“Greenmail” Makes a Comeback

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The much-maligned 1980s tactic of “greenmail” appears to have made a comeback in 2013. “Greenmail” has generally been defined as the practice of purchasing enough shares in a company to threaten a takeover, and then using that leverage to pressure the target company to buy those shares back at a premium in order to abandon the takeover. Today’s variety of greenmail does not always involve the threat of a takeover, but instead typically involves the actual or implied threat of a proxy contest that would effect major corporate change.

In just the last few months, several noted activist investors have profited handsomely by selling shares back to their target companies, including, among others, Icahn Associates with respect to its stake in WebMD and Corvex Management with respect to its stake in ADT.

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