Cayman Islands: Mergers & Acquisitions Review Twelfth Edition - Cayman Islands

Last Updated: 5 November 2018
Article by Suzanne Correy and Daniel Lee
Most Read Contributor in Cayman Islands, October 2018

I OVERVIEW OF M&A ACTIVITY

The Cayman Islands is recognised as one of the world's leading global financial services centres. M&A activity is therefore largely driven by global rather than regional or national trends. Global M&A volume and value declined in 2017. The Bureau van Dijk M&A Review Global, Full Year 2017 Report (2017 Bureau van Dijk M&A Review Global Report) records deals worth US$4.7 trillion announced during the course of 2017.2 M&A-related activity also declined. According to the 2017 Bureau van Dijk M&A Review Global Report, announced M&A deals in the Cayman Islands in 2017 had an aggregate value of US$77.6 billion, some way from the high of US$115.1 billion in 2015, but only a little lower than the US$79.5 billion announced in 2016.

The three main types of entity used in the Cayman Islands are the exempted company, the exempted limited partnership and the limited liability company (LLC). During 2017, formation activity increased significantly – 11,138 exempted companies (2016: 9,812), 3,774 exempted limited partnerships (2016: 3,277) and 711 LLCs (2016: 205) were incorporated or registered in the Cayman Islands; with 83,675 exempted companies (2016: 80,658), 22,346 exempted limited partnerships (2016: 20,122) and 889 LLCs (2016: 192) being active as at 31 December 2017.3

II GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO THE LEGAL FRAMEWORK FOR M&A

The key sources of regulation of M&A in the Cayman Islands are the Companies Law (2018 Revision) (Companies Law) and common law.

The Companies Law includes provisions permitting mergers and consolidations between one or more companies, provided that at least one constituent company is incorporated under the Companies Law. The Limited Liability Companies Law (LLC Law), discussed further below, also provides for a similar framework for Cayman Islands LLCs.

Mergers, amalgamations and reconstructions by way of a scheme of arrangement approved by the requisite majorities of shareholders and creditors, and by an order of the Cayman Islands court under Section 86 or 87 of the Companies Law, are still available for complex mergers (and are mirrored in the LLC Law). The Companies Law provides a limited minority squeeze-out procedure (which, again, is mirrored in the LLC Law).

The Cayman Islands does not have a prescriptive set of legal principles specifically relevant to 'going private' and other acquisition transactions (unlike other jurisdictions such as, for example, Delaware). Instead, broad common law and fiduciary principles will apply.

While there are no specific statutes or government regulations concerning the conduct of M&A transactions, where the target company's securities are listed on the Cayman Islands Stock Exchange (CSX), the CSX Code on Takeovers and Mergers and Rules Governing Substantial Acquisitions of Shares (which exists principally to ensure fair and equal treatment of all shareholders) may apply.

III DEVELOPMENTS IN CORPORATE AND TAKEOVER LAW AND THEIR IMPACT

i LLCs

In June 2016, the LLC Law came into force creating a new Cayman Islands vehicle: the LLC. This vehicle takes its inspiration, in part, from the Delaware LLC. Its flexible nature means that it is well-suited to a broad range of general corporate and commercial applications. The introduction of the LLC has further strengthened the Cayman Islands' position as the domicile of choice for offshore investment funds and corporate structuring vehicles.

An LLC is essentially a hybrid vehicle, combining certain characteristics of a Cayman Islands exempted company with those of a Cayman Islands exempted limited partnership. In developing the vehicle, certain Delaware concepts were taken into consideration and adapted, where appropriate, to mesh with Cayman Islands law and concepts. An LLC is a body corporate with separate legal personality, like a Cayman Islands exempted company, but without the constraint of having share capital.

Equivalent to the Delaware statute, the LLC Law provides a set of default rules as to how an LLC operates. However, the members of an LLC are free to legislate their own arrangements in the vehicle's LLC agreement (the constitutional document of the LLC), which is not publicly filed.

Generally, the liability of a member of an LLC is limited to the amount a member has contractually agreed to contribute to the LLC. There is a limited statutory clawback, which applies only if a member receives a distribution when the LLC is insolvent and the member has actual knowledge of the insolvency at the time the distribution is made.

There is great flexibility in how LLCs are managed. They may be governed by the members themselves or appointed managers who need not be members (such as a board of managers). Unless otherwise expressly specified in the LLC agreement, the default duty of care in managing an LLC is to act in good faith. This duty may be expanded or restricted, but not eliminated, by the express provisions of the LLC agreement. In an M&A context, we consider this feature may be of particular interest for management buyout investors who may wish to have the right to appoint a representative as a director or manager of that vehicle. In a traditional exempted company, any investor representative (in a company context, as a director) has a duty to act at all times in the best interests of the company when participating in company decisions: the representative cannot solely consider the interests of the investor that has appointed him or her (to do so would expose him or her to potential personal liability). Contrast this with an LLC, where the members have the freedom to contractually agree in the LLC agreement the duty of care that the managers of the LLC owe.

Although dependent on the required structuring for particular deals, we anticipate that the vehicle will be used in a broad range of corporate and commercial applications, including acquisition and joint venture structures, acting as corporate blockers and holding vehicles, as preference share issuing vehicles (in a venture capital financing arrangements), employee incentive vehicles and in structured finance transactions.

ii Merger regime and dissenting rights

Since its introduction in 2009, the merger regime of Part XVI of the Companies Law has become a popular tool for facilitating mergers involving Cayman Islands companies. Under this regime, two or more companies may merge, with their property and liabilities vesting in one of them as the surviving company.

Similar to other jurisdictions with equivalent regimes, the Companies Law provides for a right of dissenting shareholders to object to a merger and be paid a payment of the fair value of their shares upon their dissenting to the merger if they follow a statutory procedure. If the dissenting shareholders and the relevant company are unable to agree in accordance with the statutory procedure, the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands is required to determine the fair value of the shares, and a fair rate of interest, if any, to be paid by the company upon the amount determined to be the fair value.

These rights of a dissenting shareholder are not available in certain circumstances; for example:

  1. to dissenters holding shares of any class in respect of which an open market exists on a recognised stock exchange or recognised inter-dealer quotation system at the relevant date; and
  2. where the consideration for such shares to be contributed are shares of the surviving or consolidated company (or depositary receipts in respect thereof ), are shares of any other company (or depositary receipts in respect thereof ) that is listed on a national securities exchange or designated as a national market system security on a recognised inter-dealer quotation system, or are held of record by more than 2,000 holders.

The last few years have seen a significant increase in the volume of dissent actions in the Cayman Islands, with 16 separate petitions having been filed since the beginning of 2016. A number of these actions appear to be driven, at least in part, by arbitrage investors, purchasing positions in companies particularly with a view to exercising dissent rights. It remains to be seen whether this trend continues, including in light of recent rulings both in the Cayman Islands (including those described below) and elsewhere (particularly in Delaware). It also remains to be seen whether this level of dissenter activity leads to a re-emergence of schemes of arrangement, being the way in which most takeovers and take-privates were structured in the Cayman Islands prior to the introduction of the merger regime. Although schemes of arrangement involve court supervision, higher requisite majorities and generally higher deal costs, they do not involve dissenter rights or any other 'cash out' or 'fair value' option.

In 2017, the Grand Court ruled on only the second merger fair value appraisal that has gone to trial in the Cayman Islands. The decision in Re Shanda Games Limited advances the case law on the Cayman Islands merger regime following the 2015 decision in Re Integra Group (Maples and Calder acted for the successful dissenting shareholders in both cases). These decisions of the Court set out important guidance as to how, if a shareholder has dissented to a statutory merger, the 'fair value' of the dissenter's shares will be determined. The following guidance can be taken from the Court's decisions:

  1. Fair value is the value to the shareholder of his or her proportionate share of the business as a going concern: it is a value that is 'just and equitable' and provides adequate compensation consistent with the requirements of justice and equity. Fair value does not include any premium for forcible taking of shares. In determining fair value, neither the upside nor downside of the transaction being dissented from should be taken into account (for example, any costs savings obtained by a company going private).
  2. Assessing fair value is a fact-based exercise that requires an important element of judgment by the court.
  3. If a company's shares are listed on a major stock exchange, this does not mean that a valuation methodology based upon its publicly traded prices is necessarily the most reliable. Whether this valuation methodology is appropriate will depend on whether there is a well-informed and liquid market with a large, widely held, free float.
  4. The date for determining fair value was the date on which the shareholders approved the transaction: this was the date on which the offer could be accepted. Importantly, the Court concluded that dissenting shareholders could not take advantage of the cost savings going forward as a result of the merger. The Court's view was that dissenting shareholders should not benefit from any enhancement in the value of their shareholding attributable directly to the transaction from which they have dissented.

Interestingly, in reaching its decisions in both Integra and Shanda, the Court took into account guidance concerning similar statutory merger processes that exist in the States of Delaware and Canada. In view of the litigious nature of United States M&A, there is a significant volume of case law on this topic in Delaware. We believe this may be the first time the Grand Court has specifically considered Delaware precedent.

The decision in Shanda was recently the subject of an appeal. Although the Court of Appeal affirmed most of the conclusions below, significantly it reversed the Grand Court's position on minority discount. Both Intrgra and Shanda had followed Delaware and Canadian authority on this point, holding that in a fair value appraisal the dissenters' shares were to be valued as a proportion of the value of the whole company, not as a block of shares offered for sale, such that there was no applicable 'minority discount'. The Court of Appeal took a different view, and followed what it considered to be the public policy reflected in English case law, to the effect that 'it was not unfair to offer a minority shareholder the value of what he possesses, i.e., a minority shareholding. The element of control is not one which ought to have been taken into account as an additional item of value in the offer of these shares'. The Court of Appeal held that Section 238 of the Companies Law requires fair value to be attributed to what the dissenters actually possess: if it is a minority shareholding, it is to be valued as such, and if the shares are subject to particular rights or liabilities or restrictions, the shares are to be valued as subject to those rights or liabilities. This question of minority discount is the subject of a further appeal to the Privy Council.

A series of decisions culminating in the Court of Appeal's ruling in Re Qunar Cayman Islands Limited affirmed that the Court has jurisdiction to make an interim payment order after a dissent petition is filed but before the trial, meaning that a dissenting shareholder may be entitled to receive an interim payment effectively at the outset of the proceedings. In many cases this has equalled the merger consideration, on the basis that the company has admitted that this reflects fair value (albeit, this does not necessarily follow). However, the question of what the Court should and should not take into account when being asked to exercise this discretion has not been fully tested, and remains the subject of debate.

In a separate decision in Re Qunar, reversing earlier Grand Court decisions, the Court of Appeal affirmed the availability of documentary discovery from dissenters, both as to their own valuation analysis and as to their trading history in the company's shares.

iii Global transparency

Already recognised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international bodies for its transparency and standards being consistent with those of other major developed countries, the Cayman Islands is acknowledged as a first-class jurisdiction for conducting international business. The government has also now implemented or confirmed a number of further transparency steps it is willing to take, including:

  1. the introduction in July 2017 of a beneficial ownership register regime, discussed further below;
  2. a willingness to commence discussions with those jurisdictions that are participating in the G5 initiative (for the exchange of beneficial ownership information with law enforcement agencies) on entering into bilateral agreements with the Cayman Islands, similar to the beneficial ownership regime now in place with the United Kingdom;
  3. the repeal of the Confidential Relationships (Preservation) Law and its replacement by the Confidential Information Disclosure Law, which offers more understanding and definition with regard to the mechanisms in place for sharing confidential information with the appropriate authorities;
  4. acknowledging privacy as a basic human right, introducing new data protection legislation (which will be on a par with what is in place in the European Union);
  5. abolishing bearer shares (completed in May 2016); and
  6. implementation in the Cayman Islands of the model legislation published pursuant to the OECD's Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Action 13 Report (Transfer Pricing Documentation and Country-by-Country Reporting).

These measures demonstrate the Cayman Islands' continued efforts to comply with and promote transparency through close collaboration and compliance with the relevant global regulatory bodies, tax authorities and law enforcement agencies in line with international standards, while simultaneously respecting the legitimate right to privacy of law-abiding clients.

The Cayman Islands has agreements to share tax information with authorities in more than 90 other countries, including the United States under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, and is in the 'early adopter' group for the Common Reporting Standard, the OECD's global tax information exchange standard.

In July 2017, the Cayman Islands introduced a new beneficial ownership register regime (the BOR Regime). Exemptions mean that certain Cayman Islands companies and LLCs are not in scope of the regime. If a company or LLC is in scope, it must take 'reasonable steps' to identify its beneficial owners and certain intermediate holding companies, and to maintain a beneficial ownership register at its registered office in the Cayman Islands with a licensed and regulated corporate service provider.

This register must generally record details of the individuals who ultimately own or control more than 25 per cent of the equity interests, voting rights or rights to appoint or remove a majority of the company directors, or LLC managers, together with details of certain intermediate holding companies through which such interests are held.

The corporate service providers must facilitate access to information extracted from the register through a centralised IT platform operated by a competent authority designated by the government. The information will not be held on a central register by either the government or the competent authority, nor will it be publicly accessible or searchable. Only Cayman Islands and UK authorities will have rights to request information, and then only as individual (and not automatic) requests. The information on the beneficial ownership register can already be requested by UK authorities under existing information exchange gateways, so in essence the new regime merely seeks to streamline the process to provide for quicker and more discrete search accessibility.

Legislation introduced at the end of 2017 now requires that Cayman Islands companies and LLCs that are exempt from the BOR Regime make a filing to that effect with their corporate services provider in the Cayman Islands.

To read this Report in full, please click here.

Footnotes

1. Suzanne Correy and Daniel Lee are partners at Maples and Calder.

2. Total announced deal value, The Bureau van Dijk M&A Review Global, Full Year 2017.

3. Cayman Islands Registrar of Companies and Registrar of Exempted Limited Partnerships annual statistics.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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