The 2008 financial crisis and the slow recovery that has followed has brought further evidence tending to support the view that the structure of our corporate sector needs adjustment, and that its faults affect the competitiveness of our economy. The crisis has resulted, as would be expected, in a raft of new rules and regulations, which as usual have been implemented before there emerged any consensus about the nature of the problems. There has also been a vigorous competition of ideas over causes and remedies.
Posts Tagged ‘RLM Finsbury’
The principal corporate governance campaigns of the past decade have reached a plateau in terms of both investor commitment and implementation. These governance issues (such as majority voting, de-classifying staggered boards, eliminating super-majority votes and executive compensation excesses) are not by any means going away. Indeed, there are concerted investor-led efforts to push favored corporate governance “best practices” down the corporate chain to mid-cap and small-cap companies. However, the activist community has clearly won the policy battles surrounding these governance principles, and their “sizzle” is dissipating.
Policy stasis does not become corporate governance activism, as its very name implies. Corporate governance activists will develop new “green fields” to plow; otherwise they risk becoming irrelevant. The question is not whether corporate governance activists will move on but rather where they will go.
While there are a number of possible new foci, two stand out in particular:
Activist investing has become quite the rage in the equity marketplace. Activist investors are proliferating, and there is a marked inflow of new capital to this asset class. The discipline of activist investing is popping up in more conversations about the nature and role of equity investors. As a result, it is occupying the thoughts, and sometimes the nightmares, of an increasing number of corporate executives and their advisers. The phenomenon has even become a topic du jour of academics, who are busily finding sufficient economic value in the function of activist investing to justify urging the SEC not to shorten the historic minimum time frames for reporting accumulations of more than 5% of a company’s stock explicitly to permit activists to accumulate larger blocks before disclosure of their activities results in a rise in market trading values for the stock in question.
Activist investing has a long pedigree in the equity markets dating back to the late 1970’s. Back then and throughout the 1980’s, activist investors were known by less flattering sobriquets such as corporate raiders, bust-up artists and worse. Activist investing has changed since those heady, junk bond fueled days. Then, the favorite game plan of activist investing was to threaten or launch a cash tender offer for all, or at least a majority, of the target company’s outstanding stock with funding through an issuance of high yield bonds. Today, activist investors rarely seek equity stakes in target companies above 10%, and their financing comes not from the public debt or equity markets but rather through private hedge funds that they sponsor and manage.
Corporate America has weathered (with mixed results) two years of annual “Say on Pay” votes and is gearing up for a third. One theme which emerged during 2012 is that companies should not view the annual vote as a 60-90 day event that needs to be managed as best as possible given the hand the company has been dealt (or, in some senses, the hand it has dealt for itself). Rather, companies need to view Say on Pay as a year-round exercise in which the outcome of the annual vote can be positively affected if the company “engages” successfully with its investors on the topic of executive pay.
However, the meaning of the term “engagement” in this context is by no means obvious. And, while a number of companies have implemented sound engagement programs based on an accurate assessment of corporate governance dynamics, too many common prescriptions for engagement are based more on myth than reality.