sort of screw public shareholders, as well as with the notion that management consulting is always just a highly-credentialed rubber stamp for whatever an executive was planning to do anyway. Read more »
Today Southeastern Asset Management, which is Dell’s biggest shareholder that doesn’t share a name with it, expressed its displeasure with the company’s $13.65-a-share LBO today in the form of a letter to the board patiently explaining that:
- Dell is worth $23.72 a share, and
- Dell could pay $11.86 a share in cash in the form of a special dividend and still be a decent standalone company with over $1.14 of FCF per share, and
- Can’t we work something out?
Southeastern appears to have a basis in Dell north of $20, so, y’know, they would say that Dell is worth more than $13.65.1 But: who cares? Southeastern gets a vote like everyone else does; the merger agreement requires a majority of the non-Michael-Dell shareholders to approve the deal but preliminary nose-counting suggests that, between index funds and merger arbs and others not anchored in the $20s, they’ll probably get there.
What is Southeastern up to? Their proposed dividend-recap solution, in which a standalone Dell would increase its shareholder value through the magic of financial engineering, may or may not work,2 but that’s mostly irrelevant: it’s hard to imagine the board changing its mind now and deciding that standalone engineering is superior to this LBO. For one thing: that is the sort of thing that boards obviously consider before agreeing to an LBO, so presumably they had a reason for rejecting it. For another: if Dell decides now, as opposed to last week, that a dividend recap is the way to go, it’ll owe Silver Lake $450mm in termination fees. That’s the sort of expensive change of heart that makes a board look really bad – and that alone is reason enough to be pretty sure that idea will never fly.
Which is not to say Southeastern doesn’t score some good points. I was moved by this: Read more »