Over the last several years, we’ve observed certain trends that are shaping corporate governance and which we believe will impact the board of the future. We structured our 2014 Annual Corporate Directors Survey to get directors’ views on these trends and other topics including:
Posts Tagged ‘Shareholder activism’
Shareholder activism continued to thrive in the 2014 proxy season, spurring corporate action as well as renewed engagement between issuers and investors. While the total number of shareholder proposals declined in 2014, lively activity continued with calls for independent chairs as well as burgeoning growth for social issues. And while few in number, change-in-control payout proposals were notably successful for the first time this year, while equity retention proposals continued to have a weak showing. In addition, support for proxy access proposals also grew at a rate greater than any other type of proposal.
Proxy Voting Analytics (2010-2014), a report recently released by The Conference Board in collaboration with FactSet, reviews the last five years of shareholder activism and proxy voting at Russell 3000 and S&P 500 companies.
Data analyzed in the report includes:
…continue reading: The Recent Evolution of Shareholder Activism
The experience of the overwhelming majority of corporate managers, and their advisors, is that attacks by activist hedge funds are followed by declines in long-term future performance. Indeed, activist hedge fund attacks, and the efforts to avoid becoming the target of an attack, result in increased leverage, decreased investment in CAPEX and R&D and employee layoffs and poor employee morale.
Several law school professors who have long embraced shareholder-centric corporate governance are promoting a statistical study that they claim establishes that activist hedge fund attacks on corporations do not damage the future operating performance of the targets, but that this statistical study irrefutably establishes that on average the long-term operating performance of the targets is actually improved.
Nearly 40 investor representatives shared with us their key priorities for the 2014 proxy season. We review the developments around these topics over the 2014 proxy season through shareholder proposal submissions, investor voting trends, proxy statement disclosures and behind-the-scenes company-investor engagement.
Key Developments in the 2014 Proxy Season
Activist investors are becoming more active and influential: Nearly 150 campaigns by hedge fund activists were launched in just the first half of this year. Both companies and long-term institutional investors are learning to navigate this changing landscape.
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.
Corporate governance politics display a peculiar feature: while the rhetoric is often heated, the material stakes are often low. Consider, for example, shareholder resolutions requesting boards to redeem poison pills. Anti-pill resolutions were the most common type of shareholder proposal from 1987–2004, received significant shareholder support, and led many companies to dismantle their pills. Yet, because pills can be reinstated at any time, dismantling a pill has no impact on a company’s ability to resist a hostile bid. Although shareholder activists may claim that these proposals vindicate shareholder power against entrenched managers, we are struck by the fact that these same activists have not made any serious efforts to impose effective constraints on boards, for example, by pushing for restrictions on the use of pills in the certificate of incorporation. Other contested governance issues, such as proxy access and majority voting, exhibit a similar pattern: much ado about largely symbolic change.
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.
In a memorandum issued by the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (Wachtell) last week, Do Activist Hedge Funds Really Create Long Term Value?, the firm’s founding partner Martin Lipton and another senior partner of the law firm criticize again my empirical study with Alon Brav and Wei Jiang, The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism. The memorandum announces triumphantly that Wachtell is not alone in its opposition to our study and that two staff members from the Institute for Governance of Private and Public Organizations (IGOPP) in Montreal issued a white paper (available here) criticizing our study. Wachtell asserts that the IGOPP paper provides a “refutation” of our findings that is “academically rigorous.” An examination of this paper, however, indicates that it is anything but academically rigorous, and that the Wachtell memo is yet another attempt by the law firm to run away from empirical evidence that is inconsistent with its long-standing claims.