“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.
Archive for the ‘Executive Compensation’ Category
Since the implementation of the mandatory advisory vote on executive compensation, shareholder engagement has become an increasingly important part of the corporate landscape. In light of this development, many companies are struggling to determine whether, when and how corporate directors should engage with shareholders on issues of executive compensation. Set forth below are considerations for companies grappling with these issues.
Corporate governance remains a hot topic worldwide this year, but for different reasons in different regions. In the United States, this year could be characterised as largely “business as usual”; rather than planning and implementing new post-financial crisis corporate governance reforms, companies have operated under those new (and now, not so new) reforms. We have witnessed the growing and changing influence of large institutional investors, and different attempts by companies to respond to those investors as well as to pressure by activist shareholders. We have also continued to monitor the results of say-on-pay votes and believe that shareholder litigation related to executive compensation continues to warrant particular attention.
The desirability of corporations engaging in “socially responsible” behavior has long been hotly debated among economists, lawyers, and business experts. Two general views on corporate social responsibility (CSR) prevail in the literature. The CSR “value-enhancing view” argues that socially responsible firms, such as firms that promote efforts to help protect the environment, promote social equality, improve community relationships, can and often do adhere to value-maximizing corporate governance practices. Indeed, well-governed firms are more likely to be socially responsible. In short, CSR can be consistent with shareholder wealth maximization as well as achieving broader societal goals. The opposite view on CSR begins with Milton Friedman’s (1970) well-known claim that “the only social responsibility of corporations is to make money”. Extending this view, several researchers argue that CSR is often simply a manifestation of managerial agency problems inside the firm (Benabou and Tirole, 2010; Cheng, Hong, and Shue, 2013; Masulis and Reza, 2014) and hence problematic (“agency view”). That is to say, socially responsible firms tend to suffer from agency problems which enable managers to engage in CSR that benefits themselves at the expense of shareholders (Krueger, 2013). Furthermore, managers engaged in time-consuming CSR activities may lose focus on their core managerial responsibilities (Jensen, 2001). Overall, according to the agency view, CSR is generally not in the interests of shareholders.
Three categories of performers are rewarded for value creation in U.S. public corporations. They are: (1) the executives who manage the corporations; (2) the directors who oversee the performance of these corporations; and (3) the individual asset managers and others who provide investment services to investors who own, directly or indirectly, these corporations.
The following post takes a look at the correlation between the long-term incentive compensation of these three categories of performers and long-term value creation in U.S. public corporations that is attributable to them. In fact, such correlation appears to be limited. In addition, the article will consider a definition of “long-term” value creation, the roles of these three categories of performers in creating “long-term” value and the methods of compensating these different categories of performers in their respective roles in “long-term” value creation.
Corporations rely on dividends, share repurchases, or a combination of both payout methods to return earnings to their shareholders. Over the last decade, the importance of the dominating payout method—dividends—seems to be somewhat eroded at UK firms, with an increasing number of firms combining share repurchases with dividends. What explains the surge in the use of combined share repurchases and dividends in the UK? Is there a link between firm’s payout decision and executive remuneration?
During the 2014 proxy season, governance-related shareholder proposals continued to be common at U.S. public companies, including proposals calling for declassified boards, majority voting in director elections, elimination of supermajority requirements, separation of the roles of the CEO and chair, the right to call special meetings and the right to act by written consent. While the number of these proposals was down from 2012 and 2013 levels, this decline related entirely to fewer proposals being received by large-cap companies, likely due to the diminishing number of large companies that have not already adopted these practices. Smaller companies, at which these practices are less common, have not seen a similar decline and, if anything, are increasingly being targeted with these types of proposals.
The central focus of research in corporate governance has historically been on the problems of controlling managers’ actions. Without minimizing the real-world importance of such control problems, in our paper, Understanding Corporate Governance Through Learning Models of Managerial Competence, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we argue that such a focus is incomplete and ignores important factors affecting corporate governance. In particular, it overlooks the crucial element of career concerns: managers care about the inferences that current and future employers draw over time about their abilities from observing their performance.
While corporate charitable contributions are frequent and often substantial, there is no clear evidence in the literature on whether these expenditures have positive effects on firm revenues or performance or on shareholder wealth. In our paper, Agency Problems of Corporate Philanthropy, which was recently accepted at the Review of Financial Studies, we use contributions of American Fortune 500 firms during 1997-2006 and find in a variety of tests that corporate donations advance CEO interests and suggest that misuses of corporate resources that reduce firm value.
In our forthcoming Journal of Finance paper, The Executive Turnover Risk Premium, we make the simple point that forced turnover risk explains an important part of the cross-sectional variation of compensation for the CEOs of public U.S. corporations. The empirical magnitude of the turnover risk premium—about 7% greater subjective compensation for a one percentage point increase in turnover risk—is in line with calibrated theoretical predictions.
To identify the turnover risk premium, we use sources of job risk that are arguably outside the CEO’s control such as changing industry conditions. This strategy relies on the idea that, in practice, firing occurs not only when the CEO reveals low general ability. Rather, a board may fire a CEO when industry conditions change in such a way that his skill set no longer matches the new industry requirements. It is this kind of exogenous risk exposure that should plausibly be compensated in CEO pay.