Corporate governance: Nasty medicine

POISON pills are again being dispensed by corporate America with all the enthusiasm of an exterminator in a rat-infested basement. The metaphorical rodents nowadays are not just hostile bidders—the pests that the poison-pill defence was designed to exterminate, back in the 1980s—but in some cases shareholders simply trying to change the way companies are run.In a typical poison-pill scheme, the board of a company makes a rule that if anyone buys more than a certain percentage of its shares, it will issue lots of stock to all other shareholders, dramatically reducing the first investor’s stake. In Britain, which has long taken a more positive view of hostile bids, poison pills are all but banned. In America, the courts have repeatedly held them to be legal. But they had become scarcer in recent years, as takeovers dried up and shareholders got some schemes dismantled. Now, M&A is booming, activist investors are back on the warpath and defences are being rebuilt.On June 28th the board of American Apparel, a clothing retailer, enacted a poison-pill scheme. It is seeking to avert a less-than-friendly takeover by its former boss, Dov Charney, whom the board had removed ten days earlier over some as-yet unspecified allegations of misconduct. Mr Charney has sealed a partnership with Standard General, a hedge fund, with the help of which he now controls a 43% stake.The previous…

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