Over the last several years, we’ve observed certain trends that are shaping corporate governance and which we believe will impact the board of the future. We structured our 2014 Annual Corporate Directors Survey to get directors’ views on these trends and other topics including:
Shareholder activism continued to thrive in the 2014 proxy season, spurring corporate action as well as renewed engagement between issuers and investors. While the total number of shareholder proposals declined in 2014, lively activity continued with calls for independent chairs as well as burgeoning growth for social issues. And while few in number, change-in-control payout proposals were notably successful for the first time this year, while equity retention proposals continued to have a weak showing. In addition, support for proxy access proposals also grew at a rate greater than any other type of proposal.
Leo Strine, Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, and the Austin Wakeman Scott Lecturer on Law and a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance, gave a lecture to a the Delaware Business Law Forum that will be published in The Business Lawyer in May, next year. The essay, titled Documenting The Deal: How Quality Control And Candor Can Improve Boardroom Decision-making And Reduce The Litigation Target Zone, is available here.
My essay, Morrison at Four: A Survey of Its Impact on Securities Litigation, published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform as part of a collection of essays on the shifting legal landscape governing federal claims involving foreign disputes, recounts the extraordinary impact of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd., 561 U.S. 247 (2010), in the realm of securities litigation.
If the institutions of a country (e.g., property rights and contracting institutions) jeopardize the quality of its financial market, can the market by itself put in force corrective mechanisms that counterbalance and offset such negative impact? This question is at the core of modern financial economics because it essentially asks whether the market plays a more fundamental role than institutions in shaping modern financial activities, or the other way around. While the role of institutions has many facets and is subtle in nature, in our paper, Mutual Funds and Information Diffusion: The Role of Country-Level Governance, forthcoming in the November issue of the Review of Financial Studies, we focus on one unique element of the market—the global mutual fund industry—to provide some new insights.
Calls for independent board chairs were the most prevalent type of shareholder proposal offered for consideration at U.S. companies’ annual meetings in 2014. As of June 30, 62 of these proposals have come to a shareholder vote, up from 55 resolutions over the same time period in 2013. Notably, the number of proposals calling for independent board chairs has more than doubled over the past five years. Under the current policy formulation, ISS recommended against 32 of these 62 proposals in 2014. In line with results from recent seasons, independent chair proposals received average support of 31.2 percent of votes cast at 2014 meetings. Only four of these proposals received the support of a majority of votes cast.
In our paper, What Happens in Nevada? Self-Selecting into Lax Law, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we study the financial reporting behavior of firms that incorporate in Nevada, the second most popular state for out-of-state incorporations, after Delaware. Compared to Delaware, Nevada law has weak fiduciary requirements for corporate managers and board members. We find evidence consistent with the idea that lax shareholder protection under Nevada law induces firms prone to financial reporting errors to incorporate in Nevada, and that lax Nevada law may also cause firms to engage in risky reporting behavior.  In particular, we find that Nevada-incorporated firms are 30 – 40% more likely to report financial results that later require restatement than firms incorporated in other states, including Delaware. These results hold when we narrow our set of restatements to more serious infractions, including restatements that reduce reported earnings, and to restatements that raise suspicions of fraud or lead to regulatory investigations.
Yesterday evening, Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) announced its third iteration of the Governance QuickScore product, with QuickScore 3.0 scheduled to be launched on November 24, 2014 for the 2015 proxy season. Companies will have from November 3rd until 8pm Eastern time on November 14th to verify the underlying raw data and submit updates and corrections through ISS’s data review and verification site. ISS currently plans to release the new ratings on November 24th for inclusion in proxy research reports issued to institutional shareholders. Ratings should be updated based on companies’ public disclosures during the calendar year.
The term “shadow banking system” refers to the institutions that do not hold a banking license, but perform the basic functions of banks by refinancing loans to the economy with the issuance of money-like liabilities. Roughly speaking, licensed banks refinance the loans that they hold on their balance sheets with deposits or interbank borrowing, whereas the shadow banking system refinances securities backed by loan portfolios with quasi-deposits such as money market funds shares.
On October 15, 2014, Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) released proposed amendments to its proxy voting policies for the 2015 proxy season. ISS is seeking comments by 6:00 p.m. EDT on October 29, 2014.  ISS has stated that it expects to release its final 2015 policies on or around November 7, 2014. The policies as revised will apply to meetings held on or after February 1, 2015.