The 2009 securities lawsuit filings have been characterized by an overall decline in filing activity, particularly in the second quarter, as well as the continued prevalence of lawsuits against financial sector issuer-defendants, according to a July 20, 2009 study by the Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse in cooperation with Cornerstone Research. The study, which is entitled "Securities Class Action Filings: 2009 Mid-Year Assessment" can be found here. A July 20 press release describing the study can be found here. My own prior study of the first half securities lawsuit filings can be found here.
According to the Cornerstone study, there were 87 securities class action lawsuits filed in the first half of 2009, which represents a 22.3 percent decline from the 112 securities suits that were filed in both the first half and the second half of 2008. The first half filings project to an annual filing rate of 174 securities class action, which would represent a 22.3 percent decrease from 2008 and an 11.7 percent decrease from the annual average for the 12 years ending in December 2008.
The drop in new filings was particularly pronounced in the second quarter of 2009, as only 35 of the 87 new filings occurred during the second quarter. The Cornerstone Report notes that over the same period, there was "a similarly dramatic decline" in the stock market volatility measured by the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index. The report also suggests that the "decline in market volatility raises the possibility of a return to the subdued levels of filing activity observed from the third quarter of 2005 to the second quarter of 2007."
Filings against companies in the financial sector predominated in the first half of 2009, as financial companies were named as defendants in 66.7 % of the first half filings. Slightly less than 50% of the first half filings were related to the credit crisis, as 42 of the 87 first half filings contained allegations related to the credit crisis.
The 2009 mid-year report contains a couple of new metrics. The first measures the number of unique issuers whose exchange-traded securities were involved in class action lawsuits. The metric shows that the number of lawsuits against unique exchange traded issuers has declined even more rapidly than the overall number of new lawsuits. The decrease is "driven by a large number of filings related to non-exchange trade securities and private companies" in the first half of 2009. These suits relate to Ponzi scheme allegations as well as other filings "related to mortgage-backed securities, preferred stock and open-ended mutual funds."
The other new metric in the mid-year report measures the number of filings against defendant corporations headquartered outside the United States. The metric shows that the number of suits against non-U.S. companies has been gradually increasing over the years, from only 6.8 percent of all filings during the period 1997 through 2003 to 13.8 percent in 2008. This upward trend continued in the first half of 2009, with 20.7 of all filings against non-U.S. companies, largely due to cases against foreign domiciled companies in the financial sector. Interestingly, this increase in litigation activity has coincided with a decrease in the share of foreign companies listed on the major U.S. exchanges.
In terms of the potential damages involved in the first half filings, the report’s detailed analysis shows that the 2009 filings are characterized by a decrease in losses associated with announcements at the ends of class periods and an increase in overall market capitalization losses for the entire class periods.
The report notes that since the end of 2008, there has been an "unprecedented" concentration of new Ponzi-scheme related filings. The Madoff scandal has resulted in five filings in the second half of 2008 and 15 in the first half of 2009, and there were four additional Ponzi scheme-related filings unrelated to Madoff in the first half of 2009.
The report concludes with an observation of the heightened number of bank failures during 2009, adding the observation that only 21 of the 45 banks that had failed through June 30, 2009 were publicly traded, and only one of the bank failures has resulted in a securities class action lawsuit.
The report’s new metric related to number of lawsuits against unique exchange-traded issuers is particularly useful for observers of public company litigation trends. Though the numerous lawsuits against private firms and mutual fund companies are interesting and important, those developments are less likely to affect the overall market for public company directors and officers liability insurance. In that respect, the Cornerstone report’s observation that the decline in lawsuits against unique publicly traded companies is even more pronounced than the overall decline in lawsuit filings is a particularly significant observation. The addition of this new metric is a particularly useful and welcome addition to Cornerstone’s reporting on litigation activity.
The report’s suggestion that the decline in lawsuits is linked to a decline in market volatility is also particularly interesting, as is the observation that lower volatility may mean a return to the low filing activity of the period mid-2005 through mid-2007. My own view, expressed in my prior post (here), is that the decline in lawsuit filing activity during the second quarter arose because plaintiffs’ lawyers found themselves in a logjam, due to the onslaught of Madoff-related litigation and the fact that many of the previously filed credit crisis cases had reached critical procedural stages.
The filings so far in July have in fact been characterized by the number of lawsuits outside the financial sector, many with class period ending dates considerably before the filing dates, which does suggest that plaintiffs’ lawyers are to a certain extent working off a backlog. Of course, the pace and nature of the second half filing activity overall remains to be seen.
ABA TIPS Panel: The Financial Collapse — What Caused It and How Will It Continue To Impact Corporations and Their Boards?: The American Bar Association Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section (TIPS) Task Force on Corporate Governance will hold this meeting at the ABA Building in Chicago on July 30, 2009 as part of the ABA Annual Meeting, to discuss the 2008 financial collapse and how corporations can manage risk throughout the remainder of the ongoing crisis.
I will be participating in this free session, which will be chaired by my good friend Kim Hogrefe from Chubb. The panel will also include Fiona Phillip of Howrey LLP and Dr. Faten Sabry of NERA Economic Consulting. The event will be followed by a reception. More information about the event, including event registration can be found here.