During the recent financial crisis, there was a dramatic spike, across all industries, in the volatility of individual firm share prices after adjustment for movements in the market as a whole. In this Article, we demonstrate that a similar spike has occurred with each major downturn in the economy since the 1920s.
The existence of this long history of crisis-induced spikes has not been previously recognized. The Article evaluates a number of potential explanations for these recurrent spikes in firm-specific price volatility, a pattern that poses a puzzle in terms of existing financial theory. The most convincing explanations relate to reasons why information specifically concerning individual firms would become more important in difficult economic times. This discovery of a long history of crisis-induced spikes in firm-specific price volatility has important implications for several areas of corporate and securities law. With regard to securities law, the Article concludes, for example, that because of these spikes, private damages actions are much less effective deterrents to corporate misstatements and insider trading in crisis times than in normal times. Consequently, substantial additional resources should be devoted to SEC enforcement actions during crisis times. The Article considers as well the most contentious corporate law issue of the last 30 years: the extent to which a target board of directors will be allowed to prevent shareholders from accepting a hostile takeover bid at a premium over the pre-bid share price. The Delaware Supreme Court?s approach to this question has been largely based on the difficult-to-define concept of ?substantive coercion.? The Article concludes that these spikes could be a way of giving real meaning to the ?substantive coercion? justification for board approval of defenses against hostile takeover attempts, but that the instances where this justification is appropriate will be rare.