China: 明股实债交易的效力问题

Last Updated: 30 April 2019
Article by Hanbo Shi
Most Read Contributor in China, July 2019

一、明股实债交易涉及的主要问题

明股实债交易一般是指,投资人通过增资或受让股权取得目标公司的股权,并在相关交易文件中约定投资人享有固定回报,以及在经过一定期间后,目标公司或目标公司股东平价或溢价回购投资人持的目标公司股权。所以明股实债交易也被称为"带回购条款的股权性融资"。针对明股实债交易在民事上的效力的问题,实践中产生了很大的争议。归纳起来,主要涉及如下几个方面的问题:

1.明股实债交易中,投资人是否有效取得了目标公司股权而成为目标公司股东?比如在触发回购之前,目标公司破产了,投资人是目标公司的股东,还是目标公司的债权人?这一步解决的是投资人进入的效力问题。

2.明股实债交易中约定的固定收益和回购是否有效?目标公司履行相关义务,抑或目标公司股东履行相关义务,效力方面是否有所不同?这一步解决的是投资收益和投资退出的效力问题。

3.目标公司回购股权是否违背资本维持原则,债权人利益如何保护?明股实债交易因为涉及到公司股权,是一个合同法和公司法交叉的问题。与目标公司有关的约定,会涉及到目标公司债权人的利益,因此在判断明股实债交易的效力,及履行明股实债约定时,要考虑目标公司债权人保护的问题。

下面,笔者依次展开分析。

二、明股实债交易相关行为的效力问题

(一)明股实债交易中,"实债"是财务表述,而非法律表述

明股实债交易到底是什么性质的?到底是股权性融资还是债权性融资。笔者认为,把明股实债交易定性为"带回购条款的股权性融资"是正确的,明股实债归根结底是一个股权性融资。"实债"这个表述,是一种财务表述,而非法律表述,意在表明"带回购条款的股权性融资"从财务角度看,达到的是一个借贷的效果。因此,从财务记账和审计的角度看,根据具体情况,可以把明股实债交易确认为借贷。

但从法律上讲,投资人投入资金后,当然的取得了目标公司的股权,成为目标公司的股东。只是在取得股权之外,投资人另外享有一个取得固定收益和要求目标公司或其股东回购股权的请求权。但这并未使得投资人的股权性投资变为借款。因此,如果在触发回购之前,目标公司陷入破产,投资人的身份只能是目标公司股东,而不是目标公司债权人,其向目标公司的投资,不能作为债权参与分配。

湖州市吴兴区人民法院(2016)浙0502民初1671号新华信托股份有限公司与湖州港城置业有限公司破产债权确认纠纷一案中,投资人以明股实债方式投资了目标公司,目标公司破产后,投资人主张自己是目标公司的债权人,拟确认债权,被法院驳回。虽然法院的论证思路有所不同,但法院的判决结果值得赞同。

(二)明股实债交易不是隐藏行为

有一种观点认为,明股实债交易是一种隐藏行为,取得股权(受让取得或增资取得)的行为是通谋虚伪行为,借贷是被隐藏的行为,因此,根据《民法总则》第146条的规定,取得股权(受让取得或增资取得)的行为无效,借贷行为的效力再根据借贷的相关规定来判断(但通常都是有效的)。笔者认为这种观点并不正确。首先,根据明股实债交易的逻辑,投资人出资就是要取得股权,只是在取得股权之外,另外要求固定收益和投资退出的保障。目标公司或其股东也并不否认投资人取得了股权。因此,取得股权是一个真实的行为,并不是一个虚假的行为。其次,投资人的投资,从法律上看并没有向目标公司或其股东放贷,投资人也并没有成为目标公司或其股东在放贷意义上的债权人,因此,并不存在被隐藏的借贷行为。所以说,明股实债交易并非隐藏行为,其就是一个比较单纯的"带回购条款的股权性融资",无需对其过度解读。

从理论上再进一步讲,笔者认为,所谓的隐藏行为,表面的虚假行为和被隐藏的行为,必须有相同的外观。比如名为动产买卖,实为动产让与担保,或实为动产质押,这样是可以的,这几个行为在外观上相同,都是交付,但真实的意思是什么,是可以相互隐藏的。但行为人不能以一个取得股权的行为,隐藏一个借贷行为。

(三)固定收益和回购退出属于合同自由的范畴,不违反法律的强制规定

明股实债交易中,约定固定收益和回购退出,都属于合同自由、意思自治的范畴,通常来讲都是有效的。股东相互之间如何分配利益,是可以由股东自由决定的,法律对此并无强制性规定。即便投资人参与公司经营管理,同时享受固定收益,也并无不可。实践中已经形成标准交易模式的优先股、永续债等,都不能用传统的股权或债权模式来解读,但实践的发展催生了此种交易模式,并且获得了广泛的应用,法律当然不会也不应对其效力进行轻易否定。

股权回购条款本质来讲,就是投资人进行风险控制的一种手段,由于非上市公司没有股票公开交易的市场,约定回购是投资人投资退出的一种重要手段,在私募股权基金领域应用非常广泛。如果法律轻易否定回购条款的效力,使投资人退出的预期落空,那么无疑会损害投资人投资的积极性。本来可以成立的交易,可能因此而无法达成,最终会损害经济活力。

明股实债交易中,约定股东支付固定回报或履行回购义务,更加自由,一般都是有效的。约定由目标公司支付固定收益或履行回购义务,从合同条款分析的角度看,无疑也应该是有效的。但是目标公司履行上述义务时,要受到一定的限制,要兼顾目标公司债权人利益的保护问题。(最高法院有名的"对赌协议第一案"以及后续的发展,本文第三部分再详细介绍。)

具体来讲,如果约定由目标公司承担支付固定收益的义务,那么目标公司支付该等费用时,要符合关于分红的规定。如果达不到分红条件,目标公司不能强行向投资人支付固定收益。一般为了防止目标公司达不到分红条件,无法支付固定收益,都会约定由目标公司股东进行差额补足。此时关于差额补足的规定自然是有效的。

股权回购义务如果约定由目标公司来履行,那么目标公司履行该项义务时,不能损害目标公司债权人的利益,履行义务的对价只能用可分配利润来支付,不能动用注册资本和资本公积。若拟动用注册资本或资本公积来履行回购义务,就如同实质性减资一样,必须经过债权人同意。

(四)应区分对明股实债的行业监管和民事合同效力问题

很多行政主管部门,都对明股实债交易做出过监管规定。

例如: 

1.《中国银监会办公厅关于加强信托公司房地产、证券业务监管有关问题的通知》第1条第1款规定:严禁以投资附加回购承诺、商品房预售回购等方式间接发放房地产贷款。
2.《中国保监会关于保险资金设立股权投资计划有关事项的通知》第3条规定:股权投资计划取得的投资收益,应当与被投资未上市企业的经营业绩或私募股权投资基金的投资收益挂钩,不得采取以下方式承诺保障本金和投资收益:(一)设置明确的预期回报,且每年定期向投资人支付固定投资回报;(二)约定到期、强制性由被投资企业或关联第三方赎回投资本金;(三)中国保监会认定的其他情形。
3.《关于印发《政府和社会资本合作项目财政管理暂行办法》的通知》第35条规定:政府与社会资本合资设立项目公司的,应按照《公司法》等法律规定以及PPP项目合同约定规范运作,不得在股东协议中约定由政府股东或政府指定的其他机构对社会资本方股东的股权进行回购安排。
4.《关于加强中央企业PPP业务风险管控的通知》第4条规定:(中央企业)在PPP项目股权合作中,不得为其他方股权出资提供担保、承诺收益等;项目债务融资需要增信的,原则上应由项目自身权益、资产或股权投资担保,确需股东担保的应由各方股东按照出资比例共同担保。

对于上述规定应当如何理解,它们是否意味这监管部门对明股实债交易模式的否定呢?笔者认为,这些规定都有其特定的规范目的,并不是对明股实债交易模式的否定。比如关于信托公司的规定,规范目的在于阻止信托资金流入房地产行业。如果信托公司以明股实债的方式投资新能源汽车公司或医药公司,自然不在禁止之列。关于保险资金的规定,也主要是因为保险资金的特殊性,其特别需要规范运行,保障资金安全,因此其主要规范目的也不是否定明股实债交易。保险资金就其性质来讲,本身就不应该投资于风险不可控的股权投资,应以证券投资为主。其他关于政府不能承诺回购,中央企业不能承诺回购的规定,规范目的显然是不希望政府变相增加负债,不希望中央企业承担过大的风险,都不是对明股实债交易结构本身的否定。因此就目前掌握的资料来看,不存在规范目的在于否定明股实债交易结构的情况。

退一步讲,基本存在否定明股实债交易结构的监管规定,是否一定会导致明股实债相关合同在民事上无效,还要区别对待。只有法律和行政法规层面的强制性监管规定,才能导致民事合同无效,部门规章是没有这个效力的。违反部门规章的管理规定,一般的后果是受到行政处罚,不会导致合同无效。当然,也可以通过援引公序良俗原则,把部门规章的监管规定视为公序良俗,但这样做时要特别的慎重,要有充分的理由。并且一定要保证裁判规则的稳定和可预期,不能肆意认定合同无效,损害交易安全。

三、投资人与目标公司对赌和债权人保护问题

(一)目标公司仅能用可分配利润履行对赌义务,否则会损害债权人利益

在所谓的"对赌协议第一案"甘肃世恒有色资源再利用有限公司、香港迪亚有限公司与苏州工业园区海富投资有限公司、陆波增资纠纷案中,最高法院确立了"投资人可以与目标公司的股东对赌,但与目标公司对赌无效"的裁判规则。这个案件从作出裁判之日,直到今天一直争议不断。根据网上相关文章的报道,中国国际经济贸易仲裁委员会在一起仲裁案件中,裁定过对赌协议有效。贸仲的这个案件经过解读,被认为是对"对赌协议第一案"裁判规则的突破。但有学者分析贸仲的案件,发现该案件中,目标公司履行对赌协议的义务,需要向投资人支付的款项,数额小于其当年可分配利润,目标公司履行对赌协议不会损害债权人的利益。

笔者认为,投资人与目标公司对赌的协议,从效力上讲,应该是有效的。但目标公司履行对赌条款时,涉及到向投资人支付资金的问题。为了保护目标公司债权人的利益,目标公司向投资人支付的资金,应该取自其可分配利润,而不能随意使用注册资本或资本公积支付股权回购款。(可参考刘燕:《对赌协议与公司法资本管制:美国实践及其启示》,《环球法律评论》2016年第3期。)贸仲的案件,仲裁庭裁决对赌协议有效,并使对赌协议获得顺利履行,可能正是因为履行对赌义务的资金,并不超过公司当年的可分配利润。

对赌是明股实债交易的一种类型,对于约定目标公司支付固定收益或约定目标公司回购股权的,也应该适用相同的分析思路,即目标公司履行相关义务时,只能使用可分配利润。

对赌协议问题,在实践中之所以困难。就是因为协议效力和协议履行,要分开对待,超出了一般意义上的有效协议履行时,可以执行债务人一切责任财产,因此使问题变得非常复杂。这个问题真正解决,需要有完善的公司治理结构,以及完备的强制执行规则。比如法院判决:与目标公司对赌协议有效,目标公司应当履行回购义务,但履行回购义务仅能使用可分配利润。就中国目前的强制执行实践来看,很难获得满意的执行。

(二)目标公司为股东履行对赌义务提供担保的,等同于目标公司自身履行义务

由于"对赌协议第一案"的存在,投资人与目标公司对赌效力存在不确定性。于是,实务中产生了投资人与目标公司的股东对赌,由目标公司对股东的对赌义务(如支付业绩补偿、支付固定回报、股权回购等义务)承担保证责任的新交易模式。对于目标公司承担保证责任的行为,效力如何,实践中出现了新的分歧。最高人民法院在(2016)最高法民再128号强静延、曹务波股权转让纠纷再审一案中,判决目标公司为股东的对赌义务提供担保是有效的。由于"对赌协议第一案"判决之后,受到了很多的批评,上述案例一定程度上可以看做对"对赌协议第一案"进行的纠偏。但笔者认为,从分析思路上讲,该案例一二审法院的观点更值得赞同。目标公司为股东履行对赌义务提供担保,从效果上看,等同于目标公司自身履行义务。因此,从统一价值判断的角度看,如果认为目标公司与投资人对赌无效,那么目标公司为股东对赌提供保证同样也应该无效。否则裁判规则就被轻易规避了。

但投资人与目标公司对赌实际上应该是有效的,因此最高法院在上述案例中,判决保证有效是值得赞同的。但目标公司履行保证义务,同样涉及到债权人保护的问题。相关规则应该与目标公司自身对赌时一样,即只能以可分配利润履行保证义务,而不能动用注册资本或资本公积。

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Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

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