Following close on the heels of the Cornerstone mid-year report released earlier in the day, on July 29, 2008, NERA Economic Consulting also released its mid-year 2008 securities class action report entitled “2008 Trends: Subprime and Auction Rate Cases Continue to Drive Filings, and Large Settlements Keep Averages High” (here). A copy of the July 29 press release describing the NERA Report can be found here.
The NERA Report differs in its numerical particulars from the Cornerstone Report, but the two reports are at least directionally consistent. The NERA Report is also directionally consistent with my own mid-year securities litigation study, which can be found here.
According to the NERA Report, there were 139 securities lawsuits filed in the first half of 2008 (by way of comparison, Cornerstone has the number at 110). Based on NERA’s analysis, the 2008 filings are on pace to reach almost 280 (compared to Cornerstone’s estimate of 220). The NERA Report, like prior mid-year reports concludes that the increased pace of filing activity is largely driven by the current subprime and credit crisis-related litigation.
The NERA Report also concludes that market volatility is positively correlated with the number of securities class action filings, and the “if market volatility is higher during a quarter, controlling for market returns, filings are likely to be higher in the same quarter.”
The NERA Report also notes that “the probability of a suit rises with the size of the price decline: whereas only 9% of drops of 20-30% are followed by a shareholder class action within three months, almost 31% of drops of 40% or more are followed by a filing within that time frame.”
Taking into account the settlements over $1 billion, the average settlement in the first half of the year remained around $30 million, but excluding the $1 billion settlements reduces the average first half settlement to around $10 million. The median settlement in the first half of 2008 was $6.2 million. Both the average and median are below similar figures for recent years.
However, the Report also notes that the investor losses associated with the recently filed lawsuits were substantially higher than the median for cases settled in the 2005-2007 time frame, suggesting that the 2008 cases (largely driven by the subprime-related cases) potentially could result in much larger settlements.
The Report also contains interesting and detailed information regarding the 21 cases that have gone to trial since the enactment of the PSLRA.
The NERA Report is quite detailed and very interesting, and contains numerous other useful observations beyond those summarized here.
The material divergence in lawsuit count between the NERA Report and the Cornerstone Report (and for that matter between the NERA Report and my own mid-year analysis) is a cause of concern for anyone interested in a precise understanding of the current lawsuit trends. In my own mid-year analysis of the 2008 securities lawsuit filings, I noted some of the reasons why “counting” lawsuits is particularly difficult in the current environment, and some of those factors undoubtedly are at work here.
But these foreseeable difficulties notwithstanding, the divergence in the numbers is disconcerting. Because so many observers depend on these respectable sources to understand securities litigation developments, it is troublesome when the sources disagree so widely. If these industry sources are unwilling to make their lawsuit lists publicly available, it would be helpful if these sources would at least identify their sorting criteria. I know from my own experience that there are a lot of decisions that must be made about which lawsuits should be included and which should be kept out. At least with the benefit of these sorting criteria, we could try to understand the differences.
In the past, it has always been sufficient for me to recognize the numerical differences between different reports while noting their directional consistency. But the difference in count between the two leading reports of 29 lawsuits is a material difference. The differences in their respective year-end projections are even more dramatic. Differences of this degree not only cause problems for industry participants and observers. Without suggesting one way or another where the issues may be, at some level, questions regarding consistency and even reliability start coming into the picture.
I welcome comments from responsible sources on the issues surrounding the diverging lawsuit counts. There could be significant value in a public discussion of these issues and I would be particulary interested in adding comments to this post from the respective research groups that track this information.