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.
Posts Tagged ‘Institutional Investors’
On July 23, 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) adopted significant amendments (the “amendments”) to rules under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (the “Investment Company Act”) and related requirements that govern money market funds (“MMFs”). The SEC’s adoption of the amendments is the latest action taken by U.S. regulators as part of the ongoing debate about systemic risks posed by MMFs and the extent to which previous reform efforts have addressed these concerns. Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury Department (“Treasury”) and the Internal Revenue Service (the “IRS”) released guidance on the same day setting forth simplified rules to address tax compliance issues that the SEC’s MMF reforms would otherwise impose on MMFs and their investors.
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.
Initiatives of shareholder engagement must take into consideration the modern, complex nature of share ownership. Shareholders can no longer be considered as a single group, instead the shareholder base may include a range of institutional investors, hedge funds, private equity funds, sovereign wealth funds and other activist investors. There has been a significant transformation of institutional holdings in recent years, and company boards will need to adjust their behaviour and the nature in which these engage with these new categories of investors.
As the number of—and assets controlled by—sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) has increased dramatically in recent years, so too has scrutiny about how SWFs are making use of these assets. With respect to equity investments in publicly traded firms, one facet of this concern is that SWFs will become activist shareholders. This concern arises in part because of an equivocation of the term “activist” and a misunderstanding of the regulatory consequences of certain kinds of activism by SWFs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.