On April 6, 2010, PricewaterhouseCoopers issued this year’s version of its annual study of securities class action litigation (here). The PwC report differs in certain particulars from previously released studies of the 2009 securities lawsuit filings, but the overall findings are directionally consistent with the prior reports. PwC’s April 1. 2010 press release about its 2010 study can be found here.
My own analysis of the 2009 securities lawsuit filings can be found here. Cornerstone’s previously released study of 2009 filings can be found here and Cornerstone’s study of the 2009 securities lawsuit settlements can be found here. NERA’s 2009 study can be found here and Advisen’s can be found here.
According to the PwC study, there were only 155 securities class action lawsuits in 2009. As discussed below, PwC’s lawsuit count differs materially from all other published account. Consistent with the other studies, however, PwC reports that the number of 2009 filings represented a significant decline from 2008, when, according to PwC, there were 210 filings.
With respect to the 2009 filings, PwC notes a "noteworthy trend" involving "the incidence of long delays between the end of the class period and the filing date of the case." The study notes that the 2009 average time lag of 219 days is almost double the average number of 114 days since the PSLRA was enacted.
The study also reports that a total of 34 cases were filed one year or more after proposed class period cutoff date, and also notes that most of these delayed cases were not related to the financial crisis. The study suggests that "plaintiffs’ attorneys may now be returning to where they left off before the financial crisis began." (My own most recent post concerning the belated lawsuit filings can be found here.)
For the second consecutive year, financial services companies were the most frequent securities lawsuit targets. Financial services companies were named in 41 percent of all filings, compared to 48 percent in 2008.
The concentration on financial services companies has meant a "two-year reprieve" for companies in the high-technology sectors. Traditionally these companies have been a favored target, representing, for example, 55 percent of all companies sued in 2001. By contrast, in 2009, high-tech companies were named in only 12 percent of all 2009 filings.
Filings against pharmaceutical companies have remained consistent. Since the enactment of the PSLRA, pharmaceutical companies have represented an annual average of eight percent of all filings, and since 2002, the average percentage of filings against pharmaceutical companies has represented double digit percentages. In 2009, new filings against pharmaceutical companies presented 14 percent of total filings.
New lawsuit filings against Fortune 500 companies represented 20 percent of all 2009 filings. Almost half of the Fortune 500 companies named in new securities suits in 2009 were financial services companies.
The average securities class action settlement in 2009 was $34.6 milllion, which is 20 percent lower than the $43.4 million settlement average in 2008, is above both the ten-year average of $31.5 million and the $30.7 million average since the enactment of the PSLRA. The average settlement value of cases that settled for $1 million or more and up to $50 million is $10.8 million, up slightly from $11.2 million in 2008. The median 2009 settlement was $9.5 million, up from $8.5 million in 2008.
(The settlement values, averages and medians exclude "outliers" but the study does not specify how outliers are defined. The PwC study assigns settlements to the year in which they were announced, by contrast to other studies which assign settlements to the year in which they are approved.)
The PwC study ends with the observation that though the number of securities class action lawsuits declined, companies should by no means "relax their guard." The study comments that the 2009 decline "may simply be a lull as the plaintiffs’ bar refocuses following two years of intense financial-crisis related filings."
PwC is one of several organizations providing a substantial public service by making its annual securities litigation surveys publicly available, for free. The firm’s willingness to share its analysis and insights is a boon for which the rest of us should be very grateful.
There is a certain audience that is very keenly interested in these reports. Virtually every member of this audience reads all of these reports as they are published. For example, the typical reader of the PwC report has already read all of the other annual reports that I listed and linked to above.
Because of this general audience familiarity with all of these published reports, it is probable that most readers are fully aware of the material difference between the lawsuit count published in PwC’s report and those that appeared in the other published versions. By way of example and by contrast to the 2009 lawsuit count of 155 that PwC reported, my own count was 189. Cornerstone’s latest updated 2009 lawsuit count is 178. NERA’s projected number (released before year end) was 235.
In the absence of explanation, these differences can vexing and frustrating for the readers of these reports, who, as I mentioned, will typically read all of these reports.
There is absolutely no reason why the counts should agree. I know from maintaining my own count that reasonable minds can differ about how to count and whether or not to include certain kinds of cases. But though the counts almost as a matter of course will differ, the authors of the various counts owe it to their audience – which, again is going to be reading all of the various studies – to at least say why their counts differ from other published accounts.
One explanation for the difference between the PwC count and some other published counts is that PwC (as explained on the study’s "methodology" page) counts "multiple filings against he same defendant with similar allegations" as one case. Some other studies, for example, the NERA study, will count separate filings against the same defendant as separate lawsuits. But that distinction does not account for the difference between the PwC study and, for example, the Cornerstone study and my own count, both of which count related filings only once.
The PwC 2009 lawsuit count comes in at some 20 to 30 cases lower than Cornerstone’s and my count. Obviously, PwC counted something differently or left some things out. Obviously, PwC knows its counts are different and they know why, or could easily determine why, because Cornerstone publishes on the web the identities each of the cases that it counts. Given how easy it is for PwC to identify these differences and how easy it would have been to tell its audience of readers, it would have been far preferable if they could have acknowledged and explained these differences.
As I said before, the rest of us should be grateful that PwC and other firms are willing to share their data and analysis. But it doesn’t seem too much to suggest that these various publications could do a little bit more for their audience and acknowledge that their publication does not appear in a vacuum. Its audience is going to read each report in the context of the other reports.
The firms publishing these reports would substantially enhance the value of their annual studies to their intended audience if they would simply explain their counting methodology in greater detail and in particular how that methodology may explain differences from other published reports.
Again, there is absolutely no reason why the reports should be the same. There is absolutely no reason why the reports should use the same or even similar methodologies. But the reports’ audience would be grateful if they might better understand why they differ.
These various publishers would significantly enhance the value of their publications to their intended audience if they would simply acknowledge that each other exists.
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