U.S. companies are dismantling their takeover defenses. The decrease can be attributed to companies switching to annually elected directors from staggered board terms, companies removing poison pills, and less companies providing that directors can only be removed for cause. The pace at which companies are erecting barriers against proxy contests and enacting rules to maintain tight rein over shareholder meetings has slowed significantly too. Also companies are increasingly allowing poison pills to expire.
I tackle these and other issues in our M&A series. Here I explain the general idea behind poison pills; in the event of a hostile takeover attempt, poison pills give shareholders (except for the would-be acquirer) the right to buy stock in their own company or in the acquiring company at a deep discount, if the bidder acquires a certain percentage of the outstanding shares. With other shareholders then able to buy shares at discounted price, the target company would become financially unattractive and the voting power of the potential acquirer would be diluted -i.e., acquiring the company under those terms would be like swallowing a poison pill.