Archive for the ‘Institutional Investors’ Category

SEC Guidance May Lessen Investment Adviser Demand for Proxy Advisory Services

Editor’s Note: Holly J. Gregory is a partner and co-global coordinator of the Corporate Governance and Executive Compensation group at Sidley Austin LLP. This post is based on a Sidley update.

Recently issued SEC staff guidance addresses concerns that have been raised about proxy advisory firms by emphasizing that the investment adviser that retains and pays a proxy advisory firm is uniquely positioned to monitor the proxy advisory firm and is required to actively oversee the firm if it wants to benefit from the firm’s services to discharge its fiduciary duty. As a result of the greater oversight exercised by all of their investment adviser clients, the proxy advisory firms will presumably respond by enhancing their policies, processes and procedures, as well as the transparency of these policies, processes and procedures. In turn, the corporate community may indirectly benefit to some degree.

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The Peril of an Expectations Gap in Proxy Advisory Firm Regulation

Posted by June Rhee, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Tuesday July 29, 2014 at 9:08 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Asaf Eckstein of Tel Aviv University-Buchmann Faculty of Law.

Over the last few years, Congress and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) were put under pressure to seriously consider regulating proxy advisory firms. Financial industry and government leaders have voiced concern that proxy advisory firms exert too much power over corporate governance to operate unregulated. The SEC as well as the Congress have investigated and debated the merits of proxy advisory regulation. The U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on the matter in June of 2013, and the SEC followed this hearing with a roundtable discussion in December of 2013. On June 30, 2014, the Investment Management and Corporate Finance Divisions of the SEC issued a bulletin outlining the responsibilities of proxy advisors and institutional investors when casting proxy votes. As of yet, no binding regulation has been promulgated, despite repeated calls for it.

…continue reading: The Peril of an Expectations Gap in Proxy Advisory Firm Regulation

Money Market Fund Reform

Posted by Mary Jo White, Chair, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, on Friday July 25, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on Chair White’s remarks at a recent open meeting of the SEC, available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Chair White and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Today’s [July 23, 2014] reforms will fundamentally change the way that most money market funds operate. They will reduce the risk of runs in money market funds and provide important new tools that will help further protect investors and the financial system in a crisis. Together, this strong reform package will make our financial system more resilient and enhance the transparency and fairness of these products for America’s investors.

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2014 Proxy Season Mid-Year Review

Editor’s Note: Mary Ann Cloyd is leader of the Center for Board Governance at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. This post is based on an edition of ProxyPulse™, a collaboration between Broadridge Financial Solutions and PwC’s Center for Board Governance; the full report, including additional figures, is available here.

This post looks at results from 2,788 shareholder meetings held between January 1 and May 22, 2014. We provide data and analyses on areas such as share ownership composition, director elections, say-on-pay, proxy material distribution and the mechanics of shareholder voting. We also look at differences in proxy voting by company size.

With about three-quarters of the 2014 proxy season complete, voting results continue to show that public company executives and directors must remain vigilant regarding corporate governance matters. In comparison to last proxy-season at this time, large-cap ($10b+) companies have attained higher levels of shareholder support both for directors and for executive compensation plans. In contrast, support levels for executive compensation plans fell at mid-cap ($2b–$10b), small-cap ($300m–$2b) and micro-cap ($300m or less) companies, and support for directors fell at mid-cap companies.

…continue reading: 2014 Proxy Season Mid-Year Review

Navigating Today’s Shareholder Activism Landscape

Posted by Yaron Nili, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Tuesday July 8, 2014 at 9:18 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Richard J. Grossman, partner concentrating in corporate governance matters and mergers and acquisitions, at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and is based on a Skadden alert by Mr. Grossman and Stephen F. Arcano.

Shareholder activism is the corporate topic du jour, be it in boardrooms, the media or Washington, D.C. While corporate boards and management need to understand the current environment and how we got here, their top priority is to develop comprehensive strategies for navigating the activism landscape. As activists have become more sophisticated, and activism more mainstream, approaches to dealing with activists are, by necessity, evolving.

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Evaluating Pension Fund Investments Through The Lens Of Good Corporate Governance

Posted by Luis A. Aguilar, Commissioner, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, on Tuesday July 1, 2014 at 9:04 am
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Editor’s Note: Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s remarks at the recent Latinos on Fast Track (LOFT) Investors Forum; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

I understand today’s participants include a number of trustees and asset managers for some of the country’s largest public and private pension funds. Without a doubt, pension funds play an important role in our capital markets and the global economy. This is due, in part, to the fast growth in pension fund assets, both in the public and private sectors.

For example, since 1993, total public pension fund assets have grown from about $1.3 trillion to over $4.3 trillion in 2011. Over that same period, total private pension fund assets more than doubled from roughly $2.3 trillion to over $6.3 trillion by 2011. As of December 2013, total pension assets have reached more than $18 trillion. This growth was fueled by many factors, including the rise in government support of retirement benefits, and the increased use by companies of pension plans as a way to supplement wages.

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The Institutional Investor Stewardship Myth in a Dutch Context

Posted by June Rhee, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Monday June 30, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Daniëlle Melis of Nyenrode Business Universiteit.

The concept of institutional investor stewardship is based on the notion that in publicly listed companies responsibility for corporate governance is shared. The primary responsibility lies with the board, which oversees the actions of its management. Institutional investors in the company are assumed to play an important role in holding the board to account for fulfilling its responsibilities. According to the UK Stewardship Code (2010), effective stewardship is about well-chosen engagement. This means that institutional investors monitor and engage with companies on matters such as strategy, performance, risk, capital structure, and corporate governance, including culture and remuneration. Engagement means having a purposeful dialogue with companies on these matters as well as on issues that are the immediate subject of votes at general meetings.

…continue reading: The Institutional Investor Stewardship Myth in a Dutch Context

Proxy Advisory Firms and Corporate Governance Practices: One Size Does Not Fit All

Posted by Yaron Nili, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Wednesday June 18, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Bill Libit, partner concentrating in corporate and securities and municipal finance at Chapman and Cutler LLP, and is based on a Chapman publication by Mr. Libit and Todd Freier.

The 2014 proxy season, like previous seasons, has provided shareholders of public US companies with an opportunity to vote on a number of corporate governance proposals and director elections. Throughout this proxy season, proxy advisory firms have provided shareholder vote recommendations “for” or “against” those proposals and “for” or to “withhold” votes for directors. Certain proxy advisory firms, such as Institutional Shareholders Services Inc. (“ISS”) and Glass, Lewis & Co., LLC (“Glass Lewis”), have also published updated corporate governance ratings reports on public companies, including evaluations of a company’s corporate governance risk profile.

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Best Practice Principles for Proxy Advisors and Chairman’s Report

Posted by June Rhee, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Tuesday June 10, 2014 at 9:20 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Dirk A. Zetzsche, Propter Homines Chair for Banking and Securities law at the Institute for Financial Services of the University of Liechtenstein and Director of the Center for Business & Corporate Law at Heinrich Heine University in Duesseldorf/Germany. Following the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA)’s push for self-regulation of the proxy advisory industry, an industry group published its “Best Practice Principles for Providers of Shareholder Voting Research & Analysis”. Professor Zetzsche functioned as independent chairman of the group.

Regulation of proxy advisers is a widely discussed subject matter worldwide. The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), the regulator responsible for enforcing European securities regulation, declared in its ESMA Final Report and Feedback Statement on the Consultation Regarding the Role of the Proxy Advisory Industry in February 2013, to favor a self-regulatory approach over mandatory regulation of the industry. “In order to ensure a robust process in developing, maintaining, and updating the Code of Conduct,” ESMA set up a list of key governance for developing a Code of Conduct for the industry (see ESMA, Final Report, at p. 11). These included, inter alia, a transparent composition and the appointment of an independent Chair that possesses the relevant skills and experience. The Code of Conduct was required to “adequately address the needs and concerns of all relevant stakeholders (including proxy advisors themselves, institutional investors, and issuers).” ESMA’s Final Report offered guidance for the detailed elaboration of the Code of Conduct on certain subject matters. In particular, ESMA asked the industry to respond to concerns regarding conflicts of interests and communication with issuers.
…continue reading: Best Practice Principles for Proxy Advisors and Chairman’s Report

Shareholder Governance through Disclosure

Posted by R. Christopher Small, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Thursday May 15, 2014 at 9:17 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Jordan Schoenfeld of the Department of Accounting at the University of Michigan.

Index fund sponsors today oversee about 18% of all mutual fund and ETF assets (or $2.3 trillion), but their ability to govern is hampered by a pressing need to keep expense ratios low (ICI, 2013). Thus traditional governance channels, such as evaluating and guiding project selection by managers (intervention), are foreclosed to them. Neither can these fund sponsors strategically trade in response to private information, because they must hold the index. Nonetheless, index fund sponsors would still like to govern their portfolio companies, because high index returns mean more inflows into their funds and fees. In my paper, Shareholder Governance through Disclosure, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I conjecture that index fund sponsors govern by asking management of firms to disclose more about their activities. These disclosures can facilitate the monitoring activities of all stakeholders and increase firm value, thus benefiting the index fund sponsor. For example, more disclosure enhances other blockholders’ monitoring activities and makes stock prices more informative about management’s actions. In addition, eliciting such disclosures about current projects undertaken by management does not require the index fund sponsor to invest in and acquire specific skills about how to run the business. This feature of disclosure makes it particularly attractive to index fund sponsors, who compete by keeping their expenses low.

…continue reading: Shareholder Governance through Disclosure

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