During 2011, elevated levels of M&A related litigation and the surge of litigation involving U.S.-listed Chinese companies offset declining numbers of credit crisis-related lawsuits, leading to overall levels of securities class action lawsuit filings consistent with recent years, according to a annual securities litigation study of NERA Economic Consulting. NERA’s December 14, 2011 report, entitled “Recent Trends in Securities Class Action Litigation: 2011 Year-End Review,” can be found here.
Based on the 213 filings between January and November 2011, NERA projects 2011 year-end filings of 232, which would be slightly below the 241 securities class action lawsuits filed in 2010 but above the 218 filed in 2009, and consistent with the 1997-2004 average of annual filings of 231.
Though the 2011 filing levels are consistent with recent years, the mix of cases has “changed substantially.” Credit crisis-related case, which predominated among filings in recent years, declined, while at the same time, M&A-related cases accounted for nearly 29% of all filings and filings against U.S.-listed Chinese companies have accounted for 18%.
Filings in the Second and Ninth Circuits accounted for more than half of all 2011 filings. However, the M&A objection suits are much more evenly distributed, with eight to ten merger objection cases filed in each of the Third, Fourth, Fifth and Ninth Circuits.
By contrast to recent years in which filings against companies in the financial sector predominated, 2011 filings have not been concentrated against companies in any one sector. (Filings against companies in the financial sector accounted for about 16% of all filings, which is in line with pre-credit crisis averages). More filings were against companies in the electronic technology and technology services sector that any other sector, representing about 21% of filings. Health technology accounted for 15% of filings.
More than a third of 2001 filings were against foreign-domiciled companies, more than double the levels of such filings in recent years. This increase of filings against foreign-domiciled companies was largely driven by filings against companies either domiciled or having their principal executive offices in China, which accounted for 39 of the 2011 filings. The pace of filings against Chinese companies slowed as the year progressed, with 27 filings in the year’s first half and 12 during the period July through November. However, the 12 filings during the period July to November are still above the 2010 total of ten cases involving Chinese companies.
Securities class action lawsuit settlements during 2011 averaged $31 million, compared to $108 million in 2010. However, if settlements in excess of $1 billion and the IPO laddering settlements are excluded, the 2010 average falls to $40 million, while the 2011 average stays at $31 million.
The 2011 median settlement was $8.7 million compared to 2010’s all time-median settlement of $11 million. Though the median settlement fell in 2011 compared to 2010, the median still represents the third highest annual median.
The NERA study is quite detailed and contains a wealth of other information and it merits being read at length and in full.
In “counting” securities class action lawsuit filings, NERA counts multiple lawsuits against the same defendant in the same circuit as a single filing. However, if there are filings against the same defendant in different circuits, NERA counts those filings in separate circuits as separate filings, which may result in NERA’s annual filing count being higher than filing accounts that are published elsewhere.
In addition, NERA’s 2011 filings count is the result of a year end-projection based on actual filings from January through November. The fact that NERA’s 2011 filing number is the result of a projection may also result in differences between NERA’s year end number and those shown in other year end reports.
NERA “counts” only securities class action lawsuits filed in federal court. That means it does not include securities class action lawsuits filed in state court (as is permitted under The Securities Act of 1933). Similarly, while the NERA report contains extensive analysis of M&A related lawsuit filings, that analysis is limited to M&A cases filed in federal court. Many M&A related cases are in fact filed in state court. NERA’s analysis of M&A related litigation does not relate to those state court lawsuits.
Finally, in reporting on annual filing levels, NERA’s analysis reflects a consideration only of absolute numbers of filings. NERA’s does not include an analysis of those filings compared to the total number of publicly traded companies. As I have commented elsewhere, the total number of companies whose shares are publicly traded in the U.S. has declines substantially in recent years. The fact that absolute numbers of filings have stayed more or les consistent while the numbers of public companies has declined could be argued to suggest that overall levels of securities class action lawsuit filing have been increasing.