Following an increase in shareholder and investor activism beyond pure executive remuneration issues in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2013, with some 25 companies targeted for public campaigns, this post provides a summary of certain principles of English law and UK and European regulation applicable to UK listed public companies and their shareholders that are relevant to the expected further increase in activism in 2014. This post covers (i) stake-building; (ii) shareholders’ rights to require companies to hold general meetings; (iii) shareholders’ rights to propose resolutions at annual general meetings; and (iv) recent developments in these and related areas through raising and answering a number of relevant questions.
Archive for the ‘Institutional Investors’ Category
Shareholder activism, which has increasingly occupied headlines in recent years, continued along its sharp growth trajectory in 2013. The number of activists, as well as the amount of capital backing them, has increased substantially, as has the sophistication and effectiveness of their tactics.
In addition, last year was particularly noteworthy for the role shareholder activism played in the M&A sector, including a number of high-profile attacks on announced business combination transactions. In November 2013, we hosted a conference to discuss the rise of shareholder activism as it relates to M&A activity. We gathered a number of industry-leading experts to discuss significant recent developments and emerging trends and to explore tactics and responses from a company and an activist perspective. The panel discussions at this conference provided a number of interesting insights, observations and data points, and several of the key themes and highlights are outlined below.
Toward Board Declassification in 100 S&P 500 and Fortune 500 Companies: The SRP’s Report for the 2012 and 2013 Proxy Seasons
The Shareholder Rights Project (SRP) just released its final report for the 2012 and 2013 proxy seasons, the SRP’s first two years year of operations. As the report details, major results obtained include the following:
- 100 S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies (listed here) entered into agreements to move toward declassification;
- 81 S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies (listed here) declassified their boards; these companies have aggregate market capitalization exceeding one trillion dollars, and represent about two-thirds of the companies with which engagement took place;
- 58 successful declassification proposals (listed here), with average support of 81% of votes cast; and
- Proposals by SRP-represented investors represented over 50% of all successful precatory proposals by public pension funds and over 20% of all successful precatory proposals by all proponents.
The recent announcement of the formation of the Shareholder-Director Exchange, a new group that aims to facilitate direct communication between institutional shareholders (namely, mutual funds and pension programs) and non-management directors of the U.S. public companies they own, has been accompanied by a flurry of articles regarding the purposes and possibilities of this new group. From my perspective, the Shareholder-Director Exchange has tremendous potential to help improve corporate governance and performance in this country.
Schulte Roth & Zabel’s Shareholder Activism practice was at the forefront of the industry in 2013, advising our clients in a number of proxy contests. These are our observations from a busy year.
Rapid growth with many new entrants
By almost any measure, shareholder activism became more popular in 2013 than ever. With assets under management quickly growing and returns consistently outperforming the average hedge fund, the activist sector has seen an influx of new activist-oriented funds. As activist investors have appeared on the cover of Time magazine and filled the pages of Vanity Fair throughout the year, it is clear that investors and boards are not the only ones interested in learning more about shareholder activism.
The Shareholder-Director Exchange (SDX™)  is a working group of leading independent directors and representatives from some of the largest and most influential long-term institutional investors.  SDX participants came together to discuss shareholder-director engagement and to use their collective experience to develop the SDX Protocol, a set of guidelines to provide a framework for shareholder-director engagements. While the decision to engage directly with investors should be made in consultation with or at the request of management, the 10-point SDX Protocol offers guidance to US public company boards and shareholders on when such engagement is appropriate and how to make these engagements valuable and effective.
In our recent NBER working paper, Valuing Private Equity, to value PE investments, we develop a model of the asset allocation for an institutional investor (LP). The model captures the main institutional features of PE, including: (1) Inability to trade or rebalance the PE investment, and the resulting long-term illiquidity and unspanned risks; (2) GPs creating value and generating alpha by effectively managing the fund’s portfolio companies; (3) GP compensation, including management fees and performance-based carried interest; and (4) leverage and the pricing of the resulting risky debt. The model delivers tractable expressions for the LP’s asset allocation and provides an analytical characterization of the certainty-equivalent valuation of the PE investment.
When we convened our Corporate Governance Symposium last year (October 2012), we highlighted the increasingly important role shareholders were playing in the corporate decision-making process, commenting as follows:
“Over the course of the past year, we have continued to see shareholders making their voices heard, in some cases rather forcefully and effectively, on a broad range of corporate issues. In many ways, the recent developments in corporate governance reinforce the growing perception that we are, and have been for several years, experiencing a potentially fundamental shift in the balance of authority, or influence, between boards of directors and shareholders in the corporate decision-making process, moving further away from the longstanding board primacy model of corporate governance.”
The Florida State Board of Administration (the “SBA”) takes steps on behalf of its participants, beneficiaries, retirees, and other clients to strengthen shareowner rights and promote leading corporate governance practices among its equity investments in both U.S. and international capital markets. The SBA adopts and reports clearly stated, understandable, and consistent policies to guide its approach to key issues. These policies are disclosed to all clients and beneficiaries.
The SBA supports the adoption of internationally recognized governance practices for well-managed corporations including independent boards, transparent board procedures, performance-based executive compensation, accurate accounting and audit practices, and policies covering issues such as succession planning and meaningful shareowner participation. The SBA also expects companies to adopt rigorous stock ownership and retention guidelines, and implement well designed incentive plans with disclosures that clearly explain board decisions surrounding executive compensation.
Is greater trading liquidity good or bad for corporate governance? In the paper, Liquidity and Governance, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, my co-authors (Kerry Back and Tao Li) and I address this question both theoretically and empirically. A liquid secondary market in shares facilitates capital formation but may be deleterious for corporate governance. Bhide (1993) argues that greater liquidity reduces the cost to a blockholder of selling her stake in response to managerial problems (‘taking the Wall Street walk’), resulting in too little monitoring by large shareholders. Bhide’s work has spawned an active literature on the effects of liquidity on governance. The present paper makes two contributions to that literature: (i) we solve a theoretical model consisting of an IPO followed by a dynamic Kyle (1985) market in which the large investor’s private information concerns her own plans for taking an active role in governance and show that greater liquidity leads to lower blockholder activism, and (ii) we verify the negative theoretical relation between liquidity and activism using three distinct natural experiments.