ISS and Glass Lewis Voting Guidelines for 2015 Proxy Season

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Thursday November 20, 2014 at 9:39 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Edmond T. FitzGerald, partner and head of the Executive Compensation Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum by Kyoko T. Lin and Ning Chiu.

ISS and Glass Lewis, two influential proxy advisory firms, have both released updates to their policies that govern recommendations for how shareholders should cast their votes on significant ballot items for the 2015 proxy season, including governance, compensation and environmental and social matters.

ISS policy updates are effective for annual meetings after February 1, 2015. We understand that the new Glass Lewis policies are effective for annual meetings after January 1, 2015, but clarifications to existing policies are effective immediately.

…continue reading: ISS and Glass Lewis Voting Guidelines for 2015 Proxy Season

Proxy Access Proposals for the 2015 Proxy Season

Posted by David A. Katz, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on Friday November 7, 2014 at 5:04 pm
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Editor’s Note: David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, and complex securities transactions. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum. Work from the Program on Corporate Governance about proxy access includes Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

A number of U.S. companies have recently received “proxy access” shareholder proposals submitted under SEC Rule 14a-8. Many of the recipients have been targeted under the New York City Comptroller’s new “2015 Boardroom Accountability Project,” which is seeking to install proxy access at 75 U.S. publicly traded companies reflecting diverse industries and market capitalizations. Underlying the Comptroller’s selection of targets is a stated focus on climate change, board diversity and executive compensation.

…continue reading: Proxy Access Proposals for the 2015 Proxy Season

Proxy Access in the US

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Wednesday October 22, 2014 at 9:02 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Matt Orsagh, director at CFA Institute, and is based on the summary of a CFA publication, titled Proxy Access in the United States: Revisiting the Proposed SEC Rule; the complete publication is available here.

In this summary of CFA Institute findings, we take a brief look at the history of proxy access, discuss the pertinent academic studies, examine the benefits and limits of cost–benefit analysis, analyze the use of proxy access in non-US jurisdictions, and draw some conclusions.

How We Got Here

Proxy access refers to the ability of shareowners to place their nominees for director on a company’s proxy ballot. This right is available in many markets, though not in the United States. Supporters of proxy access argue that it increases the accountability of corporate boards by allowing shareowners to nominate a limited number of board directors. Afraid that special-interest groups could hijack the process, opponents of proxy access are also concerned about its cost and are not convinced that proxy access would improve either company or board performance.

…continue reading: Proxy Access in the US

Important Proxy Advisor Developments

Posted by David A. Katz, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on Monday September 29, 2014 at 9:08 am
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Editor’s Note: David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and complex securities transactions. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh that first appeared in the New York Law Journal; the full article, including footnotes, is available here.

As 2014 winds down and 2015 approaches, proxy advisory firms—and the investment managers who hire them—are finding themselves under increased scrutiny. Staff guidance issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission at the end of June and a working paper published in August by SEC Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher both indicate that oversight of proxy advisory services will be a significant focus for the SEC during next year’s proxy season. Under the rubric of corporate governance, annual proxy solicitations have become referenda on an ever-widening assortment of corporate, social, and political issues, and, as a result, the influence and power of proxy advisors—and their relative lack of accountability—have become increasingly problematic. The SEC’s recent actions and statements suggest that the tide may be turning. Proxy advisory firms appear to be entering a new era of increasing accountability and potentially decreasing influence, possibly with further, more significant, SEC action to come.

…continue reading: Important Proxy Advisor Developments

Preparing for the 2015 Proxy Season

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Friday September 26, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Lawrence R. Hamilton, partner in the Corporate & Securities practice at Mayer Brown LLP, and is based on a Mayer Brown Legal Update. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

It is time for calendar year-end public companies to focus on the upcoming 2015 proxy and annual reporting season. This post discusses the following key issues for companies to consider in their preparations:

  • Pending Dodd-Frank Regulation
  • Say-on-Pay and Compensation Disclosure Considerations
  • Shareholder Proposals
  • Proxy Access
  • Compensation Committee Independence Determinations
  • Compensation Adviser Independence Assessment
  • Compensation Consultant Conflict of Interest Disclosure
  • NYSE Quorum Requirement Change
  • Director and Officer Questionnaires
  • Proxy Advisory Firm and Investment Adviser Matters
  • Conflict Minerals
  • Cybersecurity
  • Management’s Discussion and Analysis
  • XBRL
  • Proxy Bundling
  • Foreign Issuer Preliminary Proxy Statement Relief
  • Technology and the Proxy Season

…continue reading: Preparing for the 2015 Proxy Season

Audit Committee Reporting To Shareholders: 2014 Proxy Season Update

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Thursday September 25, 2014 at 9:07 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Ernst & Young, and is based on an Ernst & Young study by Allie M. Rutherford and Ruby Sharma. The complete publication is available here.

The 2014 proxy season saw significant growth in audit committee transparency. Continuing the trend of the past several years, an increased number of Fortune 100 companies are going beyond the minimum disclosures required.

These disclosures are also more robust—providing valuable perspectives on the activities of audit committees, including their oversight of external auditors.

The recent movement toward increased audit committee transparency has been encouraged by a variety of factors and entities. In addition to the ongoing disclosure effectiveness review by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) involving a holistic review of the US corporate disclosure regime, audit committee disclosures are receiving significant attention from a variety of stakeholders. These stakeholders include US and non-US regulators, investors, and policy organizations.

…continue reading: Audit Committee Reporting To Shareholders: 2014 Proxy Season Update

Influence of Public Opinion on Investor Voting and Proxy Advisors

Posted by R. Christopher Small, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Thursday September 25, 2014 at 9:07 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Reena Aggarwal, Professor of Finance at Georgetown University; Isil Erel of the Department of Finance at Ohio State University; and Laura Starks, Professor of Finance at the University of Texas at Austin.

In our paper, Influence of Public Opinion on Investor Voting and Proxy Advisors, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we address the question of how public opinion influences the proxy voting process. We find strong influence of public opinion on the evolution in both investor voting behavior and proxy advisor recommendations. Therefore, our results suggest that an additional channel through which the public can communicate with corporate management (and potentially influence corporate behavior) is the proxy voting process. We provide new evidence that media coverage can also influence firm behavior through the voting channel. This channel is important because media coverage captures the attention of proxy advisors, institutional investors and individual investors, and is thus reflected in recommendations and votes.

…continue reading: Influence of Public Opinion on Investor Voting and Proxy Advisors

Commissioner Gallagher Offers Advice to Public Companies on Handling Proxy Advisors

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Sunday September 7, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Yafit Cohn, Associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, and is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum.

Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) authored a working paper, published last month by the Washington Legal Foundation, regarding the outsized power and influence of proxy advisory firms. [1] In his paper, Commissioner Gallagher provides his view of the most important aspects of Staff Legal Bulletin No. 20 (“SLB 20”), in which the SEC staff recently “moved toward addressing some of the serious issues” resulting from the emergence of proxy advisory firms as a dominant player in American corporate governance. Notably, Gallagher also offers some critical advice to public companies engaging with proxy advisory firms.

…continue reading: Commissioner Gallagher Offers Advice to Public Companies on Handling Proxy Advisors

Outsized Power & Influence: The Role of Proxy Advisers

Posted by Daniel M. Gallagher, Commissioner, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, on Friday September 5, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: Daniel M. Gallagher is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on a Washington Legal Foundation working paper by Mr. Gallagher; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Shareholder voting has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past few decades. Institutional ownership of shares was once negligible; now, it predominates. This is important because individual investors are generally rationally apathetic when it comes to shareholder voting: value potentially gained through voting is outweighed by the burden of determining how to vote and actually casting that vote. By contrast, institutional investors possess economies of scale, and so regularly vote billions of shares each year on thousands of ballot items for the thousands of companies in which they invest.

…continue reading: Outsized Power & Influence: The Role of Proxy Advisers

2014 Proxy Season Review—Looking Forward to Next Year

Posted by Yaron Nili, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Wednesday September 3, 2014 at 9:02 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from John P. Kelsh, partner in the Corporate and Securities group at Sidley Austin LLP, and is based on a Sidley Austin publication by Mr. Kelsh, Claire H. Holland, Corey Perry, and Thomas J. Kim.

“Proxy season” is stretching longer and longer with each passing year as the “off season” has become the season to engage with institutional shareholders and to prepare for the next season. With 2014’s annual meetings now largely completed and the 2015 proxy season on the horizon, now seems a good time to review lessons learned and themes from 2014. This Corporate Governance Update addresses some of the developments that shaped the proxy season in 2014 and discusses points worth considering as preparations for the 2015 season begin.

…continue reading: 2014 Proxy Season Review—Looking Forward to Next Year

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