The last time I checked in on the messy Chapter 11 bankruptcy of Residential Capital, the onetime mortgage lending arm of Ally Financial, squabbling ResCap creditors had put aside their differences to unite in opposition to a deal that granted holders of ResCap mortgage-backed securities an $8.7 billion allowed claim for breaches of ResCap MBS representations and warranties. Earlier this year, junior and senior bondholders and other unsecured ResCap creditors filed objections to that agreement, claiming that it was a backdoor bailout for Ally. Under the creditors’ theory, Ally secretly directed ResCap’s negotiations with lawyers for MBS noteholders, who agreed to back Ally’s own $750 million pre-filing settlement with ResCap in exchange for Ally’s support of the noteholders’ unduly large allowed put-back claim. Ally, according to the ResCap creditors, was the Machiavellian villain pulling ResCap’s strings.
Leo Strine, the Chancellor of Delaware Chancery Court, is no particular friend of the activist shareholder, as hedge funds and institutional investors who press corporate boards for change have become known. Strine is after all on record, in a November 2010 essay for the American Bar Association’s The Business Lawyer, arguing that short-term shareholder pressure impedes corporate boards from building long-term value. That’s a theme echoed loudly last week by a pair of gray eminences of corporate law, Martin Lipton of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and Ira Millstein of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, in warnings about the potentially deleterious effect of what Millstein called “newfound activism (with a) focus on short-term results.” Both Milstein’s relatively moderate opinion piece in Dealbook and Lipton’s bellicose client alert argued that hedge funds focused on quarterly results and shareholder returns are fundamental threats to U.S. corporations. Or, as Strine put it in his prescient 2010 essay, “It is increasingly the case that the agenda-setters in corporate policy discussions are highly leveraged hedge funds, with no long-term commitment to the corporations in which they invest.”
I’ve spent the last two weeks vacationing out of the country, with only intermittent access to headlines from the United States. Every time I checked in, I felt as though I’d missed another huge legal story: the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on materiality and securities class certification in Amgen v. Connecticut Retirement Plans; oral arguments in Argentina’s appeal in the renegade bondholder litigation; a New York state court’s long-awaited holding that insurance regulators were within their rights to approve MBIA’s $5 billion restructuring in 2009; Credit Suisse throwing in the towel on Ambac’s mortgage-backed securities claims; and the slashing of Apple’s billion-dollar patent infringement damages against Samsung. But one of the great things about legal journalism is that first-day coverage isn’t usually the end of the story, especially when it comes to judicial opinions.