In a public consultation paper dated 27 October 2020 (the PCP), the Code Committee of the Takeover Panel (the Panel), the body that regulates public M&A in the UK, has proposed various significant amendments to the Takeover Code (the Code) with regard to the offer timetable and conditions to offers. Here we summarise the key changes to the Code set out in the PCP.
Offer timetable and long-stop dates
Although the rules of the Code relating to the offer timetable remain fundamental to the stated objective of the Panel of providing an "orderly framework" for the conduct of takeovers (particularly in a competitive or "hostile" situation), in practice, many of the timetable rules have little or no application. This is the case, for example, where a contractual (tender) offer is recommended by the target company's board of directors, as the offer timetable can normally be extended with the consent of the Target board; or if an offer is implemented by way of a scheme of arrangement, which are the majority of the offers the Panel regulates, as the offer rules do not generally apply to schemes.
Accordingly, in order to simplify the offer timetable and to accommodate the potentially lengthy timeframes required in order to satisfy regulatory clearances, the Panel has suggested in the PCP, among other things, the following:
Invocation of conditions
In order to maintain the integrity of the financial markets, a bidder is generally prohibited under the rules of the Code from invoking a condition so as to cause the offer to lapse unless the circumstances which give rise to the right of invocation are of "material significance" to the bidder in the context of the offer.
A takeover offer is typically subject to certain regulatory clearances, some of which may not be capable of being satisfied within the normal offer timetable. This often creates tension as an offer should not lapse without good reason.
The Code manages this tension in relation to clearance of an offer by the Competition and Markets Authority (the CMA) or the European Commission in a number of ways, primarily by suspending the offer timetable at the target and bidder's request pending a decision as to whether there will be a Phase 2 CMA reference.
The new proposals in the PCP would apply consistent treatment to any regulatory clearance to which an offer is subject. In other words, the Code should not apply different treatment to the CMA and the European Commission as compared with other regulatory authorities from which a regulatory clearance is required.
Finally, the Panel proposes in the PCP that it should be able to grant (albeit in exceptional circumstances) a dispensation from the restriction on Rule 9.3 of the Code on a person triggering a mandatory offer, if the making or implementation of that offer would be subject to any condition or consent where, among other things:
- applying the "material significance" test described above, invocation of the condition is subject to the Panel's consent; and
- the condition or consent relates to a material regulatory clearance.