Disentangling Mutual Fund Governance from Corporate Governance addresses mutual fund governance, explaining how in recent years it has become entangled with the norms and rules of corporate governance. At one level, it is understandable that mutual funds have been seen simply as a type of ordinary corporation, leading the SEC and the courts to treat mutual fund governance as simply a variation on the theme of corporate governance. Both mutual funds and corporations are separate legal entities, having directors and shareholders. Directors of each are held to fiduciary duties, charged with serving shareholders’ interests, and aspire to best practices. But there are fundamental differences between mutual funds and ordinary corporations, and this article contends that these differences have important implications for the governance of mutual funds, differences that should lead not to further entanglement of fund governance with corporate governance but to disentanglement.
Posts Tagged ‘Mutual funds’
If the institutions of a country (e.g., property rights and contracting institutions) jeopardize the quality of its financial market, can the market by itself put in force corrective mechanisms that counterbalance and offset such negative impact? This question is at the core of modern financial economics because it essentially asks whether the market plays a more fundamental role than institutions in shaping modern financial activities, or the other way around. While the role of institutions has many facets and is subtle in nature, in our paper, Mutual Funds and Information Diffusion: The Role of Country-Level Governance, forthcoming in the November issue of the Review of Financial Studies, we focus on one unique element of the market—the global mutual fund industry—to provide some new insights.
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.
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.
In our paper, Window Dressing in Mutual Funds, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we investigate an alleged agency problem in the mutual fund industry. This problem involves fund managers attempting to mislead investors about their true ability by trading in such a manner that they disclose at quarter ends disproportionately higher (lower) holdings in stocks that have recently done well (poorly). The portfolio churning associated with this practice of window dressing has potentially damaging effects on both fund value and performance.
Money market funds (MMFs) have, since the 2008 financial crisis, been deemed part of the nefarious shadow banking industry and targeted for regulatory reform. In my paper, The Broken Buck Stops Here: Embracing Sponsor Support in Money Market Fund Reform, I critically evaluate the logic behind current reform proposals, demonstrating that none of the proposals is likely to be effective in addressing the primary source of MMF stability—redemption demands in times of economic resources that impose pressure on MMF liquidity. In addition, inherent limitations in the mechanisms for calculating the fair value of MMF assets present a practical limitation on the utility of a floating NAV. I then offer an unprecedented alternative approach—mandatory sponsor support. My proposal would require MMF sponsors to commit to supporting their funds as a condition of offering a fund with a fixed $1 NAV.
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.
As a practicing securities lawyer for more than thirty years, I have in the past advised boards of directors, including mutual fund boards, and I am well acquainted with the important work that you do. I also understand the essential role that independent directors play in ensuring good corporate governance. As fiduciaries, you play a critical role in setting the appropriate tone at the top and overseeing the funds’ business. Thus, I commend the Mutual Fund Directors Forum’s efforts in providing a platform for independent mutual fund directors to share ideas and best practices. Improving fund governance is vital to investor protection and maintaining the integrity of our financial markets.
The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act mandated over 200 new rules, bringing renewed attention to the use of cost-benefit analysis (CBA) in financial regulation. CBA proponents and industry advocates have criticized the independent financial regulatory agencies for failing to base the new rules on CBA, and many have sought to mandate judicial review of quantified CBA (examples of “white papers” advocating CBA of financial regulation can be found here and here). An increasing number of judicial challenges to financial regulations have been brought in the D.C. Circuit under existing law, many successful, and bills have been introduced in Congress to mandate CBA of financial regulation.
Mutual funds’ support for corporate political disclosure reached a new high in 2013, according to a ten-year analysis by the Center for Political Accountability. Forty large US mutual fund families voted in favor of corporate political spending disclosure an unprecedented 39% of the time, on average.
CPA’s review of mutual fund votes looks at how 40 of the largest U.S. fund families voted on 276 shareholder requests for disclosure of corporate political contributions at U.S. companies over proxy seasons from 2004 to 2013 (covering shareholder meetings from 1 July 2003 to 30 June 2013). Together, these fund families manage around $3.3 trillion in U.S. securities, according to Morningstar® fund data, and control a large portion of the shareholder vote in US securities.