Securities class action lawsuit filings were down “sharply” in 2012 compared to the prior year and to historical average, according to Cornerstone Research’s annual report. The study, published in conjunction with the Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse and entitled “Securities Class Action Filings: 2012 Year in Review,” can be found here.  A short, single-page graphic summary of the report’s conclusions can be found here. The two organization’s January 23, 2013 press release discussing the report can be found here. My own analysis of the 2012 securities suit filings can be found here.


According to the report, there were 152 securities class action lawsuits filed in 2012, which is below both the number of filings in 2011 (when there were 188) and the 1997-2011 annual average number of filings (193). The 152 filings in 2012 represents a 19 percent decrease from 2011 and a 21 decrease from the 1997-2011 annual average.


A significant factor in the reduced number of filings in 2012 was the decline in filing activity during the year’s second half, particularly during the fourth quarter. There were only 64 filings in the second half, compared with 88 in the first half. The filing level in the second half of 2012 was “lower than all semiannual periods other than the historic low observed in the second half of 2006.” The 25 filings in the year’s fourth quarter was “the lowest number of filings in any quarter in the last 16 years.” The report notes that these observations are consistent with “a declining trend since the first half of 2010.”


The report states that the decrease in 2012 filings was “largely due” to declines in federal mergers and acquisitions objection litigation and in the number of lawsuits involving Chinese companies (particularly Chinese companies that obtained a U.S. listing through a reverse merger transaction). According to the report, on a year-over-year basis, M&A filings decreased 70 percent (as plaintiffs appeared to prefer state court forums for this type of litigation) and filings related to Chinese reverse merger companies decreased by 68 percent. The report also noted that for the first time since 2007 there were no new securities class action lawsuit filings related to the credit crisis.


The number of filings against foreign issuers dropped from 61 in 2011 to 32 in 2012 (a 48 percent drop). Though filings against foreign issuers represented only 24 percent of all 2012 filings, compared to 32 percent in 2011, the 2012 percentage “reflects a level that is greater than al prior years other than 2011.” The continued elevated level of filings against foreign issuers in 2012 is largely due to filngs related to Chinese firms. There were a total of 18 filings against Chinese companies in 2012 (including Hong Kong companies) compared to 40 in 2011.


Larger companies were less likely to be the target of a securities suit in 2012 compared to recent years. 3.4% of S&P 500 companies were named in securities suits in 2012, compared to an annual average of 6.1% for S&P 500 companies during the period 2000 to 2011. The 2012 level is comparable to the 13-year low observed in 2011 (3.2%).


The most targeted industrial sector in 2012 was Consumer Non-Cyclical, representing 32% of all filings. Health care and life sciences companies comprised 67 percent of all Consumer Non-Cyclical filings (33 filings), compared to 62 percent (28 filings) in 2011. Filings against companies in the financial sector continued a declining trend with 15 filings in 2012, compared with 43 in 2010 and 25 in 2011.


As I noted in my own analysis of the 2012 securities suit filings, it is too early to tell whether the late-year decline in filings represents a trend or just a temporary dip in the general ebb and flow of securities suit filings. The report noted that the previous low semiannual filing level was in the second half of 2006, which was quickly followed by the onslaught of the subprime meltdown and credit crisis-related litigation wave.


One obvious factor in the overall 2012 decline was the absence of any episodic even driving filing levels. Indeed, Dr. John Gould, one of the report’s authors, is quoted in the press release as having said that “the absence of a filings trend…influenced the total number of new cases,” by comparison to recent years when filing levels have been dominated by “observable filings types,” such as, more recently, the M&A related litigation and litigation involving U.S.-listed Chinese companies.


While it is hard to know whether the trend will continue, the press release identifies at least one development that could result in a possible increase in future securities lawsuit filings. The press release quotes Stanford Law School Professor Joseph Grundfest, who notes that the upsurge in SEC whistleblower reports raises the questions whether the SEC will translate these reports into enforcement actions, and, if so, whether “private-party plaintiffs will be successful in prosecuting ‘piggyback’ claims that copy the Commission’s complaints.”


One factor that could also explain the declining number of 2012 filings is the plaintiffs’ securities bar’s continuing shift to diversity their inventory. Going back to the options backdating cases in 2006, the plaintiffs lawyers have been pursuing types of litigation other than securities class action litigation (in part due to unfavorable U.S. Supreme Court decisions). While the Cornerstone Report notes the absence of any new credit crisis-related securities class action lawsuit filings in 2012, there were a host of credit crisis-related lawsuits filing as individual actions in 2012. It is hard to tell, but it seems likely that this diversifying trend will continue.


Finally, it is worth noting that, as one reader observed in a comment to my blog post analyzing the 2012 securities suit filings, Superstorm Sandy could have had an impact on fourth quarter filings, since the storm basically closed New York’s downtown business district for several weeks during the fourth quarter.


Jan Wolfe’s January 22, 2013 Am Law Litigation Daily article about the Cornerstone Research report can be found here.