Securities Class Action Settlements Plummeted Last Year

By Ellen Rosen | March 26, 2015

Bringing a securities class action became less lucrative last year.

According to Cornerstone Research, total settlements in such cases hit their lowest point in 16 years.

The aggregate amount of settlements dropped 78 percent to $1.07 billion in 2014 from $4.85 billion in 2013. Last year’s figure is 84 percent below the average for the prior nine years, primarily because of a dearth of large cases, the legal consulting firm found.

The largest settlement in 2014 was for $265 million, compared with $2.5 billion in the prior year.

Last year’s top settlement stemmed from the lawsuit against Massey Energy Co., which agreed to pay $265 million to resolve a case accusing the company of misleading investors about its safety record following a deadly mine blast in 2010.

The average settlement amount, $17 million, was the lowest since 2000. In 2013, the average settlement size was $73.5 million.

The number of settlements remained relatively constant last year at 63.

The report also said that public pensions participated in fewer settlements in 2014. That drop could have resulted from one of two factors, Joseph Grundfest, a professor at Stanford Law School and the director of the school’s Securities Class Action Clearinghouse, said in a statement.

“The class action securities fraud market appears to be shrinking, whether measured in terms of the size of settlements or in the severity of new actions filed,” Grundfest said. “It may also mean that public pensions could have fewer large cases to draw them into the lead plaintiff role.”

Cornerstone reported a drop in settlements involving financial firms in 2014, as a majority of credit crisis–related cases have been resolved.

According to the report, new securities class actions involving the antifraud provisions of Rule 10b-5, as well as the disclosure provisions in sections 11 and 12(a)of the Securities Act of 1933, increased for the second consecutive year.

As a result, the settlement numbers could be on the upswing in two to four years, according to the report.

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