Equity and debt decoupling and empty voting II: Importance and extensions

Henry T C Hu, Bernard Black

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

57 Scopus citations

Abstract

We extend our prior work on how both supply (including the emergence of OTC equity derivatives and growth in share lending) and demand (including the growth of hedge funds) factors now facilitate the large-scale, low-cost decoupling of shareholder voting rights from shareholder economic interests. Both inside and outside shareholders, as well as corporations themselves, can engage in what we termed "empty voting"-voting while holding greater voting power than economic ownership. Shareholders can also have "hidden (morphable) ownership" - economic ownership, ostensibly without voting rights, which remains undisclosed under current disclosure rules, but can quickly morph to include voting ownership as well. These forms of decoupling pose important risks to the one-share-one-vote paradigm that underlies conventional models of corporate governance and shareholder voting. We extend our prior work in five primary ways. First, we treat decoupling of voting rights from economic ownership of shares (empty voting and hidden ownership) as special instances of a more general pattern-investors, and corporations themselves, can unbundle the package of rights and obligations which have traditionally been associated with equity ("equity decoupling") as well as debt ("debt decoupling"). Second, we provide evidence that equity decoupling is an important worldwide phenomenon, which adds urgency to the need for disclosure and perhaps other reforms. Third, we go beyond decoupling by shareholders, examine decoupling strategies that corporations can use to fend off changes in control, and expand our integrated equity ownership disclosure proposal to address corporate decoupling. Fourth, we propose responses to empty voting which go beyond disclosure, including constrained corporate power to limit the voting rights of empty voters, condensing the period from record date to shareholder meeting date, and encouraging institutional investors to recall and vote lent shares. Fifth, we sketch several extensions of our decoupling framework to (a) the full range of shareholder rights and obligations, (b) debt decoupling, and (c) the possible revival of the "street sweep" takeover strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)625-739
Number of pages115
JournalUniversity of Pennsylvania Law Review
Volume156
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law

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