Warrants are a modern financial instrument, known to those who teach economics, but also to those involved with stock markets around the world. Warrants, little known to the general public, may be a means of attracting financing but also of supporting business development. Their operation is twofold: On the one hand, they align the expected future positive course of the company with the individual interests of third parties directly or indirectly involved. On the other hand, they broaden the framework of those who “struggle” for the success of the corporate venture – which is now becoming a common goal for more. Warrants may prove to be more attractive than issuing preference shares or convertible bonds.
But let’s get to know them better.
B. Getting acquainted with warrants, national and international experience
What are the warrants
Under the Law on Sociétés Anonymes (Article 56 par.1), warrants are the securities issued by a société anonyme and confer the right to the of the beneficiaries (: option) to acquire (more precisely: to buy) shares of its (of the issuer-in this case we are talking about corporate warrants).
Reasonably, though, one could support that lawyers are not the most competent ones to talk about what warrants really are. This is because, in a wider (and correct) view, it is a stock derivative that creates the right (but not the obligation) to buy (or sell) a share at a specific price (: “exercise price”), before its expiration (an indicative definition can be found here: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/w/warrant.asp ). Thus, the institutional framework that governs the operation of warrants affects, on a multi-level basis, not only the operation of a société anonyme, but also the relationships formed around it. The relevant regulations could not therefore be missing from the new law on Sociétés Anonymes (Articles 56 to 58). It could also be impossible not to be of the concern of the legal community of the country. [The most complete, at present, work in our country is: “Warrants corporate and covered”, John Linaritis, Nomiki Bibliothiki, 2018)].
The use of warrants in the context of the recapitalization of Greek banks (2012-2013)
The experience of the recapitalization of Greek banks is the one that first brought us into contact with warrants (precisely with covered warrants – in contrast to the aforementioned corporate warrants). The relevant legislative framework was already in place in 2010 (from article 7a par. 1 and 2 of law 3864/2010, as it was in force with subsequent amendments of the years 2012-2013), before being replaced by Article 2 of law 4254/2014. It was further specified by the relevant Ministerial Council Acts No. 38/2012, 6/2013 and 43/2015.
The attempts to attract private investors to recapitalize systemic banks have been achieved (even partly) through the use of warrants as “sweeteners” (as per the international terminology).
Thus, those who decided to participate in the recapitalization of Greek banks during the period 2012-2013 were found to have warrants in their hands. Accordingly, on the basis of the MCA 38/2012, the holders of the warrants received from the Financial Stability Fund (FSF) free of charge, one Warrant for each common share of the Credit Institution they acquired. There was provision in this MCA for the readjustment of the number of shares attributable to each warrant “in the case of corporate actions”. The relative provision was further specified,by the MCA 43/2015.
The beneficiaries of the warrants, thus, acquired the right to exercise them fifty-four (54) months from the date of issue of the securities – half – yearly. The exercise price of the warrants was set at the acquisition price of the respective shares by the FSF, plus an interest rate of 3% and a margin (proportional to time when the exercise of the relevant right) on the number of shares that the holder of the warrant was entitled to acquire while exercising the right.
The valuation of warrants
Since 1973, the “Black-Scholes” model has been adopted (with various supplementary interventions and adjustments) in the international literature on the valuation of warrants. This model takes into account: (a) three basic parameters for determining their value: the exercise price, the remaining time to the maturity date and the stock price of the share; and (b) at least three additional financial parameters: the expected dividend yield, the risk-free interest rate, and the expected volatility of the underlying share.
In practice, however, for all of us non-economists: When the share price at the time of the exercise of the relevant right (i.e. that acquired by the warrant at the time of its acquisition) falls short of the amount to be paid (per share) for its exercise, it makes no sense to put any other parameter in the equation. This was done in the aforementioned case of bank recapitalization: The share price of systemic banks was downgraded, in contrast to the warrant exercise price, which was initially agreed on a constant basis over the individual periods of potential exercise.
Thus, individuals who participated in the recapitalization of systemic banks received warrants, but they never exercised their right because the share price to which they were quoted was clearly lower than their warrants.
This particular project was not to be successful.
Exercising rights from warrants and related questions
Regarding listed companies (as referred to above “systemic” banks), the aforementioned reasoning seems as self-evident and simplistic: Why exercise my warrant right when it is financially advantageous to buy the corresponding stock from the stock market with a smaller cost?
But does the same also happens with non-listed companies? In those that their shares are not traded on a regulated market, so they are not freely available? And what happens when they can only be available in the context of a free transaction where the vendor’s and buyer’s “declarations of will” are identical?
And, ultimately, the key question: Are warrants a failed and non-functional institution? Or can it be used multilevel in the context of boosting entrepreneurship? The answer to the specific, nodal questions is attempted below.
The potential use and utilization of warrants
The range of potential exploitation of warrants seems almost inexhaustible.
Warrants can be an instrument (but most of all: a motivation) for business financing – it is not accidental that the term “sweetener” already mentioned and internationally used: I am currently participating in a share capital increase and I am excited that in the (near or far) future I will have, IF I choose, on favorable terms (in relation to the then data), an additional number of shares.
This logic may prove attractive not only to attract equity start-ups but also to correspondingly growing and / or simply healthy businesses. On the other hand, it may prove to be appealing in the attempt to provide capital support to companies with liquidity & solvency problems and the inability or difficulty of drawing external financing or (joint) capital support. It is a strategy tool for venture capital, for individual investors, but also a tool for individual shareholders’ personal strategies.
Moreover, it is not possible to disregard the potential use of warrants as a motivation for those who run the company, executives, associates, suppliers or creditors. And with regard to the latter (suppliers or creditors) – in addition as a means of partial or total repayment or favorable settlement of financial obligations.
In all the above cases, warrants can have a dual function: (a) To align the (prospective) future positive course and prosperity of the company with the individual interests of third parties directly or indirectly involved (and not only shareholders) but also (b) To broaden the framework of those who (for tangible reasons of immediate interest) “struggle” for the success of the corporate venture that is now becoming a common goal.
In all these cases, warrants may prove, multi-level, to be (and are) more attractive and preferable to the issue of preferred shares or convertible bonds.
C. The approach (and regulation) of warrants by the law on the SAs
Bearing in mind the above mentioned (under A) introduction, the choice of the relevant Legislative Committee (and of course of the Greek legislator) for integrating warrants into the regulatory field of the new Law on Sociétés Anonymes can be more clearly understood.
Option to issue warrants
By the provision of Article 56 par. 1 of the new law, the General Assembly shall be the competent body for the issue of the warrants, which shall decide with increased quorum and majority. A simple quorum and a majority of the General Assembly or a decision of the Board of Directors is sufficient if there is a relevant statutory provision (paragraph 2 applying mutatis mutandis the provisions for the extraordinary increase of the share capital – according to article 24).
Individual decision parameters of the competent body
The relevant competent body of Société Anonyme in its decision to issue warrants (which is subject to the publication of the law on the increase of the share capital) includes the following:
(a) the time, the manner, the price for the issue of the warrants and the method of payment
(b) the time limit and other conditions governing the exercise of the right which the warrants incorporate
(c) the category and number of shares to be issued after any exercise
(d) the value or method of calculating the value of shares to be paid when exercising the right
(e) the number of shares to which each warrant is entitled to acquire
(f) adjusting the terms of the warrants and of their rights in the case of corporate actions; and
(g) any other relevant detail
Other issues related to the issue of warrants
Existing shareholders at the time of the issue of the warrants retain a relevant pre-emption right at the time of their issuance (Article 56 par.6) and reasonably as their future exercise would disrupt any equity balances. At the same time, it is possible to recognize (Article 56 par.7) the option of partial coverage of the warrants for which the issuance will be decided (in proportion to the application of Article 28 for the partial coverage of the share capital increase). Finally, it is stipulated (Article 56 par. 8) that the relevant warrants are nominal – reasonably also in this case as the shares of the Sociétés Anonymes can only be nominal.
Acquisition of own warrants by the company (Article 57)
The Société Anonyme cannot cover its warrants or take warrants of its own or its parent company.
However, the Company may acquire warrants of its own (except in the case of a successor or a gratuitous cause) following a decision by the Board of Directors to: (a) justify the company’s interest; (b) record the purpose and (c) determine the maximum number of warrants to be acquired; (d) the duration of the approval (max 12 months); and (e) the minimum and maximum value of the acquisition.
For the particular decision of the Board of Directors, a certified auditor’s report is required on the reasonable value of the acquisition. This specific value may not result in a reduction in the share capital to lower levels than those specified in the provision of Art. 159 §1.
In the event that the issuer decides to acquire (and ultimately acquires) its own warrants in order to amortize them, it is obliged to immediately cancel it. Also, when the issuer acquires its own warrants either due to a succession or by a gratuitous cause, it is obliged to take a decision, within one month, either to cancel or to resell them. In any case, however, of an acquisition by the company of its own warrants (in contravention of the specific provisions) is obliged to transfer them not later than one year after their acquisition.
Exercise of warrant rights (Article 58)
The right resulting from warrants is, as already mentioned, a right of option. This means that the exercise of the right by the beneficiary is unilateral. The sole condition for its exercise is the payment to the company (in advance) of a given price.
The nominal value of the shares to be issued may not, however, exceed the sum of the amount paid on the acquisition of the warrants and that paid in the exercise of the right in question.
However, when the relevant right arising from the warrants be exercised, there is an increase in the share capital. In this increase, the old shareholders have no right of preference. The Board of the Directors is obliged to adjust, within two months, the share capital of the company.
Finally, it is noted that the provision of a reserve to the issuing company is mandatory as long as the warrants remain valid. This reserve cannot be distributed and is at least equal to the value paid when the warrants were issued.
From the above, I do not think there is any doubt that the incorporation of warrants into national law provides an important (multi) tool for Sociétés Anonymes. An important tool for financing and for facilitating their financing, for creating incentives to help their productive, efficient and ultimately optimal operation and development. Above all, however, it is a tool that widens decisively the circle of natural persons and legal entities directly and indirectly (more or less) associated with it while, at the same time, with many interests in achieving the corporate objectives.
It is up to businesses, entrepreneurs, financial (but especially our legal) advisors to optimize their use.
P.S. A brief version of this article has been published in MAKEDONIA Newspaper (January 27th, 2019).