Tag: Institutional Investors


Public Pension Funds’ Shareholder-Proposal Activism

James R. Copland is the director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy. The following post is based on a report from the Proxy Monitor project; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

America’s largest publicly traded companies are facing more shareholder proposals in 2015, driven principally by a “proxy access” campaign led by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who oversees the city’s $160 billion pension funds for public employees. Elected in 2013, Stringer has launched a Boardroom Accountability Project seeking, in part, proxy access, which grants shareholders with a certain percentage of a company’s outstanding shares the right to list a certain number of candidates for the company’s board of directors on the company’s proxy statement. As noted in an earlier finding, Comptroller Stringer’s proxy-access campaign has won substantial shareholder support at most companies where his proposal was introduced.

Although it is too soon to assess the impact of Comptroller Stringer’s push for proxy access, we can evaluate shareholder-proposal activism by state and municipal public employee pension funds in previous years. From 2006 to the present, state and municipal pension funds have sponsored 300 shareholder proposals at Fortune 250 companies. More than two-thirds of these were introduced by the pension funds for the public employees of New York City and State.

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Some Lessons from BlackRock, Vanguard and DuPont

Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here) and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here).

Recent statements by the CEOs of BlackRock and Vanguard rejecting activism and supporting investment for long-term value creation and their support of DuPont in its proxy fight with Trian, prompt the thought that activism is moving in-house at these and other major investors and a new paradigm for corporate governance and portfolio oversight is emerging.

An instructive statement by the investors is that they view a company’s directors as their agents; that they want to know the directors and have access to the directors; that they want their opinions heard; and that their relations with the company and their support for its management and board will depend on appropriate discussion of, and response to, their opinions.

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Getting to Know You: The Case for Significant Shareholder Engagement

F. William McNabb III is Chairman and CEO of Vanguard. This post is based on Mr. McNabb’s recent keynote address at Lazard’s 2015 Director Event, “Shareholder Expectations: The New Paradigm for Directors.”

I’ll begin my remarks with a premise. It’s a simple belief that I have. And that is: Corporate governance should not be a mystery. For corporate boards, the way large investors vote their shares should not be a mystery. And for investors, the way corporate boards govern their companies should not be a mystery. I believe we’re moving in a direction where there is less mystery on both sides, but each side still has some work to do in how it tells its respective stories.

So let me start by telling you a little bit about Vanguard’s story and our perspective. I’ll start with an anecdote that I believe is illustrative of some of the headwinds that we all face in our efforts to improve governance: “We didn’t think you cared.” A couple of years ago, we engaged with a very large firm on the West Coast. We had some specific concerns about a proposal that was coming to a vote, and we told them so.

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New Investor Guide on Engaging on ESG Issues

Elizabeth Ising is a partner and Co-Chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance Monitor blog post by Ms. Ising.

On May 28, 2015, BlackRock and Ceres released a guide for investors on engaging with public companies, asset managers and policymakers on environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) sustainability matters. The guide, titled “21st Century Engagement: Investor Strategies for Incorporating ESG Considerations into Corporate Interactions,” includes sections written by BlackRock and Ceres as well as AFL-CIO, California Public Employees Retirement System (“CalPERS”), California State Teachers Retirement System (“CalSTRS”), Council of Institutional Investors (“CII”), International Corporate Governance Network (“ICGN”), the Office of New York City Comptroller, New York State Common Retirement Fund, North Carolina Department of State Treasurer, PGGM, State Board of Administration of Florida, TIAA-CREF, T. Rowe Price and UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust.

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Proxy Monitor 2015 Mid-Season Report

James R. Copland is the director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy. The following post is based on a memorandum from the Proxy Monitor project, available here.

As we near the close of corporate America’s “proxy season”—the period between mid-April and mid-June when most large, publicly traded corporations in the United States hold annual meetings to vote on company business, including resolutions introduced by shareholders—a clear picture has begun to emerge. By May 27, 2015, 211 of the nation’s 250 largest companies by revenues, as listed by Fortune magazine and in the Manhattan Institute’s ProxyMonitor.org database, had filed proxy documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission. This post bases its analysis on those companies’ filings, as well as voting results for 186 of those companies that had held their annual meetings by May 22.

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Foreign Institutional Ownership and the Global Convergence of Financial Reporting

Vivian Fang is an Assistant Professor of Accounting at the University of Minnesota. This post based on an article by Professor Fang, Mark Maffett, Assistant Professor of Accounting at the University of Chicago, and Bohui Zhang, Associate Professor at the School of Banking and Finance, University of New South Wales.

In our recent paper, Foreign Institutional Ownership and the Global Convergence of Financial Reporting Practices, forthcoming in the Journal of Accounting Research, we examine the role of foreign institutional investors in the global convergence of financial reporting practices. Regulators frequently espouse comparability as a desirable characteristic of financial reporting to facilitate investment decision-making and allocation of capital. Over the past 15 years, significant regulatory effort has gone into promoting comparability, the most prominent example of which is the International Accounting Standards Board’s (IASB) push for global adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). However, recent research (e.g., Daske, Hail, Leuz, and Verdi [2008], Christensen, Hail, and Leuz [2013]) shows that mandating the use of a common set of accounting standards alone is unlikely to achieve financial reporting convergence.

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Harmony or Dissonance? The Good Governance Ideas of Academics and Worldly Players

Robert C. Clark is University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard Law School. His article, Harmony or Dissonance? The Good Governance Ideas of Academics and Worldly Players, was recently published in the Spring 2015 issue of The Business Lawyer and is available here.

There are numerous players who have ideas about what are good or best corporate governance practices, but different players have different themes. My article, Harmony or Dissonance? The Good Governance Ideas of Academics and Worldly Players, originally delivered as a special lecture and recently published in The Business Lawyer, asks questions concerning ideas about what constitutes good corporate governance that are espoused by different players.

The article dwells briefly on seven categories of players: (1) academics, such as financial economists and law professors who resort heavily to empirical studies; and more worldly players such as (2) legislators, (3) governance rating firms, (4) large institutional investors, (5) corporate directors, (6) law firms that represent corporate clients on the defensive, and (7) courts. Are there discernible trends and patterns in the views espoused by these different categories of actors, despite all the differences among individual actors within each category? I believe there are such patterns, and offer some initial thoughts about the characteristic themes and different patterns of ideas about good corporate governance that we observe among the different categories of players. I then hypothesize about the reasons for these differences. My approach focuses on the motives and incentives driving the different players and how they take shape in the occupational situations inhabited by the players.

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Dealing with Activist Hedge Funds

Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton and Sabastian V. Niles. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here) and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here).

Today, regardless of industry, no company can consider itself immune from hedge fund activism. Indeed, no company is too large, too popular or too successful, and even companies that are respected industry leaders and have outperformed the market and peers have come under fire. Among the major companies that have been targeted are Amgen, Apple, Microsoft, Sony, General Motors, Qualcomm, Hess, P&G, eBay, Transocean, ITW, DuPont, and PepsiCo. There are more than 100 hedge funds that have engaged in activism. Activist hedge funds are estimated to have over $200 billion of assets under management, and have become an “asset class” that continues to attract investment from major traditional institutional investors. The additional capital and relationships between activists and institutional investors encourages increasingly aggressive activist attacks.

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Institutional Investing When Shareholders Are Not Supreme

Anne Tucker is Associate Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law. This post is based on an article that first appeared in the Harvard Business Law Review, authored by Professor Tucker, and Christopher Geczy, Jessica Jeffers and David Musto, all of the Department of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania.

Signs of the public’s appetite for alternative business forms, such as benefit corporations, [1] that blend profit with purpose include the success of get-one-give-one brands like Warby Parker, and Etsy’s recent $300 million IPO, which made it the second (and largest) B Corp to go public. The success of alternative business forms will also depend, in part, on acceptance by institutional investors, as companies would likely suffer without access to their trillions in assets under management.

The question of institutions’ attitudes toward investing in alternative business forms prompted our recent research, Institutional Investing When Shareholders Are Not Supreme. [2] We address the question by gauging institutional investors’ response to decreased pressure on public firms to maximize shareholder value caused by the passage of constituency statutes. Why constituency statutes? Constituency statutes, first passed as takeover defenses in the 1980’s, explicitly extended directors’ discretion to consider non-shareholder interests in takeover, and sometimes other, circumstances. [3] The changes imposed by constituency statutes were smaller in scope (permissive director discretion in limited circumstances) than the changes codified in benefit corporation legislation (mandatory director consideration of a broader range of circumstances), but constituency statutes were the first codification of directors’ ability to reject a potentially profit maximizing endeavor because of other, non-shareholder concerns. [4] We didn’t rely solely on the statutory language to demonstrate that constituency statutes constituted a legal change; we analyzed thirty years’ worth of case citations to conclude that the statutes, as enforced, expanded boards’ rights to serve nonshareholder interests as opposed to maintaining the status quo. [5] Constituency statutes, at the time of their initial passage, sparked a large body of corporate legal scholarship theorizing the impact (and legality) of reducing pressure to maximize shareholder value. [6] We reviewed this initial debate in our paper because it mirrors, in many respects, the rhetoric and theory evoked in today’s alternative business form debate.

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Human Rights Through A Corporate Governance Lens

George Dallas is Policy Director at International Corporate Governance Network (ICGN). The following post is based on an ICGN publication by Mr. Dallas and Lauren Compere, Managing Director at Boston Common Asset Management; the complete publication, including annexes, is available here.

Human rights [1] are attracting increasing attention from a corporate governance perspective as a dimension of both business ethics and enterprise risk management for companies. Indeed, the ethical and risk dimensions are in many ways intertwined, insofar as ethical lapses or inattention to human rights practices by companies may not only breach the human rights of those affected by corporate behaviour, but may also have material commercial consequences for the company itself. In extreme cases human rights problems can pose a franchise risk to companies [2]; in lesser cases these can increase costs and damage valuable relationships with stakeholders.

In a broad governance context human rights cannot be simply framed as a reputational or “non-financial” risk; the consequences of poor human rights practices can materially impact a company’s stakeholder relations, financial performance and prospects for sustainable value creation. Accordingly, human rights is an issue warranting greater attention from long-term investors as a matter of investment analysis, valuation and engagement with companies.

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  • Programs Faculty & Senior Fellows

    Lucian Bebchuk
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    Robert Charles Clark
    John Coates
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    Allen Ferrell
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    Ben W. Heineman, Jr.
    Scott Hirst
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