Statement of policy concerning divestitures by bank holding companies.
(a) From time to time the Board of Governors receives requests from companies subject to the Bank Holding Company Act, or other laws administered by the Board, to extend time periods specified either by statute or by Board order for the divestiture of assets held or activities engaged in by such companies. Such divestiture requirements may arise in a number of ways. For example, divestiture may be ordered by the Board in connection with an acquisition found to have been made in violation of law. In other cases the divestiture may be pursuant to a statutory requirement imposed at the time and amendment to the Act was adopted, or it may be required as a result of a foreclosure upon collateral held by the company or a bank subsidiary in connection with a debt previously contracted in good faith. Certain divestiture periods may be extended in the discretion of the Board, but in other cases the Board may be without statutory authority, or may have only limited authority, to extend a specified divestiture period.
(b) In the past, divestitures have taken many different forms, and the Board has followed a variety of procedures in enforcing divestiture requirements. Because divestitures may occur under widely disparate factual circumstances, and because such forced dispositions may have the potential for causing a serious adverse economic impact upon the divesting company, the Board believes it is important to maintain a large measure of flexibility in dealing with divestitures. For these reasons, there can be no fixed rule as to the type of divestiture that will be appropriate in all situations. For example, where divestiture has been ordered to terminate a control relationship created or maintained in violation of the Act, it may be necessary to impose conditions that will assure that the unlawful relationship has been fully terminated and that it will not arise in the future. In other circumstances, however, less stringent conditions may be appropriate.
(1) Avoidance of delays in divestitures. Where a specific time period has been fixed for accomplishing divestiture, the affected company should endeavor and should be encouraged to complete the divestiture as early as possible during the specific period. There will generally be substantial advantages to divesting companies in taking steps to plan for and accomplish divestitures well before the end of the divestiture period. For example, delays may impair the ability of the company to realize full value for the divested assets, for as the end of the divestiture period approaches the “forced sale” aspect of the divestiture may lead potential buyers to withhold firm offers and to bargain for lower prices. In addition, because some prospective purchasers may themselves require regulatory approval to acquire the divested property, delay by the divesting company may—by leaving insufficient time to obtain such approvals—have the effect of narrowing the range of prospective purchases. Thus, delay in planning for divestiture may increase the likelihood that the company will seek an extension of the time for divestiture if difficulty is encountered in securing a purchaser, and in certain situations, of course, the Board may be without statutory authority to grant extensions.
(2) Submissions and approval of divestiture plans. When a divestiture requirement is imposed, the company affected should generally be asked to submit a divestiture plan promptly for review and approval by the Reserve Bank or the Board. Such a requirement may be imposed pursuant to the Board's authority under section 5(b) of the Bank Holding Company Act to issue such orders as may be necessary to enable the Board to administer and carry out the purposes of the Act and prevent evasions thereof. A divestiture plan should be as specific as possible, and should indicate the manner in which divestiture will be accomplished—for example, by a bulk sale of the assets to a third party, by “spinoff” or distribution of shares to the shareholders of the divesting company, or by termination of prohibited activities. In addition, the plan should specify the steps the company expects to take in effecting the divestiture and assuring its completeness, and should indicate the time schedule for taking such steps. In appropriate circumstances, the divestiture plan should make provision for assuring that “controlling influence” relationships, such as management or financial interlocks, will not continue to exist.
(3) Periodic progress reports. A company subject to a divestiture requirement should generally be required to submit regular periodic reports detailing the steps it has taken to effect divestiture. Such a requirement may be imposed pursuant to the Board's authority under section 5(b) of the Bank Holding Company Act, referred to above, as well as its authority under section 5(c) of the Act to require reports for the purpose of keeping the Board informed as to whether the Act and Board regulations and order thereunder are being complied with. Reports should set forth in detail such matters as the identities of potential buyers who have been approached by the company, the dates of discussions with potential buyers and the identities of the individuals involved in such discussions, the terms of any offers received, and the reasons for rejecting any offers. In addition, the reports should indicate whether the company has employed brokers, investment bankers or others to assist in the divestiture, or its reasons for not doing so, and should describe other efforts by the company to seek out possible purchasers. The purpose of requiring such reports is to insure that substantial and good faith efforts being made by the company to satisfy its divestiture obligations. The frequency of such reports may vary depending upon the nature of the divestiture and the period specified for divestiture. However, such reports should generally not be required less frequently than every three months, and may in appropriate cases be required on a monthly or even more frequent basis. Progress reports as well as divestiture plans should be afforded confidential treatment.
(4) Extensions of divestiture periods. Certain divestiture periods—such as December 31, 1980 deadline for divestitures required by the 1970 Amendments to the Bank Holding Company Act—are not extendable. In such cases it is imperative that divestiture be accomplished in a timely manner. In certain other cases, the Board may have discretion to extend a statutorily prescribed divestiture period within specified limits. For example, under section 4(c)(2) of the Act the Board may extend for three one-year periods the two-year period in which a bank subsidiary of a holding company is otherwise required to divest shares acquired in satisfaction of a debt previously contracted in good faith. In such cases, however, when the permissible extensions expire the Board no longer has discretion to grant further extensions. In still other cases, where a divestiture period is prescribed by the Board, in the exercise of its regulatory judgment, the Board may have broader discretion to grant extensions. Where extensions of specified divestiture periods are permitted by law, extensions should not be granted except under compelling circumstances. Neither unfavorable market conditions, nor the possibility that the company may incur some loss, should alone be viewed as constituting such circumstances—particularly if the company has failed to take earlier steps to accomplish a divestiture under more favorable circumstances. Normally, a request for an extension will not be considered unless the company has established that it has made substantial and continued good faith efforts to accomplish the divestiture within the prescribed period. Furthermore, requests for extensions of divestiture periods must be made sufficiently in advance of the expiration of the prescribed period both to enable the Board to consider the request in an orderly manner and to enable the company to effect a timely divestiture in the event the request for extension is denied. Companies subject to divestiture requirements should be aware that a failure to accomplish a divestiture within the prescribed period may in and of itself be viewed as a separate violation of the Act.
(5) Use of trustees. In appropriate cases a company subject to a divestiture requirement may be required to place the assets subject to divestiture with an independent trustee under instructions to accomplish a sale by a specified date, by public auction if necessary. Such a trustee may be given the responsibility for exercising the voting rights with respect to shares being divested. The use of such a trustee may be particularly appropriate where the divestiture is intended to terminate a control relationship established or maintained in violation of law, or where the divesting company has demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to take timely steps to effect a divestiture.
(6) Presumptions of control. Bank holding companies contemplating a divestiture should be mindful of section 2(g)(3) of the Bank Holding Company Act, which creates a presumption of continued control over the transferred assets where the transferee is indebted to the transferor, or where certain interlocks exist, as well as § 225.2 of Regulation Y, which sets forth certain additional control presumptions. Where one of these presumptions has arisen with respect to divested assets, the divestiture will not be considered as complete until the presumption has been overcome. It should be understood that the inquiry into the termination of control relationships is not limited by the statutory and regulatory presumptions of control, and that the Board may conclude that a control relationship still exists even though the presumptions do not apply.
(7) Role of the Reserve Banks. The Reserve Banks have a responsibility for supervising and enforcing divestitures. Specifically, in coordination with Board staff they should review divestiture plans to assure that proposed divestitures will result in the termination of control relationships and will not create unsafe or unsound conditions in any bank or bank holding company; they should monitor periodic progress reports to assure that timely steps are being taken to effect divestitures; and they should prompt companies to take such steps when it appears that progress is not being made. Where Reserve Banks have delegated authority to extend divestiture periods, that authority should be exercised consistently with this policy statement.
[42 FR 10969, Feb. 25, 1977]
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