Our paper, Say on Pay in Italian General Meetings: Results and Future Perspectives, provides an analysis of the empirical data of shareholders’ say on pay in Italian general meetings in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Say on pay, a shareholders’ advisory vote on a company’s remuneration policy, was introduced in Italy following the European Commission (EC) Recommendations N. 2004/913/EC, N. 2005/162/EC, N. 2009/384/EC and N. 2009/385/EC, which allowed member States to choose between implementing a binding or non-binding advisory shareholder vote on a company’s remuneration policy. Like most European states, Italy has opted for the “weaker” non-binding option. Reference is made to both approval votes (by controlling shareholders) and dissenting votes sometimes casted by minority shareholders (mainly, foreign institutional investors). The dissenting vote, in particular, shows a paramount critical value as originating by shareholders who are independent from the directors involved by the resolution—unlike the controlling shareholders who have nominated and subsequently elected the directors (to whom may often be linked by family or economic ties). In recent years, a significant increase in voting by minority shareholders, mainly foreign institutional investors, regarding—but not limited to—remuneration policies has been noted. This is a direct consequence of the procedural changes introduced by the Shareholder Rights’ Directive n. 36/2007/EC (e.g. record date, reduction of threshold to call special meeting, relaxation of proxy voting and solicitation rules, extension of time—prior to general meeting—to release relevant information for the items of the agenda and translation of documents into English, etc.).
Archive for the ‘Executive Compensation’ Category
Will knowing how much the CEO makes relative to rank and file employees provide information to investors? We may soon find out as a result of a provision in the Dodd Frank Act that requires companies to report the ratio of the CEO’s compensation to that of the median employee. A number of different sources have developed industry-based estimates of the ratio using information about CEO pay from corporate disclosures and employee pay from the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. For instance, an article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek on May 2, 2013 found the ratio of CEO pay to the typical worker rose from about 20-to-1 in the 1950s to 120-to-1 in 2000, with the ratio reaching nearly 500-to-1 for the top 100 companies.
Today [February 9, 2015], the Commission issued proposed rules on Disclosure of Hedging by Employees, Officers and Directors. These congressionally-mandated rules are designed to reveal whether company executive compensation policies are intended to align the executives’ or directors’ interests with shareholders. As required by Section 955 of the Dodd-Frank Act, these proposed rules attempt to accomplish this by adding new paragraph (i) to Item 407 of Regulation S-K, to require companies to disclose whether they permit employees and directors to hedge their companies’ securities.
Pursuant to Section 955 of the Dodd-Frank Act, the SEC on February 9, 2015 proposed hedging disclosure rules for public comment and review. These rules, if adopted, would require proxy statements involving the election of directors to disclose whether the company permits employees (including officers), members of the board of directors or their designees to engage in transactions to hedge or offset any decrease in the market value of equity securities that are granted to the employee or board member as compensation or otherwise held, directly or indirectly, by the employee or board member, regardless of source.
1. What is the basis for ISS’ new scorecard approach for evaluating equity compensation proposals?
The new policy will allow more nuanced consideration of equity incentive programs, which are critical for motivating and aligning the interests of key employees with shareholders, but which also fuel the lion’s share of executive pay and may be costly without providing superior benefits to shareholders. While most plan proposals pass, they tend to get broader and deeper opposition than, for example, say-on-pay proposals (e.g., only 60% of Russell 3000 equity plan proposals garnered support of 90% or more of votes cast in 2014 proxy season, versus almost 80% of say-on-pay proposals that received that support level). The voting patterns indicate that most investors aren’t fully satisfied with many plans.
There is an important difference between the price paid for a business enterprise and the intrinsic value of that enterprise. As Benjamin Graham said, “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.” Warren Buffett has made himself and many others wealthy by understanding this difference and making investments accordingly.
Part I of this post looks briefly at the intrinsic value versus the market price (sometimes the latter is referred to as market value or market cap) of a publicly traded corporation. Part II looks at current design of long-term incentives awarded to the management of such corporations. These awards tend to be tied to short-term increase in the market price of the corporation’s stock. Part III suggests a way in which long-term incentive awards might be tied more to generators of long-term value of the corporations awarding them.
Boards of directors will soon shift attention to the 2015 compensation season. Key considerations in the year ahead include the following:
1. Be Prepared for Shareholder Activists. Companies today are more vulnerable to activist attacks than ever before. Companies should therefore ensure that they understand how their change in control protections function if an activist obtains a significant stake in the company or control of the board. A change in board composition can trigger the application of the golden parachute excise tax under Section 280G of the Internal Revenue Code and can result in negative tax consequences for executives and the company. In addition, in the age of performance awards and double-trigger vesting, clarity about the impact of a change in control on performance goals matters more than ever. Appropriate protections ensure that management will remain focused on shareholder interests during a period of significant disruption; inadequate protections can result in management departures at a time when stability is crucial.
The use of long-term incentives, the principal delivery vehicle of executive compensation, has long been sensitive to external influences. A steady source of this influence has come under the guise of legislative reform with mixed results. In 1950, after Congress gave stock options capital gains tax treatment, the use of stock options surged as employers sought to avoid ordinary income tax rates as high as 91%. Some forty years later, Congress added Section 162(m) to the tax code in an attempt to rein in excessive executive pay by limiting the deduction on compensation over $1 million to certain executives. Stock options qualified for a performance-based exemption leading to a spike in stock option grants to CEOs at S&P 500 companies.
Fast forward twenty years and the form and magnitude of long-term incentives continues to be a hot button populist issue. The 2010 Dodd Frank Act introduced U.S. publicly-traded companies to Say on Pay giving shareholders a direct channel to voice their support or opposition for a company’s pay practices. Another legislative addition to the litany of unintended consequences, Say on Pay has magnified the growing number of interested parties, increased the influence of proxy advisory groups such as Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis, heightened sensitivity to federal regulators, and provoked the increased interaction of activist investors.
Investors, directors and corporate executive management share common interests when it comes to company performance and economic value creation.
Yet, whilst this commonality is laudable, a review of performance measurement and long-term incentive plan design for USA public companies identifies that current practice is less than clear in measuring and aligning these interests in a manner that is robust and meaningful.
In Q1 and early Q2 2014, SSgA actively engaged with 15 global banks ahead of the proxy voting season. These engagements were conducted jointly with members of SSgA’s investment and governance teams. Our engagement addressed specific governance issues at each bank and also encompassed a wider discussion on the changing regulatory landscape and its impact on business strategy, capital requirements, operations and risk management, and the bank’s global footprint. Below we have provided the perspectives and insights gleaned from our engagement activities with banks this year.