On April 8, 2008, PricewaterhouseCoopers released its 2007 Securities Litigation Study, which can be found here. The PwC study follows prior reports from NERA Economic Consulting (refer here) and Cornerstone Research (refer here and here). The PwC study differs from the other studies in certain details but the studies are all directionally consistent.

The PwC study observes that “after a two-year decline and a sluggish start to the year, total federal class actions filed in 2007 against foreign and domestic companies increased once more, reversing the previous downturn.” The PwC has some interesting thoughts about the prior downturn and the causes of the reversal; the study speculates that “much of the decrease in the 2006 numbers” was due to “the preoccupation of the plaintiffs’ bar with stock options matters filed primarily as derivative matters.” The study also observes that the upswing in 2007 “comes as no surprise” given that “the stock options matters appear mostly to have dissipated.”

The report also notes that the deterrent effect of Sarbanes Oxley “may have led to a lower number of overall cases” but adds that the economy may also have been a factor and “during hard times, the increased pressure to produce good financial results is more likely to lead to bad behavior which could result in higher levels of litigation” as a result of which “over the next few years” we could see “above the recent average number of filings.”

The study has a number of interesting observations about the role of accounting issues in securities lawsuits. Among other things, the study notes that while there have been a “burgeoning number of restatements in recent years,” the number of restatements associated with federal securities class actions is “relatively small” – the report notes that in 2007, the number of securities lawsuits associated with restatements fell to 29, from 47 in 2006. The report notes that this analysis supports the view that “market reaction to restatements is declining” and also supports the view that “the market does not react to all restatements.”

Somewhat differently than the recently released Cornerstone Research settlement analysis (here), the PwC study finds that the total value of settlements did not significantly change between 2006 and 2007. The PwC study also reports an average 2007 settlement of $56.3 million, compared to an average settlement of $57.5 million in 2006. Due to the few number of billon dollar settlements in 2007, if settlements greater than $2.5 billion are excluded, the average 2007 settlement was $28.3 million, compared to $57.5 million in 2006. 

The study includes commentary on a number of interesting topics, including the growth of subprime-related litigation and the growing importance of institutional investors in securities class action litigation. The study also includes interesting commentary on the increased prominence of hedge funds, about which the study notes:

As the subprime fallout continues into 2008, this will be one area to watch. Not only could litigation against hedge funds by investors increase, but large institutional investors such as pension funds – which have added hedge funds to their portfolios over recent years and which are increasingly active in shareholder lawsuits – may also begin to focus with similar activism on hedge funds in order to recover losses associated with the subprime crisis.

The PwC also has extended discussion of the issue of the growing importance of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations and enforcement proceedings, a topic on which I have frequently commented on this blog (most recently here).

The study also has an interesting discussion of concerns facing foreign issuers. Among other things, the study notes that “the number of foreign IPOs climbed to 55 in 2007, surpassing the record of 34 IPOs set in 2006.” China “accounted for 55% of the foreign IPOs.” With these foreign listings has come litigation activity. According to the study, the number of 2007 securities lawsuits against foreign issuers increased by 93%, to 27 cases, in 2007, from 14 cases in 2006 (but short of the 30 cases filed in the record year of 2004). The report states that ten of these cases were against Chinese companies, of which five involved IPO-related allegations. My prior post discussing Chinese IPOs can be found here.

The report also has an interesting discussion of the growth of “global class actions,” involving both securities lawsuits in the US involving foreign domiciled companies, as well as the increasing number of lawsuits now being filed outside the U.S.

One concluding observation about the PwC’s settlement analysis. The study’s analysis of class action settlement data is interesting and useful, but I am concerned that as a result of trends in opt-out litigation and settlements, the study of class action settlements alone may no longer be sufficient to understand the full extent of companies’ potential loss severity exposure. To refer to but one example, in connection with the Qwest securities litigation, the aggregate value of the individual opt out settlements actually exceeded the amount of the class action settlement. (see my prior analysis of the Qwest opt out settlements here).

While the emergence of class action opt outs as a material issue is relatively reason, and for that reason still relatively uncertain, consideration of possible opt out litigation appears to be an increasingly indispensible part of the analysis of potential litigation exposure and of the total cost of securities litigation. My discussion of the emergence of opt out issues can be found here.