Tag: Shareholder activism

Can Institutional Investors Improve Corporate Governance?

Craig Doidge is Professor of Finance at the University of Toronto. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Doidge; Alexander Dyck, Professor of Finance at the University of Toronto; Hamed Mahmudi, Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Oklahoma; and Aazam Virani, Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Arizona.

In our paper, Can Institutional Investors Improve Corporate Governance Through Collective Action?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine whether a collective action organization of institutional investors can significantly influence firms’ governance choices. Growth in institutional investor ownership over the last few decades puts these investors in the position to have significant influence, particularly if they can work collectively and coordinate their efforts. But we have very limited evidence whether institutional investors are able to overcome the obstacles to collective action. We focus on the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance (CCGG), an organization of institutional investors whose mandate is to promote good governance. We use proprietary data on its private communications and find that its private engagements between owners and independent directors influenced firms’ adoption of majority voting and say-on-pay advisory votes, improved compensation structure and disclosure, and influenced CEO incentive intensity.


A New Paradigm for Corporate Governance

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. The study putting forward the empirical evidence on hedge fund activism that the post seeks to question is The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here). Additional posts discussing the Bebchuk-Brav-Jiang study, including additional critiques by Wachtell Lipton and responses to them by Professors Bebchuk, Brav, and Jiang, are available on the Forum here.

Recently, there have been three important studies by prominent economists and law professors, each of which points out serious flaws in the so-called empirical evidence being put forth to justify short-termism, attacks by activist hedge funds and shareholder-centric corporate governance. These new studies show that the so-called empirical evidence omit important control variables, use improper specifications, contain errors and methodological flaws, suffer from selection bias and lack real evidence of causality. In addition, these new studies show that the so-called empirical evidence ignore real-world practical experience and other significant empirical studies that reach contrary conclusions. These new studies are:


Corporate Governance Preferences of Institutional Investors

Joseph Mc Cahery is Professor in the Department of Business Law at Tilburg University. This post is based on an article authored by Prof. McCahery; Zacharias Sautner of Frankfurt School of Finance & Management; and Laura T. Starks of McCombs School of Business, University of Texas at Austin.

We currently have little direct knowledge regarding how institutional investors engage with portfolio companies. The reason is that many interactions occur behind the scenes. That is, unless institutional investors publicly express their approval or disapproval of a firm’s activities or management, little is known about their preferences and private engagements with portfolio firms. In our paper, Behind the Scenes: The Corporate Governance Preferences of Institutional Investors, forthcoming in the Journal of Finance, we try to rectify this knowledge gap by conducting a survey among 143 institutional investors.

Institutional investors have two active choices when they become unhappy with a portfolio firm: (i) they can engage with management to try to institute change (“voice” or direct intervention); or (ii) they can leave the firm by selling shares (“exit” or “voting with their feet”). Theoretical models have documented the governance benefits of corrective actions through voice. These theories have recently been complemented by models showing that the threat of exit can also discipline management (e.g., Admati and Pfleiderer (2009), Edmans (2009), and Edmans and Manso (2011)). This raises the question of whether institutional investors, in response to dissatisfaction with portfolio firms, take actions that support the validity of these theories.


Proxy Access Bylaw Developments and Trends

Janet T. Geldzahler is of counsel at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Ms. Geldzahler, H. Rodgin Cohen, Robert W. Reeder III, and Marc Trevino. The complete publication, including Annexes, is available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Lucian Bebchuk’s The Case for Shareholder Access to the Ballot and The Myth of the Shareholder Franchise (discussed on the Forum here), and Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

The significant success of shareholder proxy access proposals this year is likely to result in even more shareholder proposals for proxy access in the 2016 proxy season. As of August 13, 2015, 82 shareholder proxy access proposals have come to a vote in 2015, and 48 have passed. In many cases, shareholder proposals were approved despite a pre-existing bylaw (most often adopted after the receipt of the shareholder proposal) or a conflicting proposal by the company with modestly more restrictive terms. The average vote in favor of all proposals was 54.4%, and ISS recommended for all shareholder proxy access proposals.

This post summarizes developments in the area of proxy access, including an analysis of the record of company responses to shareholder proxy access proposals received during 2015 (with further detail set forth in Annex A of the complete publication). Those companies that receive a proxy access shareholder proposal or that are evaluating preemptive adoption of a proxy access provision will want to consider the appropriate terms and requirements. In all cases, as a matter of preparedness, companies should be aware of options to respond to potential shareholder proxy access proposals. For more information regarding shareholder proposals generally, our 2015 Proxy Season Review (discussed on the Forum here), which we distributed on July 20, details the results of these proposals during the 2015 proxy seasons.


FTC Charges Activist Hedge Fund

Sabastian V. Niles is counsel in the Corporate Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Niles, Nelson O. Fitts, and Franco Castelli.

Yesterday [August 24, 2015], the Federal Trade Commission announced that Dan Loeb’s Third Point had settled a complaint charging violations of the notification and waiting period requirements of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act in connection with purchases of Yahoo! stock in 2011.

The HSR Act requires that acquirors notify the federal antitrust agencies of transactions that meet applicable thresholds and observe a pre-acquisition waiting period. Acquisitions of up to 10% of a company’s voting stock are exempt if made solely for the purpose of investment, and the acquirer “has no intention of participating in the formulation, determination, or direction of the basic business decisions of the issuer.” Buyers who intend to be involved in the management of the target company or to seek representation on its board of directors are not eligible for the exemption. HSR requirements have historically been enforced strictly and narrowly against public companies, officers, directors, and investors, without deference or favor to any particular class of violator.


Institutional Investors and Corporate Short-Termism

Robert C. Pozen is a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. This post is based on an article forthcoming in the Financial Analysts Journal. 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).

Across the world, a clamor is rising against corporate short-termism—the undue attention to quarterly earnings at the expense of long-term sustainable growth. In one survey of chief financial officers, the majority of respondents reported that they would forgo current spending on profitable long-term projects to avoid missing earnings estimates for the upcoming quarter.

Critics of short-termism have singled out a set of culprits—activist hedge funds that acquire 1% or 2% of a company’s stock and then push hard for measures designed to boost the stock price quickly but unsustainably. The typical activist program involves raising dividends, increasing stock buybacks, or spinning off corporate divisions—usually accompanied by a request for board seats.


Preliminary 2015 Proxy Season Review

Subodh Mishra is Executive Director for Communications and Head of Governance Exchange at Institutional Shareholder Services. This post is based on an ISS white paper by Patrick McGurn, Special Counsel and Head of Strategic Research and Analysis, and Edward Kamonjoh, U.S. Head of Strategic Research and Analysis. The complete publication is available here.

Momentum is the buzzword that best describes the 2015 Proxy Season in the U.S. market. Some issues, such as proxy access, hit the ground running and emerged as ballot box juggernauts. Other topics, such as calls for independent board chairs and heightened scrutiny of human rights, stumbled and lost ground. Some new ideas, such as hybrid climate change risk initiatives aimed at impacting board deliberations on compensation and CAPEX, failed to catch fire. Despite the rising proxy access tide, E&S proposals swamped their governance and compensation cousins in the pre-season family reunion headcount. However, big submission numbers failed to translate into growing support. Just one environmental proposal managed to win majority support in the year’s first six months.


2015 Activism Update

Eduardo Gallardo is a partner focusing on mergers and acquisitions at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert. The full publication, including tables, is available here. 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), The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here), The Law and Economics of Blockholder Disclosure by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson Jr. (discussed on the Forum here), and Pre-Disclosure Accumulations by Activist Investors: Evidence and Policy by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Robert J. Jackson Jr., and Wei Jiang.

This post provides an update on shareholder activism activity involving publicly traded domestic companies during the first half of 2015. At the midway point of 2015, shareholder activism shows no signs of slowing. In fact, our survey for the first half of 2015 includes nearly as many activist campaigns as did our survey for all of 2014.

Although funds continue to make news with activist campaigns involving large domestic companies, the most notable trend is the sheer number of funds involved in activist campaigns that are captured by our survey: 42 funds in just the first half of 2015 versus 35 funds for all of 2014.

In all, our 2015 Mid-Year Activism Update covers 56 public activist campaigns at 50 unique domestic companies by 42 unique investors during the period from January 1, 2015 to June 30, 2015. Ten of those companies faced advances from at least two activist investors. Market capitalizations of the targets range from just above our study’s $1 billion minimum to approximately $120 billion.


An Interview with Chief Justice Strine

Judy Warner is editor-in-chief of NACD Directorship. This post is based on an interview between Ms. Warner and Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. The full interview is available here. Research by Chief Justice Strine recently issued by the Program on Corporate Governance includes A Job is Not a Hobby: The Judicial Revival of Corporate Paternalism, discussed on the Forum here; and Can We Do Better by Ordinary Investors? A Pragmatic Reaction to the Dueling Ideological Mythologists of Corporate Law, discussed on the Forum here. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

As your predecessor Chief Justice Myron Steele was stepping down in 2013, Directorship asked him if he had any words of advice for his successor. Chief Justice Steele suggested that his successor be prepared for crisis management because you never know what’s going to happen. So, I’m curious: have you had a crisis so far?

We’ve had a crisis. For example, we’re dealing very much this week with an emerging development that’s affecting our entire state government around the cost of health insurance for our employees. There are very tough choices that have to be made, that regardless of which choice is going to be made, it’s going to have an influence on the ability of our government to fund other priorities.

What you have to do in all these things is understand that life is sort of a series of planned emergencies. What we have tried to do is identify a set of priorities for future action that builds on existing achievements. I’m very fortunate I had a wonderful predecessor and friend in Myron Steele, who cares very much about our judiciary and worked very hard. I had a very high-quality predecessor, and I can build off that platform of making a very good organization.


Prices and Informed Trading

Vyacheslav Fos is Assistant Professor of Finance at Boston College. This post is based on an article by Professor Fos and Pierre Collin-Dufresne, Professor of Finance at the Swiss Finance Institute. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Pre-Disclosure Accumulations by Activist Investors: Evidence and Policy by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Robert J. Jackson Jr., and Wei Jiang; and The Law and Economics of Blockholder Disclosure by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson Jr. (discussed on the Forum here).

In our paper, Do Prices Reveal the Presence of Informed Trading?, forthcoming in the Journal of Finance, we study how empirical measures of stock illiquidity and of adverse selection respond to informed trading by activist shareholders.

An extensive body of theory suggests that stock illiquidity, as measured by the bid-ask spread and by the price impact of trades, should be increasing in the information asymmetry between market participants. An extensive empirical literature employing these illiquidity measures thus assumes that they capture information asymmetry. But, do these empirical measures of adverse selection actually increase with information asymmetry? To test this question one would ideally separate informed from uninformed trades ex-ante and measure their relative impact on price changes. However, since we generally do not know the traders’ information sets, this is hard to do in practice.


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  • Programs Faculty & Senior Fellows

    Lucian Bebchuk
    Alon Brav
    Robert Charles Clark
    John Coates
    Alma Cohen
    Stephen M. Davis
    Allen Ferrell
    Jesse Fried
    Oliver Hart
    Ben W. Heineman, Jr.
    Scott Hirst
    Howell Jackson
    Robert J. Jackson, Jr.
    Wei Jiang
    Reinier Kraakman
    Robert Pozen
    Mark Ramseyer
    Mark Roe
    Robert Sitkoff
    Holger Spamann
    Guhan Subramanian

  • Program on Corporate Governance Advisory Board

    William Ackman
    Peter Atkins
    Joseph Bachelder
    John Bader
    Allison Bennington
    Daniel Burch
    Richard Climan
    Jesse Cohn
    Isaac Corré
    Scott Davis
    John Finley
    David Fox
    Stephen Fraidin
    Byron Georgiou
    Larry Hamdan
    Carl Icahn
    Jack B. Jacobs
    Paula Loop
    David Millstone
    Theodore Mirvis
    James Morphy
    Toby Myerson
    Morton Pierce
    Barry Rosenstein
    Paul Rowe
    Rodman Ward