As part of our active ownership process, State Street Global Advisors (“SSgA”) considers environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) matters while evaluating and engaging with investee companies. SSgA believes that ESG factors can impact the reputation of companies and can also create significant operational risks and costs to businesses. Conversely, well-developed corporate social responsibility (“CSR”) programs  can generate efficiencies, enhance productivity and mitigate risks, all of which impact shareholder value.
Archive for the ‘Institutional Investors’ Category
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.
Studies showing that weather patterns in major financial centers influence stock index returns provide suggestive evidence that investor mood influences asset prices (Saunders, 1993; Hirshleifer and Shumway, 2003). Individuals may misattribute mood induced by weather as information when making assessments about objects that should be otherwise unrelated (Schwarz and Clore, 1983), leading to mood-congruent judgments. For example, sunnier days may induce good moods amongst investors, generating overly optimistic beliefs regarding their investments and congruently influencing their trading decisions. Despite strong evidence of the weather effect on stock index returns, establishing plausibility in mood-based explanations relies in part on distinguishing which group of investors drives the weather effect, and directly confirming mood effects in their judgments.
Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (“ISS”) has released a technical document detailing the factors and scoring methodology of Governance QuickScore 3.0, which ISS plans to launch on November 24, 2014.  Corporate issuers may verify, update or correct the data used to calculate their scores, via ISS’s data verification site, through 8:00 p.m. EST on November 14.
Publicly traded companies are required by the SEC and the stock exchanges to obtain shareholder approval when such companies seek to implement a new long‐term equity plan or increase the share reserve pursuant to such plans.
Companies comply with this requirement by seeking shareholder approval through the annual proxy process. Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), the large proxy advisory firm retained by many institutional investors for proxy voting advice, offers its services to institutional clients by evaluating such proposals. One of the tools used by ISS in developing its voting advice is a financial model referred to as the Shareholder Value Transfer (SVT) Model that attempts to assign a cost to each company’s equity plan. ISS’ proprietary SVT model contains numerous hidden values and algorithms a company cannot readily replicate. If the SVT Model results in an assigned cost that falls outside the boundaries of what is acceptable to ISS, ISS will submit a negative vote recommendation.
In my paper, Opacity in Financial Markets, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, I study the implications of opacity in financial markets for investor behavior, asset prices, and welfare. In the model, transparent funds (e.g., mutual funds) and opaque funds (e.g., hedge funds) trade transparent assets (e.g., plain-vanilla products) and opaque assets (e.g., structured products). Investors observe neither opaque funds’ portfolios nor opaque assets’ payoffs. Consistent with empirical observations, the model predicts an “opacity price premium”: opaque assets trade at a premium over transparent ones despite identical payoffs. This premium arises because fund managers bid up opaque assets’ prices, as opacity potentially allows them to collect higher fees by manipulating investor assessments of their funds’ future prospects. The premium accompanies endogenous market segmentation: transparent funds trade only transparent assets, and opaque funds trade only opaque assets. A novel insight is that opacity is self-feeding in financial markets: given the opacity price premium, financial engineers exploit it by supplying opaque assets (that is, they render transparent assets opaque deliberately), which in turn are a source of agency problems in portfolio delegation, resulting in the opacity price premium.
One of the world largest fiduciary asset managers, APG recently issued remuneration guidelines that will be applied to its portfolio of European listed companies. APG believes that the innovation in the new guidelines is twofold. First in that they are based on its practical experience of company engagements and therefore reflect an integrated investment and governance outlook. More specifically, the guidelines place a clear emphasis on value creation. By issuing the guidelines APG is aiming to make its ongoing discussions with companies around pay more effective, thus freeing up time for it to focus on other important corporate governance areas such as board structure, succession and nominations.
Proxy Voting Analytics (2010-2014), a report recently released by The Conference Board in collaboration with FactSet, reviews the last five years of shareholder activism and proxy voting at Russell 3000 and S&P 500 companies.
Data analyzed in the report includes:
…continue reading: The Recent Evolution of Shareholder Activism
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.
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.