Tag: Shareholder voting


Financial Innovation and Governance Mechanisms

The following post comes to us from Henry T. C. Hu, Allan Shivers Chair in the Law of Banking and Finance at the University of Texas School of Law.

The following post comes to us from Henry T. C. Hu, Allan Shivers Chair in the Law of Banking and Finance at the University of Texas School of Law.

Financial innovation has fundamental implications for the key substantive and information-based mechanisms of corporate governance. My new article, Financial Innovation and Governance Mechanisms: The Evolution of Decoupling and Transparency (forthcoming in Business Lawyer, Spring 2015) focuses on two phenomena: “decoupling” (e.g., “empty voting,” “empty crediting,” and “hidden [morphable] ownership”) and the structural transparency challenges posed by financial innovation (and by the primary governmental response to such challenges). In decoupling, much has happened since the 2006-2008 series of sole- and co-authored articles (generally with Bernard Black and one with Jay Westbrook) developed and refined the pertinent analytical framework. In transparency, the analytical framework for “information,” developed and refined in 2012-2014, can contribute not only to the comprehensive new SEC “disclosure effectiveness” initiative but also to resolving complications arising from the creation of a new parallel public disclosure system—the first new system since the creation of the SEC.

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Shareholder Activism: Who, What, When, and How?

Mary Ann Cloyd is leader of the Center for Board Governance at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The following post is based on a PricewaterhouseCoopers publication, available here.

Mary Ann Cloyd is leader of the Center for Board Governance at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The following post is based on a PricewaterhouseCoopers publication, available here.

Who are today’s activists and what do they want?

Shareholder activism spectrum

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“Activism” represents a range of activities by one or more of a publicly traded corporation’s shareholders that are intended to result in some change in the corporation. The activities fall along a spectrum based on the significance of the desired change and the assertiveness of the investors’ activities. On the more aggressive end of the spectrum is hedge fund activism that seeks a significant change to the company’s strategy, financial structure, management, or board. On the other end of the spectrum are one-on-one engagements between shareholders and companies triggered by Dodd-Frank’s “say on pay” advisory vote.

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A Say on “Say-on-Pay”: Assessing Impact After Four Years

Joseph Bachelder is special counsel in the Tax, Employee Benefits & Private Clients practice group at McCarter & English, LLP. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Bachelder, with assistance from Andy Tsang, which first appeared in the New York Law Journal.

Joseph Bachelder is special counsel in the Tax, Employee Benefits & Private Clients practice group at McCarter & English, LLP. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Bachelder, with assistance from Andy Tsang, which first appeared in the New York Law Journal.

The 2015 proxy season is the fifth one in which shareholders of thousands of publicly traded corporations have cast non-binding votes on the executive pay programs of the companies in which they are invested. The holding of such a vote, commonly known as Say-on-Pay, is required under Section 951 of the Dodd-Frank law. [1] That requirement applies to most publicly traded companies. Following are some observations on Say-on-Pay.

Results of Votes

In each of the four years of Say-on-Pay—2011-2014 proxy seasons—at the Russell 3000 companies holding Say-on-Pay votes (i) the executive pay program received favorable votes from over 90 percent of the shareholders voting at 75 percent of those companies and (ii) 60 or fewer companies had a majority of votes cast disapproving the executive pay program. [2]

Evaluating the Impact

Following are two propositions on how well Say-on-Pay is working.

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Ensuring the Proxy Process Works for Shareholders

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent public statement; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent public statement; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Today’s [February 19, 2015] Roundtable on Proxy Voting is certainly timely since over the course of the next several months, thousands of America’s public companies will hold annual shareholders meetings to elect directors and to vote on many important corporate governance issues. The start of the annual “proxy season” is an appropriate time to consider the annual process by which companies communicate with their shareholders and get their input on a variety of issues. Whether it’s voting on directors, executive compensation matters, or other significant matters, the annual meeting is the principal opportunity for shareholders—the true owners of public companies—to have their voices heard by the corporate managers of their investments. At these annual meetings, shareholders can express their support, or disappointment, with the direction of their companies through the exercise of their right to vote.

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Understanding Director Elections

The following post comes to us from Yonca Ertimur of the Accounting Division at the University of Colorado at Boulder; Fabrizio Ferri of the Accounting Division at Columbia University; and David Oesch of the Department of Financial Accounting at the University of Zurich.

The following post comes to us from Yonca Ertimur of the Accounting Division at the University of Colorado at Boulder; Fabrizio Ferri of the Accounting Division at Columbia University; and David Oesch of the Department of Financial Accounting at the University of Zurich.

In the paper Understanding Director Elections: Determinants and Consequences, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we provide an in-depth examination of uncontested director elections. Using a hand-collected and comprehensive sample for director elections held at S&P 500 firms over the 2003–2010 period, we examine the factors driving shareholder votes in uncontested director elections, the effect of these votes on firms’ actions and the impact of these actions on firm value. We make three contributions.

First, it is well known that recommendations by the proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) play a key role in determining the voting outcome. Yet, the question of what factors drive ISS recommendations and, thus, shareholder votes in uncontested director elections remains largely unanswered. To fill this gap, we use the reports ISS releases to its clients ahead of the annual meeting and identify the specific reasons underlying negative ISS recommendations. We find that 38.1% of the negative recommendations target individual directors (reflecting concerns with independence, meeting attendance and number of directorships), 28.6% target an entire committee (usually the compensation committee), and the remaining 33.3% target the entire board (mostly for lack of responsiveness to shareholder proposals receiving a majority vote in the past). A withhold recommendation by ISS is associated with about 20% more votes withheld, in line with prior research. More relevant to our study, there is substantial variation in votes withheld from directors conditional on the underlying reason. A board-level ISS withhold recommendation is associated with 25.48% more votes withheld, versus 19.73% and 16.44%, respectively, for committee- and individual-level withhold recommendations. The sensitivity of shareholder votes to ISS withhold recommendations is higher when there are multiple reasons underlying the withhold recommendation for the director (a proxy for more severe concerns) and at firms with poorer governance structures. These results suggest that shareholders do not blindly follow ISS recommendations but seem to take into account their rationale, their severity and other contextual factors (e.g. governance of the firm). However, cases of high votes withheld without a negative proxy advisor recommendation are rare, suggesting that voting shareholders only focus on the issues singled out by proxy advisors, potentially at the expense of other value-relevant factors (e.g. directors’ skill set, expertise and experience) for which proxy advisors have not (yet) developed voting guidelines (perhaps due to lack of sophistication or the inherent complexity of the issue).

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Ownership Structure, Voting, and Risk

The following post comes to us from Amrita Dhillon, Professor of Economics at King’s College London, and Silvia Rossetto of the Toulouse School of Economics at the University of Toulouse.

The following post comes to us from Amrita Dhillon, Professor of Economics at King’s College London, and Silvia Rossetto of the Toulouse School of Economics at the University of Toulouse.

In our paper Ownership Structure, Voting and Risk, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we investigate the interaction between the ownership structure of publicly traded firms and their risk profiles. In particular, we show how the potential for conflict of interest between shareholders on risk decisions may cause the emergence of activist mid-sized investors. In turn, ownership structure affects the risk decisions that firms make.

It is natural to believe that the choice of shares to hold in a company is a trade off between diversification and control: large size comes with control at the cost of diversification. Many firms, however, have mid-sized shareholders who are neither well diversified nor have control. For example, in the United States (where it is widely agreed that regulation helps dispersed ownership), 67% of public firms have more than one shareholder with a stake larger than 5%, while only 13% are widely held and 20% have only one blockholder (Dlugosz et al., 2006). In Europe (where concentrated ownership is the norm), in eight out of the nine largest stock markets of the European Union, the median size of the second largest voting block in large publicly listed companies exceeds five percent (data from the European Corporate Governance Network). Why do such mid-sized shareholders emerge?

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Shareholder Proposals on Social and Environmental Issues

Matteo Tonello is managing director of corporate leadership at The Conference Board. This post relates to an issue of The Conference Board’s Director Notes series authored by Melissa Aguilar and Thomas Singer. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Matteo Tonello is managing director of corporate leadership at The Conference Board. This post relates to an issue of The Conference Board’s Director Notes series authored by Melissa Aguilar and Thomas Singer. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Political spending and climate change, key topics during the 2014 proxy season, are expected to feature heavily again in 2015 shareholder proposals. This post reviews the content of the social and environmental proposals voted on most frequently by shareholders of Russell 3000 companies during the 2014 season, including the topics that received the highest average shareholder support. The complete publication provides examples of proposal text and sponsor supporting statements, as well as board responses and related corporate disclosure.

Nearly 40 percent of all shareholder proposals submitted at Russell 3000 companies that held meetings during the first half of 2014 were related to social and environmental policy issues, up from 29.2 percent in 2010, as documented in Proxy Voting Analytics (2010-2014). Social and environmental policy proposals now represent the second-largest category of the subjects in terms of both the number submitted and the number voted, narrowly behind corporate governance.

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The Efficacy of Shareholder Voting in Staggered and Non-Staggered Boards

The following post comes to us from Ronen Gal-Or and Udi Hoitash, both of the Department of Accounting at Northeastern University, and Rani Hoitash of the Department of Accountancy at Bentley University. Recent work from the Program on Corporate Governance about staggered boards includes: How Do Staggered Boards Affect Shareholder Value? Evidence from a Natural Experiment (discussed on the Forum here).

The following post comes to us from Ronen Gal-Or and Udi Hoitash, both of the Department of Accounting at Northeastern University, and Rani Hoitash of the Department of Accountancy at Bentley University. Recent work from the Program on Corporate Governance about staggered boards includes: How Do Staggered Boards Affect Shareholder Value? Evidence from a Natural Experiment (discussed on the Forum here).

In our paper, The Efficacy of Shareholder Voting in Staggered and Non-Staggered Boards: The Case of Audit Committee Elections, which was recently made available on SSRN, we study the efficacy of audit committee member elections in staggered and non-staggered boards.

Voting in director elections and auditor ratifications is a primary mechanism shareholders can use to voice their opinion. Past research shows that shareholders cast votes against directors that exhibit poor performance, and these votes, in turn, are associated with subsequent board reaction. However, because a significant number of U.S. public companies have staggered boards, not all directors are up for election every year. Therefore, the efficacy of shareholder votes may not be uniform. Under the staggered board voting regime, shareholders and proxy advising firms can typically voice their opinion on any given director only once every three years. This election structure may increase the likelihood that directors who are not up for election following poor performance will be insulated from the scrutiny of shareholders and proxy advisors. In turn, this may influence the accountability of staggered directors and the overall efficacy of shareholder votes.

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ESG Risks and Opportunities Facing Investee Companies

The following post comes to us from Rakhi Kumar, Head of Corporate Governance at State Street Global Advisors, and is based on an SSgA publication; the complete publication is available here.

The following post comes to us from Rakhi Kumar, Head of Corporate Governance at State Street Global Advisors, and is based on an SSgA publication; the complete publication is available here.

As part of our active ownership process, State Street Global Advisors (“SSgA”) considers environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) matters while evaluating and engaging with investee companies. SSgA believes that ESG factors can impact the reputation of companies and can also create significant operational risks and costs to businesses. Conversely, well-developed corporate social responsibility (“CSR”) programs [1] can generate efficiencies, enhance productivity and mitigate risks, all of which impact shareholder value.

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ISS and Glass Lewis Update Proxy Voting Guidelines for 2015

The following post comes to us from Yafit Cohn, Associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, and is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum.

The following post comes to us from Yafit Cohn, Associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, and is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum.

Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis have both released updates to their respective proxy voting guidelines. [1] ISS’s revised policies will take effect for annual meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2015. Glass Lewis’s new policies will take effect for meetings occurring after January 1, 2015, while its clarifications of existing policies are effective immediately.

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