Nelson Mullins reviewed 43 publicly available merger agreements for bank mergers announced in 2022 to identify common market practices. The transactions ranged in deal value from $10.1 million to $13.7 billion, with a median deal value of roughly $136 million. They reflected average pricing of 1.6x tangible book and 16x earnings.
Understanding these market practices can help potential targets understand what might be available in the market, and help potential purchasers understand where they may be able to stand out from the market. Below are some of the highlights and observations of the review.
Adjustments to Merger Consideration Based on Closing Capital
Ten of the 43 transactions included an adjustment to the merger consideration based on the target’s closing capital, with nine including a dollar for dollar decrease in merger consideration based on the target missing a stated closing capital level. Only one merger agreement offered a dollar for dollar increase or decrease based on a stated closing capital level. Transactions varied with respect to whether changes in the value of available-for-sale securities were backed out of closing capital as well as whether transaction expenses were to be included or excluded in such calculations; there was no market consensus. At least one merger agreement also required the held-to-maturity securities portfolio to be marked-to-market for purposes of calculating closing capital. Only eight transactions provided a minimum capital amount as an explicit closing condition.
Closing conditions predicated on minimum capital amounts are more common in years in which financial stress overhangs the industry, such as during the 2008 financial crisis. Given the significant interest rate moves in 2022, these observations are expected. As we look to 2023, we would expect these conditions to become less common if interest rate trends moderate or even stabilize and drop, noting that any asset stress resulting from a possible economic downturn would change our opinion.
Other Adjustments to Merger Consideration
Although there has been discussion of similar provisions, only the TD Bank Group/First Horizon Corp. agreement included additional merger consideration if the transaction was delayed based on delayed regulatory approvals. No other public merger agreements included such a provision. However, there was one agreement that interestingly provided that the parties could mutually agree to reduce the merger consideration by up to $3.5 million if an event caused a material adverse decline in the value of the transaction. One has to wonder: Would a target ever subsequently agree to a discretionary reduction in merger consideration?
Must the Purchaser Act in the Ordinary Course of Business?
In roughly a third of the transactions, the purchaser undertook an affirmative covenant to only act in the ordinary course of business. This would presumably require the purchaser to obtain the target’s consent before engaging in another acquisition. Conversely, in two-thirds of the transactions, the purchaser made no such covenant.
In all transactions, the purchaser did covenant not to undertake any action that would be expected to cause a delay in the immediate transaction. In the two transactions where the target was closest in size to the purchaser — hence more likely a strategic merger or “merger-of-equals” — the purchaser and target agreed to mutual affirmative and negative covenants.
Target’s Ability to Accept Superior Proposals
Virtually all of the transactions permitted the target’s board of directors to respond to unsolicited alternative proposals. This arrangement, commonly referred to as a “fiduciary out,” is common and effectively required under most frameworks of director’s fiduciary duties.
In roughly 75% of the transactions, the target board of directors had the right to terminate the merger agreement if confronted with a superior proposal and conditioned upon paying a termination fee. However, in 25% of the transactions, while the target board of directors could change its recommendation to shareholders in light of a perceived superior proposal, only the purchaser could elect to then terminate the merger agreement and require the target to pay the termination fee. Otherwise, the target remained obligated to seek shareholder approval and likely most of the directors would remain obligated, if subject to voting support agreements, to continue to vote for the transaction. In four transactions, even the target shareholders’ rejection of the merger agreement didn’t immediately give the target the right to terminate the merger agreement; the parties remained obligated to make good faith reasonable best efforts to first negotiate a restructuring that would result in shareholder approval.
Increasingly Common New Provisions
We increasingly saw provisions addressing cooperation on data processing conversions and coordination of dividend timing, with a desire to ensure that each parties’ shareholders received one dividend payment each quarter.