Posts Tagged ‘Transparency’

Shareholder Proposals on Social and Environmental Issues

Editor’s Note: Matteo Tonello is managing director of corporate leadership at The Conference Board. This post relates to an issue of The Conference Board’s Director Notes series authored by Melissa Aguilar and Thomas Singer. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Political spending and climate change, key topics during the 2014 proxy season, are expected to feature heavily again in 2015 shareholder proposals. This post reviews the content of the social and environmental proposals voted on most frequently by shareholders of Russell 3000 companies during the 2014 season, including the topics that received the highest average shareholder support. The complete publication provides examples of proposal text and sponsor supporting statements, as well as board responses and related corporate disclosure.

Nearly 40 percent of all shareholder proposals submitted at Russell 3000 companies that held meetings during the first half of 2014 were related to social and environmental policy issues, up from 29.2 percent in 2010, as documented in Proxy Voting Analytics (2010-2014). Social and environmental policy proposals now represent the second-largest category of the subjects in terms of both the number submitted and the number voted, narrowly behind corporate governance.

…continue reading: Shareholder Proposals on Social and Environmental Issues

Why Commissioner Gallagher is Mistaken about Disclosure of Political Spending

Posted by Lucian Bebchuk, Harvard Law School, and Robert J. Jackson, Jr., Columbia Law School, on Monday November 10, 2014 at 9:04 am
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Editor’s Note: Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School. Robert J. Jackson, Jr. is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Bebchuk and Jackson served as co-chairs of the Committee on Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending, which filed a rulemaking petition requesting that the SEC require all public companies to disclose their political spending, discussed on the Forum here. Bebchuk and Jackson are also co-authors of Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, published last year in the Georgetown Law Journal. A series of posts in which Bebchuk and Jackson respond to objections to an SEC rule requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is available here.

Last week, Securities and Exchange Commissioner Daniel Gallagher took the unusual step of publishing a letter to the editor of the New York Times expressing his opposition to the SEC even considering companies’ disclosure of political spending. In his letter, the Commissioner vows “to fight to keep” the subject off the SEC’s agenda. As explained below, however, his letter fails to provide a substantive basis for his vehement opposition to transparency in corporate spending on politics.

…continue reading: Why Commissioner Gallagher is Mistaken about Disclosure of Political Spending

ISS Proposes Equity Plan Scorecards

Posted by Carol Bowie, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., on Friday October 24, 2014 at 9:04 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 draft policy changes to the ISS Equity Plan Scorecard issued by ISS on October 15, 2014.

As issues around cost transparency and best practices in equity-based compensation have evolved in recent years, ISS proposes updates to its Equity Plans policy in order to provide for a more nuanced consideration of equity plan proposals. As an alternative to applying a series of standalone tests (focused on cost and certain egregious practices) to determine when a proposal warrants an “Against” recommendation, the proposed approach will incorporate a model that takes into account multiple factors, both positive and negative, related to plan features and historical grant practices.

Feedback from clients and corporate issuers in recent years, beginning with the 2011-2012 ISS policy cycle, indicates strong support for the proposed approach, which incorporates the following key goals:

…continue reading: ISS Proposes Equity Plan Scorecards

Opacity in Financial Markets

Posted by R. Christopher Small, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Thursday October 23, 2014 at 9:17 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Yuki Sato of the Department of Finance at the University of Lausanne and the Swiss Finance Institute.

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.

…continue reading: Opacity in Financial Markets

Directors Should Communicate with Shareholders

Editor’s Note: John Wilcox is chairman of Sodali and former Head of Corporate Governance at TIAA-CREF. This post is based on a Sodali publication by Mr. Wilcox.

To demonstrate their effectiveness, corporate boards should increase transparency, provide an annual report of boardroom activities and take charge of their relations with shareholders.

With shareholders continuing to press for ever-deepening levels of engagement, companies must find a way to answer the most basic question of corporate governance: “How effective is the board of directors?” It is a question that can only be answered by the board itself, but it presents directors with a challenge as well as an opportunity. The challenge is to overcome the mindset, habits and perceived risks that have long kept boardroom activities under wraps. The opportunity, on the other hand, is to define governance and strategic issues from the board’s perspective, manage shareholder expectations, take the engagement initiative away from shareholders and reduce the likelihood of activism. Directors should give careful consideration to this opportunity. Over the long term, it will be far better for companies to control the process by which board transparency is achieved rather than waiting for yet again another set of governance reforms that could further erode the board’s authority.

…continue reading: Directors Should Communicate with Shareholders

2014 CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Disclosure

Posted by Bruce F. Freed, Center for Political Accountability, on Tuesday October 7, 2014 at 9:17 am
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Editor’s Note: Bruce F. Freed is president and a founder of the Center for Political Accountability. This post is based on the 2014 CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability by Mr. Freed and Sol Kwon; the full report is available here. Work from the Program on Corporate Governance about corporate political spending includes Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert Jackson, discussed on the Forum here. A committee of law professors co-chaired by Bebchuk and Jackson submitted a rulemaking petition to the SEC concerning corporate political spending; that petition is discussed here.

Dozens of leading American corporations have embraced political transparency without the prodding of shareholder proposals. This is a new and important finding in the fourth annual CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability released by the Center for Political Accountability on September 24.

At the same time, the Index found that companies that have already adopted disclosure and accountability continue to strengthen their policies, making them more robust and comprehensive. All this is happening in the face of intense opposition by several of the leading business trade associations.

…continue reading: 2014 CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Disclosure

Audit Committee Reporting To Shareholders: 2014 Proxy Season Update

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Thursday September 25, 2014 at 9:07 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Ernst & Young, and is based on an Ernst & Young study by Allie M. Rutherford and Ruby Sharma. The complete publication is available here.

The 2014 proxy season saw significant growth in audit committee transparency. Continuing the trend of the past several years, an increased number of Fortune 100 companies are going beyond the minimum disclosures required.

These disclosures are also more robust—providing valuable perspectives on the activities of audit committees, including their oversight of external auditors.

The recent movement toward increased audit committee transparency has been encouraged by a variety of factors and entities. In addition to the ongoing disclosure effectiveness review by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) involving a holistic review of the US corporate disclosure regime, audit committee disclosures are receiving significant attention from a variety of stakeholders. These stakeholders include US and non-US regulators, investors, and policy organizations.

…continue reading: Audit Committee Reporting To Shareholders: 2014 Proxy Season Update

The Need for Improved Transparency

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Monday September 22, 2014 at 9:05 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Darrell M. West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution, and based on a book authored by Mr. West, titled “Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust;” a sample chapter may be downloaded for free here. Work from the Program on Corporate Governance about corporate political spending includes Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert Jackson, discussed on the Forum here. A committee of law professors co-chaired by Bebchuk and Jackson submitted a rulemaking petition to the SEC concerning corporate political spending; that petition is discussed here.

Anyone paying the slightest amount of attention recognizes that the U.S. political system is performing poorly. Washington is gripped by extreme partisanship, which prevents Congress from conducting even routine business, and cooperation between the executive and legislative branches is near historic lows. But as I argue in my new book, Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust, the problem with the nation’s politics is even deeper than the daily headlines suggest. There is limited transparency surrounding money and politics, and many institutions that in the past could counterbalance the power of the wealthy and other special interests have grown weak. It is difficult for financially strapped news organizations to provide quality coverage of government, and political parties have become heavily dependent on a relatively small number of wealthy and well-connected people for campaign contributions.

…continue reading: The Need for Improved Transparency

SEC Adopts Long Awaited Rules for Asset-Backed Securities

Posted by Theodore Mirvis, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on Saturday September 20, 2014 at 9:40 am
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Editor’s Note: Theodore N. Mirvis is a partner in the Litigation Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The following post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Mirvis, Carrie M. Reilly, and Brandon C. Price.

Earlier this week, the SEC adopted significant changes to Regulation AB, which governs the offering process and disclosure and periodic reporting requirements for public offerings of asset-backed securities, including residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS). The revisions to Regulation AB were a long time coming—they were first proposed in 2010 and have drawn several rounds of comments from industry participants. Issuers must comply with the new rules no later than one year after publication in the Federal Registrar (or two years in the case of the asset-level disclosure requirements described below). The new rules do not address “risk retention” by sponsors which is the subject of a separate rule-making process.

…continue reading: SEC Adopts Long Awaited Rules for Asset-Backed Securities

The Million-Comment-Letter Petition: The Rulemaking Petition on Disclosure of Political Spending Attracts More than 1,000,000 SEC Comment Letters

Posted by Lucian Bebchuk, Harvard Law School, and Robert J. Jackson, Jr., Columbia Law School, on Thursday September 4, 2014 at 11:00 am
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Editor’s Note: Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School. Robert J. Jackson, Jr. is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Bebchuk and Jackson served as co-chairs of the Committee on Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending, which filed a rulemaking petition requesting that the SEC require all public companies to disclose their political spending, discussed on the Forum here. Bebchuk and Jackson are also co-authors of Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, published last year in the Georgetown Law Journal. A series of posts in which Bebchuk and Jackson respond to objections to an SEC rule requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is available here. All posts related to the SEC rulemaking petition on disclosure of political spending are available here.

In July 2011, we co-chaired a committee of ten corporate and securities law experts that petitioned the Securities and Exchange Commission to develop rules requiring public companies to disclose their political spending. We are delighted to announce that, as reflected in the SEC’s webpage for comments filed on our petition, the SEC has now received more than a million comment letters regarding the petition. To our knowledge, the petition has attracted far more comments than any other SEC rulemaking petition—or, indeed, than any other issue on which the Commission has accepted public comment—in the history of the SEC.

…continue reading: The Million-Comment-Letter Petition: The Rulemaking Petition on Disclosure of Political Spending Attracts More than 1,000,000 SEC Comment Letters

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