Levine on Wall Street: French Takeovers, German Ventures

Matt Levine is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was an editor of Dealbreaker, an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, a mergers and acquisitions lawyer at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and a clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
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France is making its takeover law more French

France is set to adopt a law that gives employees input into approving takeover bids and restricts companies from shutting down plants without looking for a buyer. M&A types are not happy about this; one says "The measures were clearly thought up by people living in the last century." At least! He could have said the 1850s. But they have a certain appeal. American takeover law makes takeovers hard by taking power away from shareholders and giving it to managements and boards, who have obvious incentives not to want to be taken over. One justification for this is that, while it is shareholder-unfriendly, it is important to let managers protect the interests of other stakeholders, like employees. But if that's the justification then it makes sense to do it more directly by just giving the workers a vote, as the French law sort of kind of a little bit does.

Your cool new startup might be owned by SAP

Software company SAP AG announced that it is committing $650 million to venture capital. What is the Coasean story of corporate venture capital arms? I suppose there is a disintermediating-the-banks story in which corporations are investing their cash in profitable ventures where they have expertise, rather than in boring banks. But this Reuters article suggests a more interesting story in which corporations are disintermediating their own research and development arms in favor of venture capital:

The rise [in corporate VC] comes as many companies have slashed research and development operations, cutting their insights into emerging technologies in their industries. Instead, many are beefing up their venture arms.

Which makes sense. If you're a creative software engineer, why go work for boring old three-letter-acronym SAP when you can go work for a hip startup with a creatively misspelled name and air hockey tables etc. etc. etc. etc. funded by SAP?

Wells Fargo is getting sued some more over mortgages

If your mortgage servicing practices are so bad that they lead to lots of unnecessary foreclosures and force you into a settlement that involves paying billions of dollars in compensation and changing your practices to be less terrible, you should really, y'know, actually change those practices. New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman thinks Wells Fargo hasn't changed enough and is about to sue it again. Wells Fargo disagrees. Mortgage servicing is a terrible mess because it doesn't scale all that well: Banks got really big in good times because more volume of mortgages was better, and they got even bigger in bad times to absorb risks, but the work of actually having a human pick up the phone and listen to a borrower's problems and work out a way to fix them is not really subject to economies of scale. And so when you're a giant bank and find yourself having to do that, apparently problems happen.

Carl Icahn wants Apple to buy back stock

Would you have dinner at Carl Icahn's house? Cooked by his personal chef? Not if you were a Dell director, right? Or Bill Ackman? Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook and Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer felt safe enough to come over Monday night, where Icahn pushed them to buy back $150 billion of stock, rather than the $60 billion the board has already committed to. The stock was up 2.3 percent yesterday, mostly on Icahn's tweeting and talking about this dinner, which suggests that other shareholders agree with him, though they don't all have private chefs. If I were Icahn, I'd have been sorely tempted to the procedure of (1) buy some more stock, (2) tweet about my dinner, (3) sell some stock into a two percent up market, but I guess that's why I'm not Carl Icahn.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Matthew S Levine at mlevine51@bloomberg.net