MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari
The statutory scheme here is relatively straightforward. Section 17 of the Investment Company Act of 1940, 15 U. S. C. § 80a-17, forbids an "affiliated person," as defined in the Act,
(1) The merger in this litigation involves Christiana Securities Co., a closed-end, nondiversified management investment company, and E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., a large industrial operating company engaged principally in the manufacture of chemical products. Christiana was formed in 1915 in order to preserve family control of Du Pont & Co. At the time the present merger negotiations were announced in April 1972, 98% of Christiana's assets consisted of Du Pont common stock.
In 1972, Christiana's management concluded that, because of the tax disadvantages and the discount at which its shares sold, Christiana should be liquidated and its stockholders become direct owners of Du Pont stock. Christiana's board of directors proposed liquidation of Christiana by means of a tax-free merger into Du Pont. Du Pont would purchase Christiana's assets by issuing to Christiana shareholders new certificates of Du Pont stock. In more concrete terms, Du Pont would acquire Christiana's $2.2 billion assets and assume its liabilities of approximately $300,000. In so doing, Du Pont would acquire from Christiana 13,417,120 shares of its own common stock. Du Pont would then issue 13,228,620 of its shares directly to Christiana holders. This would be
(2) Du Pont and Christiana filed a joint application with the Commission for exemption under § 17 of the Investment Company Act. Administrative proceedings followed. The Commission's Division of Investment Management Regulation supported the application. A relatively small number of Du Pont shareholders, including the respondents in this case, opposed the transaction. Their basic argument was that, since Christiana was valued on the basis of its assets, Du Pont stock, rather than the much lower market price of its own outstanding stock, the proposed merger would be unfair to the shareholders of Du Pont since it provides relatively greater benefits to Christiana shareholders than to shareholders of Du Pont. The objecting stockholders argued that Du Pont & Co. should receive a substantial share of the benefit realized by Christiana shareholders from the elimination of the 23% discount from net asset value at which Christiana stock was selling. They also argued that the merger would depress the market price of Du Pont stock because it would place more than 13 million marketable Du Pont shares directly in the hands of Christiana shareholders.
After the hearing, the parties waived the initial administrative recommendations and the record was submitted
The fact that Du Pont might have obtained more favorable terms because of its strategic bargaining position or by use of alternative methods of liquidating Christiana was considered not relevant by the Commission. In its view, the purpose of § 17 was to prevent persons in a strategic position from getting more than fair value. The Commission found no detriment in the transaction to Du Pont or to the value of its outstanding shares. Any depressing effects on the price of Du Pont would be brief in duration and the intrinsic value of an investment in Du Pont would not be altered by the merger. Moreover, in the Commission's view, any valuation involving a significant departure from net asset value would "run afoul of Section 17 (b) (1) of the Act"; it would strip long-term investors in companies like Christiana of the intrinsic worth of the securities which underlie their holdings.
A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit divided in setting aside the Commission's
In determining whether the Court of Appeals correctly set aside the order of the Commission, we begin by examining the nature of the regulatory process leading to the decision that court was required to review. In United States v. National Assn. of Securities Dealers, 422 U.S. 694 (1975), we noted that the Investment Company Act of 1940, 15 U. S. C. § 80a-1 et seq., "vests in the SEC broad regulatory authority over the business practices of the investment companies." 422 U. S., at 704-705. The Act was the product of congressional concern
Given the wide variety of possible transactions between an investment company and its affiliates, Congress, quite understandably, made no attempt to define this standard with any greater precision. Instead, it followed the practice frequently employed in other administrative schemes. The
In this case, a judgment as to whether the terms of the merger were "reasonable and fair" turned upon the value assigned to Christiana. In making such an evaluation, the Commission concluded that "[t]he single, readily usable tool of net asset value does the job much better than an accurate gauge of market impact. . . ." 5 S. E. C. Docket, at 751. Investment companies, it reasoned, are essentially a portfolio of securities whose individual prices are determined by the forces of the securities marketplace. In determining value in merger situations, "asset value" is thus much more applicable to investment companies than to other corporate entities. The value of the securities surrendered is, basically, the real value received by the transferee.
In reviewing a decision of the Commission, a court must consider both the facts found and the application of the relevant statute by the agency. Congress has mandated that, in review of § 17 proceedings, "[t]he findings of the Commission as to the facts, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." 15 U. S. C. § 80a-42. A reviewing court is also to be guided by the "venerable principle that the construction
The Commission has long recognized that the key factor in the valuation of the assets of a closed-end investment company should be the market price of the underlying securities. This method of setting the value of investment companies is, as Congress contemplated, the product of the agency's long and intimate familiarity with the investment company industry. For instance, in issuing an advisory report to the United States District Court pursuant to § 173 of Chapter X of the Bankruptcy Act, the Commission advised that "it is natural that net asset value based upon market prices should be the fundamental valuation criterion used by and large in the investment company field." Central States Electric Corp., 30 S. E. C. 680, 700 (1949), approved sub nom. Central States Electric Corp. v. Austrian, 183 F.2d 879, 884 (CA4 1950), cert. denied, 340 U.S. 917 (1951). Similarly, in mergers like the one presented in this litigation, the Commission has used "net asset value" as a touchstone in its analysis. See, e. g., Delaware Realty & Investment Co., 40 S. E. C. 469, 473 (1961); Harbor Plywood Corp., 40 S. E. C. 1002 (1962); Eastern States Corp., SEC Investment Company Act Releases Nos. 5693 and 5711 (1969).
The Commission's reliance on "net asset value" in this particular case and its consequent determination that the proposed merger met the statutory standards thus rested "squarely in that area where administrative judgments are entitled to the greatest amount of weight by appellate courts.
We note that after receiving briefs and hearing oral argument, the Court of Appeals—over the objection of the Commission, Christiana, and Du Pont—undertook the unique appellate procedure of employing a university professor to assist the court in understanding the record and to prepare reports and memoranda for the court. Thus, the reports relied upon by that court included a variety of data and economic observations which had not been examined and tested by the traditional methods of the adversary process. We are not cited to any statute, rule, or decision authorizing the procedure employed by the Court of Appeals. Cf. Fed. Rule App. Proc. 16.
In our view, the Court of Appeals clearly departed from its statutory appellate function and applied an erroneous standard in its review of the decision of the Commission. The record made by the parties before the Commission was in accord with traditional procedures and that record clearly reveals substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commission. Moreover, the agency conclusions of law were based on a construction of the statute consistent with the legislative intent. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, dissenting.
Section 17 of the Investment Company Act of 1940, 15 U. S. C. § 80a-17, prohibits transactions between registered
Christiana was created in 1915 to concentrate the Du Pont family's holdings of Du Pont stock. Its assets consist almost entirely of Du Pont common stock, of which it holds 28.3% of the total outstanding. It is thus an investment company within the meaning of the Act, and an affiliate of Du Pont subject to the prohibitions of § 17. Although ownership of Christiana stock is essentially indirect ownership of Du Pont stock, Christiana stock is traded over-the-counter at a considerable discount from the market price of the corresponding shares of Du Pont.
For reasons unnecessary to elaborate here, Christiana is no longer regarded by its owners as a desirable control mechanism. Moreover, the tax laws make it expensive to maintain, since dividends from Du Pont are taxed when paid to Christiana, and again when passed on to the shareholders as dividends from Christiana. Elimination of Christiana is therefore desirable to its shareholders, and an agreement was reached to effectuate this goal by merging Christiana into Du Pont.
It is conceded that while the primary concern of Congress in enacting the Act was the protection of investment company shareholders, § 17 (b) does not permit the SEC to authorize a transaction that is unfair to the affiliated person, any more than one that is unfair to the investment company. Fifth Avenue Coach Lines, Inc., 43 S. E. C. 635 (1967). See the opinion of the Court, ante, at 53 n. 11.
I do not mean to suggest that the SEC should not, as a general rule, look to the net asset value of an investment company in evaluating the fairness of transactions such as this. At least where the result of the transaction is the elimination of the investment company, the party that acquires it gets the full value of its holdings, and not just a block of stock in the investment company; the asset value thus seems in the usual case a better measure of the investment company's value than the market price of its stock. On the other hand, in a situation such as this, the depressed market price of Christiana stock may well reflect its undesirability to its present holders.
"(3) `Affiliated person' of another person means (A) any person directly or indirectly owning, controlling, or holding with power to vote, 5 per centum or more of the outstanding voting securities of such other person; (B) any person 5 per centum or more of whose outstanding voting securities are directly or indirectly owned, controlled, or held with power to vote, by such other person; (C) any person directly or indirectly controlling, controlled by, or under common control with, such other person; (D) any officer, director, partner, copartner, or employee of such other person; (E) if such other person is an investment company, any investment adviser thereof or any member of an advisory board thereof; and (F) if such other person is an unincorporated investment company not having a board of directors, the depositor thereof."