June 2011 Archives

Merger and Acquisition Letters of Intent - Hold Me Back!

June 28, 2011,

Most letters of intent describing acquisitions in Silicon Valley, as elsewhere, will describe the material points of a transaction. Although a properly drafted letter of intent will provide that the business points of the deal are nonbinding, it is difficult in the course of any negotiation to change a business point already agreed upon. As a result, take care to describe those points that are most important to a transaction and to leave others to be negotiated as part of the definitive agreement.

The most important point is obviously the purchase price. This can be expressed, among other ways, as an absolute amount. If the transaction is a merger, the absolute amount is converted into a conversion or exchange rate based on the market value of the acquirer's stock over a period of time preceding the closing.

It is very unusual for the price to be paid all at once. Typically, the amount ultimately paid will be subject to post-closing adjustments based on issues unrelated to financial performance (often referred to as a holdback) as well as issues related to financial performance or other milestones (often referred to as an earnout). These provisions must be considered very carefully, as they are often a source of litigation. This blog will only discuss the holdback.

The liability holdback is the most significant holdback and is used to cover any liabilities which may arise after the closing. The holdback is used to help protect the buyer when the state of the Company, often described as representations and warranties, is found to be inaccurate. These liabilities can arise when the Company is sued after the closing, e.g., when an infringement claim is made, or can arise if a representation is inaccurate, e.g., when a cost of a particular liability is found to be greater than originally disclosed. Liability holdbacks will also cover any liability arising out of the seller's failure to perform an obligation.

The percentage of the liability holdback varies considerably, although they typically are between 10% and 20% of the purchase price. For known claims that cannot be quantified yet, a separate holdback can be created, and the amount held back can vary with the amount of the claim.

The audit holdback, another common holdback, is that amount of money to be used to cover any adjustment which may be required to adjust, following a post-closing audit, an inaccurate working capital cushion. The employee retention holdback is another holdback that is used where employees are crucial to a target company, where an amount is held back for a period of time and reduced if employees depart the target company after the closing.

The amount of time that funds will be held back varies. Liability holdbacks typically run between one and two years. Audit holdbacks will typically run for 90 to 120 days after the closing to encourage the audit to be completed. Employee retention holdbacks can run to one year, and potentially longer.

My next blog will discuss the earnout, and the portions of this important mechanism that are usually found in a letter of intent.

Update: IRS Changes Mileage Rate

June 24, 2011,

The standard mileage rate is very important to my business clients because it is not only the rate at which they can deduct miles driven for business use, but it is also often the rate at which the businesses have agreed to reimburse their employees for miles driven on the job. The IRS has once again changed the standard mileage rate for the use of business vehicles. For the final six months of 2011, the standard mileage rate will be 55.5 cents per mile, up from 51 cents. The IRS made this decision due to the spike in gas prices earlier this year, but the rate is good for the rest of the year even though prices seem to be falling now. The mileage rate for medical and moving expenses also goes up by 4.5 cents to 23.5 cents per mile, but the mileage rate used when driving for charity is unchanged at 14 cents per mile.

The IRS will announce the mileage rate for 2012 in the fall.

Source: Kiplinger Tax Letter, Vol. 86, No. 13 (June 24, 2011)

Choice of State for a New Corporation

June 6, 2011,

I recently did a blog about California clients wanting to form LLCs outside of California in order to avoid California franchise taxes, and how the Franchise Tax Board has been steadily trying to eliminate those possibilities. In response to that blog, I was asked about other non-tax considerations for choosing a state for the formation of a business. So, here is a brief analysis of some of the things I consider when helping my clients choose the right jurisdiction for their new corporation.

When a client comes into my office in San Jose and asks about forming a business entity outside of California, the most common jurisdictions they are considering are either Delaware or Nevada. Delaware has traditionally been the favorite jurisdiction, and Nevada is gaining in popularity.

Why incorporate in Delaware?

• Delaware is a leader in making incorporating easy for founders, including accepting Certificates of Incorporation by e-mail and fax and without signatures, providing for expedited filings in one hour, and allowing Boards to hold meetings electronically.
• Delaware's corporate laws allow for limitations on personal liability and indemnification of the officers.
• Delaware law is well established and it has a special court, the Court of Chancery, to deal solely with corporate matters.
• Venture Capitalists are familiar with Delaware and their forms are based on Delaware law.
• A majority of companies on the NYSE are incorporated in Delaware.
• A majority of Fortune 500 companies are incorporated in Delaware.

Why incorporate in Nevada?

• Nevada does not have a franchise tax and it does not tax corporations for income earned in Nevada. (Of course, this does not get a company out of California franchise and income taxes if it is doing business in California, but a lot of people don't realize that.)
• Nevada caters to smaller, private companies.
• Protection for corporate management is very strong. Directors and officers are not compared to an objective standard of behavior, making it harder for them to be held personally liable for acts that may have otherwise been determined to not be in the best interest of the company.

Why (or why not) incorporate in California?

• For companies doing business in California, California usually makes the most sense as a jurisdiction since California law often applies to foreign entities anyway if they are doing business here.
• Franchise taxes are high in California, but forming outside of California will not exempt a business from California franchise taxes if it has a presence here.
• California does allow telephonic and electronic meetings of the board of directors.
• The California Secretary of State, despite usually long waits for filings, does have expedited filings for a fee.
• California corporate laws often protect shareholders over management - such as requiring shareholder approval for loans to officers or directors and providing for cumulative voting rights.

Of course, these choices are also impacted by the business of the company and its strategic plan for the future. In addition, choice of state is only one of many informed decisions that must be made by the founders, their business lawyer, and their CPA before jumping into the formation of a new company.