Bebchuk, Lucian A., Cohen, Alma and Wang, Charles C. Y., Staggered Boards and the Wealth of Shareholders: Evidence from a Natural Experiment (November 2010). Available at SSRN. Abstract follows:
While staggered boards are known to be negatively correlated with firm valuation, such association might be due to staggered boards’ either bringing about or merely being the product of the tendency of low-value firms to have staggered boards. In this paper, we use a natural experiment setting to identify how market participants view the effect of staggered boards on firm value. In a recent and not-fully-anticipated recent ruling, the Delaware Chancery Court approved the legality of a shareholder-adopted bylaw that shortened the tenure of directors whose replacement was precluded by a staggered board by moving the company’s annual meeting up from August to January. We find that the decision was accompanied by abnormal and economically meaningful positive stock returns to firms with a staggered board, relative to firms without a staggered board.
The identified positive stock returns were especially pronounced for firms likely to be impacted by the decisions, because (i) their past annual election took place in later months of the calendar year, (ii) they are incorporated in Delaware or (iii) do not have supermajority voting requirements that make it difficult for shareholders to amend the bylaws. The identified positive stock returns were also especially pronounced for firms for which control contests are especially relevant because of their (i) below-industry return on assets, (ii) relatively small firm size, and (iii) absence of supermajority voting requirements making a merger of the company difficult.
Our findings are consistent with market participants’ viewing staggered boards as bringing about a reduction in firm value. They are thus consistent with the policies of leading institutional investors in favor of proposals to repeal classified boards, and with the view that continuation of the ongoing process of board declassification by many public firms will enhance shareholder value.