While the number of securities class action filings through the year’s first half still project to an annualized filing rate consistent with historical averages, there was a noticeable slackening in the number of new securities lawsuits filed as the second quarter of 2009 progressed. New filings in the second quarter were well below the number of filings in the first quarter as well as in last year’s second quarter. There were few new filings in May and even fewer in June.
Overall, the filings continue to be largely concentrated in the financial sector. In addition, as discussed below, a significant number of the securities lawsuit filings in the first half of 2009 did not involve publicly traded companies, but instead involved other types of entities, such as private investment partnerships and mutual funds.
Based on my review of the securities filings through June 30, 2009, there were 94 securities class action lawsuits filed in the first half of 2009. (Please see my comments below on the topic of “counting” the lawsuits during the year’s first half.) The 94 first half filings represent an annualized filing rate of 188, which is slightly below but within range of the average number of filings of 197.7 during the 13-year period between 1996 and 2008. The annualized rate of 2009 filings is also below the average filing level of 204.7 for the most recent seven year period of 2002 through 2008.
The filing level during the second quarter of 2009 was below both the first quarter of this year and last year’s second quarter. There were only 35 new securities lawsuit filed during the second quarter of 2009, compared to 59 during the first quarter of this year and 56 in the second quarter of 2008.
The lower filing level during the second quarter of 2009 reflects the low number of new securities class action lawsuit filings during the months of May and June. There were just eleven new securities lawsuit filings in May and only six in June. The June filings represent the lowest monthly number of new filings since December 1996, when there were just five new securities class action filings.
But though there were fewer new securities class action filings during the second quarter of 2009, the total number of filings for the twelve-month period ending June 30 remains within historical annual averages. There were 205 new filings during the twelve month period ending on June 30, 2009, which, though below the 219 new filings during the twelve month period ending on June 30, 2008, is consistent with the average annual number of filings noted above.
In addition to the filing activity levels, the first half filings were characterized by the relatively unusual types of claimants involved. For example, as many as ten of the first half lawsuits were filed on behalf of holders of preferred or subordinated securities. As I noted at greater length here, these are relatively unusual claimants.
The securities class action litigation targets during the first half were also unusual. An uncharacteristically high number of the first half lawsuit defendants were entities other than public companies, including private investment partnerships, mutual funds, and other nonpublic entities. As many as sixteen of the new first half lawsuit filings involved primary defendant entities that lacked Standard Industrial Classification code (SIC) designations. As many as eight of the new filings in the first half involved mutual funds (many of them in the Oppenheimer mutual fund family).
One characteristic that the first half filings did have in common with the filings in immediately preceding periods is that the new filings continue to be concentrated in the financial sector. Though the first half filings represented 38 different SIC Code classes, fully 51 of the first half filings against entities with SIC Codes involved companies in the 6000 SIC Code series (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate). In addition, virtually all of the 16 actions involving entities that lacked SIC codes also involved enterprises in the financial sector, so that more than two-thirds of the new first half filings involved financial services entities of one kind or another.
The concentration of the filings in the financial sector is largely a result of the continuing subprime and credit crisis litigation wave. By my count, 51 of the first half filings involved subprime and credit crisis related allegations. My complete list of all subprime and credit crisis securities lawsuit filings can be accessed here.
Another factor contributing to the concentration of securities lawsuit filings in the financial sector is the number of new securities class action lawsuits that were filed in the first half related to the Madoff scandal. By my count there were 11 new Madoff-related securities lawsuit in the first half, although there were many more duplicate Madoff-related lawsuits filed during that same period as well. My complete list of the Madoff related lawsuit filings can be accessed here.
The first half securities lawsuit filings were filed in 26 different courts, but fully 45 of them, or nearly half, were filed in the Southern District of New York.
Eighteen of the first half lawsuit filings involved foreign domiciled companies, representing ten different countries. The country with the largest number of first half filings was the United Kingdom. However, a number of these lawsuits against foreign-domiciled companies involve multiple separate lawsuits against a single target. For example, the six lawsuits filed against U.K. companies actually involve just two different companies, Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays.
Of the actions against U.S.-domiciled companies, the first half lawsuits involved companies from 22 different states, with the largest number in New York (28) and California (12).
Why the Apparent Slowdown?: There may be any number of possible reasons for the relative slowdown in the number of filings during the second quarter. My own theory is that the plaintiffs’ lawyers may have found themselves in a logjam, due to two factors. One factor is the onslaught of Madoff-related litigation (which is not fully reflected in the above numbers but has nevertheless been massive) Another factor is the sheer quantity of previously filed subprime and credit crisis-related litigation, which in many instances has reached critical procedural stages.
If I am correct about the reasons for the second quarter slowdown, then the downturn could proved to be temporary and filing levels could ramp back up as plaintiffs’ lawyers circle back and attempt to work off the backlog. (Indeed, I have previously noticed signs that plaintiffs lawyers could already have been working off backlogs from earlier periods, as noted here). My view is that we will soon see filing activity return to historical norms. Of course, only time will tell.
Some Comments on “Counting”: The various litigation statistical services will also be issuing their counts for the first half of 2009 and their counts almost certainly will vary from mine. Because the Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse publishes all of the actions that it includes in its running tally, it is easiest for me to compare my count with theirs, and so I already know that my count differs from theirs, as I have both omitted lawsuits Stanford Clearinghouse has counted and I have counted lawsuits that the Stanford Clearinghouse omitted.
I have set forth these differences below not because I think I am right and alternative version wrong, but simply so readers might be able to understand the differences. Reasonable minds might well reach different conclusion as to whether the items mentioned below should or should not be recognized in any count.
Thus, I have omitted at least a couple of cases from the Stanford Clearinghouse list that to me appear to represent double counting of lawsuits that were counted elsewhere in the Clearinghouse’s list. (Refer for example here and here for examples of cases previously counted in the Stanford Clearinghouse tally.) Also, because I only count class actions seeking damages for disclosure violations under the federal securities laws, I have omitted merger objection lawsuits (refer for example here).
By the same token, I have included federal securities class action lawsuits that were filed in state court (refer for example here), which the Stanford Clearinghouse did not. I have also included a number of other actions that do not appear on the Stanford Clearinghouse list, including lawsuits involving Metaldyne (here); Royal Bank of Scotland Series Q preferred shares (here), Deutsche Bank Alt-A Securities (here); Merrill Lynch Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates (here); FM Multi-Strategy Investment Fund (here); Citigroup 8.125% Non-Cumulative Preferred Stock, Series AA (here); Agape World (here); Wells Fargo Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates Series 2006 et seq. (here); Citigroup 8.50% Non-Cumulative Preferred Stock (here); and Thornburgh Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates (here).
During the first half of 2009 the seemingly simple process of counting new lawsuit filings was extraordinarily complicated. As the filings have continued to emerge involving different classes of securities, it is increasingly challenging to determine whether or not each additional complaint represents a duplicate lawsuit or a separate action. In addition, the flood of Madoff-related litigation has involved an enormous number of similar or overlapping lawsuits.
If you would like a particularly challenging example of the difficulties involved in “counting,” refer to this June 30, 2009 press release in which plaintiffs’ counsel describe the class complaint they filed in the Eastern District of California on behalf of holders of derivative interests in bonds issued by the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank. To greatly oversimplify the action, the lawsuit alleges that the bond documents misrepresented certain bond attributes, for which the plaintiffs seek to recover damages under the federal securities laws. It is an investor class action lawsuit seeking to recover damages under the federal securities laws, and for that reason I included it in my count. On the other hand, it involves public financing authority rather than a public company; others might not count it. Read the press release and I think you will see what I mean. This is not simple.
Whether or not to count any of these complaints as a new action or as a duplicate lawsuit, or at all, is enormously challenging and reasonable minds almost certainly would reach differing results. The various published versions of the number of lawsuits filed during the first half of 2009 almost certainly will vary, perhaps substantially.
Securities Docket Mid-Year Litigation Update Webcast: On July 9, 2009, at 2:00 P.M. EDT, I will be participating in a Securities Docket webcast entitled “2009 Mid-Year Review: Securities Litigation and Enforcement.” The webcast will be moderated by Bruce Carton of Securities Docket and the panelists will also include Francine McKenna of the Re: The Auditors blog; Lyle Roberts of The 10b-5 Daily blog; and Tom Gorman of the SEC Actions blog. Further information and registration instructions can be found here.