Archive for the ‘Institutional Investors’ Category

Proxy Access—a Decision Framework

Posted by Richard J. Sandler and Margaret E. Tahyar, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, on Tuesday March 3, 2015 at 9:19 am
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Editor’s Note: Richard J. Sandler is a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and co-head of the firm’s global corporate governance group. Margaret E. Tahyar is a partner in the Financial Institutions Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP. This post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

Recent high-profile developments have thrust proxy access back onto the agenda for many U.S. public companies. Here is a framework for how to approach the topic.

Proxy access is back in the news and back on the agenda for many U.S. public companies. Four years after the DC Circuit invalidated the SEC’s proxy-access rule, we are seeing company-by-company private ordering with a vengeance, including a record number of Rule 14a-8 shareholder proposals in the current 2015 proxy season. Events have moved at high speed in the past few weeks, leading many companies to wonder whether they should be initiating their own approach to proxy access.

As we argued in 2009 in response to an earlier SEC proxy-access proposal, we believe that each company’s approach to proxy access should be grounded in a consideration of its particular circumstances. Despite recent high-profile adoptions of proxy-access procedures, we don’t believe that most U.S. public companies should, in knee-jerk fashion, be preparing to revise their bylaws proactively. We do, however, think that boards should be assessing on an ongoing basis the broader issues of board composition, tenure and refreshment, which are not only important in their own right but also relevant to potential vulnerability to proxy-access proposals. We also think that boards should communicate a willingness to exercise their discretion in considering all shareholder suggestions regarding board membership in order to assure shareholders of a means of expressing their views and to create a level playing field for shareholders.

…continue reading: Proxy Access—a Decision Framework

2015 US Compensation Policies FAQ

Posted by Carol Bowie, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., on Monday March 2, 2015 at 8:55 am
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Editor’s Note: Carol Bowie is Head of Americas Research at Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS). This post relates to ISS compensation policy guidelines for 2015. The complete publication is available here.

US Executive Pay Overview

1. Which named executive officers’ total compensation data are shown in the Executive Pay Overview section?

The executive compensation section will generally reflect the same number of named executive officer’s total compensation as disclosed in a company’s proxy statement. However, if more than five named executive officers’ total compensation has been disclosed, only five will be represented in the section. The order will be CEO, then the second, third, fourth and fifth highest paid executive by total compensation. Current executives will be selected first, followed by terminated executives (except that a terminated CEO whose total pay is within the top five will be included, since he/she was an within the past complete fiscal year).

2. A company’s CEO has resigned and there is a new CEO in place. Which CEO is shown in the report?

Our report generally displays the CEO in office on the last day of the fiscal year; however, the longer tenured CEO may be displayed in some cases where the transition occurs very late in the year.

…continue reading: 2015 US Compensation Policies FAQ

2015 Benchmark US Proxy Voting Policies FAQ

Posted by Carol Bowie, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., on Thursday February 26, 2015 at 9:24 am
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Editor’s Note: Carol Bowie is Head of Americas Research at Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS). The following post relates to ISS’ 2015 Benchmark Proxy Voting Policies.

ISS is providing answers to frequently asked questions with regard to select policies and topics of interest for 2015:

Proxy Access Proposals

1. How will ISS recommend on proxy access proposals?

Drawing on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) decades-long effort to draft a market-wide rule allowing investors to place director nominees on corporate ballots, and reflecting feedback from a broad range of institutional investors and their portfolio companies, ISS is updating its policy on proxy access to generally align with the SEC’s formulation.

Old Recommendation: ISS supports proxy access as an important shareholder right, one that is complementary to other best-practice corporate governance features. However, in the absence of a uniform standard, proposals to enact proxy access may vary widely; as such, ISS is not setting forth specific parameters at this time and will take a case-by-case approach when evaluating these proposals.

Vote case-by-case on proposals to enact proxy access, taking into account, among other factors:

…continue reading: 2015 Benchmark US Proxy Voting Policies FAQ

Proxy Access, SEC Uncertainty and Related Issues in 2015

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Tuesday February 24, 2015 at 9:09 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Bill Libit, Chief Operating 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 complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

The rise of shareholder activism in the realm of corporate governance has increasingly focused on board performance and the right of shareholders to replace those directors who are perceived to underperform. One proposed approach to facilitate the replacement of underperforming directors is to give shareholders direct access to the company’s proxy materials, including permitting the inclusion of a shareholder-proposed director nominee (or slate of nominees) and a statement in support thereof in the company’s proxy statement (which such approach is more commonly referred to as “proxy access”). Although current U.S. securities regulations do not grant shareholders access to company proxy materials, proxy access may be available to shareholders by way of a company’s organizational documents (e.g., articles of incorporation, bylaws or corporate governance guidelines), as permitted by state corporate law.

While proxy access did not garner significant attention over the past two proxy seasons, it is one of the most notable early developments of the 2015 proxy season. It has been reported that shareholders have submitted an estimated 100 proxy access proposals to U.S. companies, a considerable number of which will be voted upon by shareholders over the next several months. Proxy access will very likely be one of the most contentious corporate governance issues this proxy season.

…continue reading: Proxy Access, SEC Uncertainty and Related Issues in 2015

Making the Municipal Securities Market More Transparent, Liquid, and Fair

Posted by Luis A. Aguilar, Commissioner, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, on Sunday February 22, 2015 at 9:00 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 recent public statement; 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.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of the municipal securities market. There is perhaps no other market that so profoundly influences the quality of our daily lives. Municipal securities provide financing to build and maintain schools, hospitals, and utilities, as well as the roads and other basic infrastructure that enable our economy to flourish. Municipal bonds’ tax-free status also makes them an important investment vehicle for individual investors, particularly retirees. Ensuring the existence of a vibrant and efficient municipal bond market is essential, particularly at a time when state and local government budgets remain stretched.

Unfortunately, despite its size and importance, the municipal securities market has been subjected to a far lesser degree of regulation and transparency than other segments of the U.S. capital markets. In fact, investors in municipal securities are afforded “second-class treatment” under current law in many ways. This has allowed market participants to cling to outdated notions about how the municipal securities market should operate. The result is a market that, in the view of many, is excessively opaque, illiquid, and decentralized.

…continue reading: Making the Municipal Securities Market More Transparent, Liquid, and Fair

Engagement and Activism in the 2015 Proxy Season

Posted by David A. Katz, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on Friday February 6, 2015 at 9:02 am
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Editor’s Note: David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and complex securities transactions. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh that first appeared in the New York Law Journal; the full article, including footnotes, is available here.

As the 2015 proxy season approaches, the dominant theme appears to be the interaction between directors and investors. Though, traditionally, there was little to no direct engagement, recent experience indicates that communication between these two groups is now on the rise, in some cases resulting in collaboration. This is potentially a beneficial development, particularly insofar as it may help companies and long-term investors work together to resist pressure from activist shareholders seeking short-term profits. In the current environment where activists and hedge funds appear to wield unprecedented financial and political leverage, and the influence of proxy advisors is as significant as it is controversial, the predominant trend seems to be “toward diplomacy rather than war.” Organizations such as the Shareholder-Director Exchange, which began last year to offer guidance to shareholders and boards on direct engagement, are promoting policies that may reduce the incidence, duration, and severity of contentious public disagreements.

…continue reading: Engagement and Activism in the 2015 Proxy Season

Do Institutional Investors Value the 10b-5 Private Right of Action?

Posted by June Rhee, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Wednesday January 28, 2015 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Robert Bartlett, Professor of Law at UC Berkeley School of Law.

In my forthcoming article in the Journal of Legal Studies, I empirically test a claim made by institutional investors in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd. In Morrison, the Supreme Court limited investors’ ability to bring private 10b-5 securities fraud actions to cases where the securities at issue were purchased on a United States stock exchange or were otherwise purchased in the U.S. Because many foreign firms’ securities trade simultaneously on non-U.S. venues and on U.S. exchanges, institutional investors claimed after Morrison that, such was the importance of the 10b-5 private right of action, they would look to such firms’ U.S-traded securities to preserve their rights under 10b-5.

…continue reading: Do Institutional Investors Value the 10b-5 Private Right of Action?

The Threat to the Economy and Society from Activism and Short-Termism Updated

Posted by Martin Lipton, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on Tuesday January 27, 2015 at 9:02 am
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Editor’s Note: Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton, Sabastian V. Niles, and Sara J. Lewis. Earlier posts by Mr. Lipton on hedge fund activism are available herehere and here. Recent work from the Program on Corporate Governance about hedge fund activism includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here) and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here). For five posts by Mr. Lipton criticizing the Bebchuk-Brav-Jiang paper, and for three posts by the authors replying to Mr. Lipton’s criticism, see here.

Again in 2014, as in the two previous years, there has been an increase in the number and intensity of attacks by activist hedge funds. Indeed, 2014 could well be called the “year of the wolf pack.”

With the increase in activist hedge fund attacks, particularly those aimed at achieving an immediate increase in the market value of the target by dismembering or overleveraging, there is a growing recognition of the adverse effect of these attacks on shareholders, employees, communities and the economy. Noted below are the most significant 2014 developments holding out a promise of turning the tide against activism and its proponents, including those in academia. Already in 2015 there have been several significant developments that are worth adding, which are included in bold at the end.

…continue reading: The Threat to the Economy and Society from Activism and Short-Termism Updated

Passive Investors, Not Passive Owners

Posted by R. Christopher Small, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Wednesday January 21, 2015 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Ian Appel, Todd Gormley, and Donald Keim, all of the Department of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania.

In our paper, Passive Investors, Not Passive Owners, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine whether passive institutional investors, like Vanguard and Dimensional Fund Advisors, influence firms’ governance structure. Although passive institutional investors, which seek to deliver the return of a market index with expenses that are as low as possible, reflect a large and growing component of U.S. stock ownership, there is little research on their role in influencing firm behavior.

The lack of research on passive institutional investors likely stems from a presumption that such investors lack both the resources and motives to monitor their large and diverse portfolios. For example, unwilling to accumulate or exit positions, which would lead to deviations from the underlying index weights, passive institutions lack a traditional lever used by non-passive investors to influence managers. Moreover, it is unclear whether passive institutional investors should even care about firm-specific policies or governance choices. Unlike actively-managed funds that attempt to outperform some benchmark, passive funds seek to deliver the performance of the benchmark, and any improvement in one stock’s performance will simply increase the performance of both the institution’s portfolio and the underlying benchmark.

…continue reading: Passive Investors, Not Passive Owners

ISS Releases 2015 Benchmark Policy Updates

Posted by Carol Bowie, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., on Friday January 16, 2015 at 1:01 pm
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Editor’s Note: Carol Bowie is Head of Americas Research at Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS). This post relates to ISS global benchmark voting policy guidelines for 2015.

ISS recently issued updated guidelines for several of its benchmark global voting policies, which will be effective for analyses of publicly traded companies with shareholder meetings on or after Feb. 1, 2015. For the 10th year running, ISS gathered broad input from institutional investors, corporate issuers, and other market constituents worldwide as a key part of its policy development process. The 2015 updates reflect the time and effort of hundreds of investors, issuers, corporate directors, and other market participants who provided input through a variety of channels, including ISS’ annual policy survey, topical and regional roundtables, and direct engagements with staff.

…continue reading: ISS Releases 2015 Benchmark Policy Updates

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