Monday, November 10, 2008

What's a "scroll compressor"?

Tecumseh Products, a Michigan-based manufacturer of compressors for heat pumps and refrigeration products, especially for the commercial and industrial markets, is seeking to put a chill into a bid for control by the Herrick Foundation. The matter will come to a head at a special meeting on November 21.

The proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis has come to Tecumseh's aid with a report that says among much else: “We see no reason to believe that the replacement of current directors with the [Herrick Foundation] nominees would provide more meaningful returns to shareholders than management’s current strategy.”

Glass Lewis praised the company's improvements in "operational performance," its recent asset sales, and its cost reduction efforts.

This proxy fight has a nearly two-year time line. It was in February 2007 that Herrick informed Tecumseh that it would be nominating three candidates for director. This was a bid for control, since the board has only five seats.

Tecumseh replied by expanding its board to seven seats. After some back-and-forth over the following weeks, the parties reached a one-year standstill agreement in April. This agreement left Herrick with two of the seven seats.

So in the spring of this year, that agreement came to its end and the back-and-forth manuveuring resumed. In April 2008, the Tecumseh board amended the company by-laws to make it very difficult for shareholders to call a special meeting. Herrick sued.

In August,the circuit court in Lenawee County, Michigan, ordered a special meeting for November 21. The purpose of the meeting is to consider the removal of two directors and the election of new directors to fill the vacancy if removal is approved. The two directors that Herrick has targeted for removal are Tecumseh's longest-serving directors, Peter M. Banks and David M. Risley.

Obviously, if Herrick manages to replace Messrs Banks and Risley with two directors more favorable to itself, its share of the seven member board rises from two seats to a majority four.

An intriguing but rather isolated line in Herrick's proxy materials says, "The industry trend is toward the use of scroll compressors, which competitors have had for some time, but Tecumseh is in the early stages of offering."

What's a scroll compressor and how does it differ from the sort of thing Tecumseh does offer? A homework assignment!

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