Discussion Forum

Why Secom is the Only Non-Financial Japanese Corporate Pension Fund to Sign the Stewardship Code

Yes, it is true.  Secom’s pension fund is the only one.  Following the report of a government study group urging private pension funds to sign the Stewardship Code, it is an open secret that many firms in industrial Japan are now waiting for either Panasonic or Toyota  to sign the Stewardship Code.  If one of these iconic companies’ pension funds signs,  it is said there will be an avalanche of other corporate funds that sign. Conversely, if neither of them signs, everyone can use that as an excuse for why they did not sign, e.g. “even mainstream companies like Toyota or Panasonic did not sign it yet.”.

Oddly, Japanese companies pride themselves on the strength of their covenant to employees, yet neglect employees’ pensions by failing to sign the stewardship code and report how they have handled those funds.  Why is this? Quite simply, Japanese companies are afraid that if their pension funds become more proactive, those same governance and proxy voting practices might come back and hit them in the face at their own shareholders meeting. What is in the best interests of employees’ pensions may not be in the self-interest of corporate executives. This breaks the most important link in the investment chain – asset owner voice.

Here is an article from Bloomberg focusing on this increasingly interesting situation:
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-26/an-unusual-manager-defies-peers-in-870-billion-pension-world

” “The only way you can explain this behavior pattern is to say that, let’s face it, senior executives don’t want active proxy voting and engagement in the market,” said Nicholas Benes, the Tokyo-based head of the Board Director Training Institute of Japan. He said they fear “blowback” at their own shareholder meetings. Judging by their actions, “they care more about that than they do about their employees’ funds,” he said.”

Event on ‘The Third Arrow’: Reforming Corporate Governance in Japan (Chicago Booth Insights)

Chicago Booth Insights, a series of global events where leaders address the complex issues facing businesses today, will be organizing one of such events here in Tokyo. It will be hosting the event on Tuesday, July 4th 2017 to discuss the effectiveness of recent efforts to improve corporate governance in Japan.

If you are interested in being a part of this event, please see details and guidelines on how to register here.

Progress: GPIF Refers to “Corporate Governance Codes” for the First Time

The GPIF should be highly commended for including reference to “the corporate governance codes of each country” to its recent statements regarding its stewardship policy and its proxy voting policy. This is a major step forward, considering the politics that it faces and the long-standing and unfounded claim by leaders in the industrial community who claim that if the GPIF had its own “principles and guidance for governance and proxy voting”, that would be “intervening in managerial decision making.  Even though the reference in the recently-released principles bends over backwards to encourage “giving a full hearing to explanations of non-compliance”, if you know the full background, this is significant progress.  (For the first time, the GPIF has uttered the words “corporate governance code” in writing!)

Japan’s Revised Stewardship Code Now Requires Disclosure of Voting Records, in Principle

The FSA has finalized its revision of the Stewardship Code. Perhaps the biggest change is that it now encourages signatories to disclose their voting records “for each investee company on a per-agenda basis”, something I proposed to the FSA in 2010 but was ignored. However as you can see below, this is a “comply or explain rule”, thus weakening it to some extent:

“Institutional investors should disclose voting records for each investee company on an individual agenda item basis. (If there is a reason to believe it inappropriate to disclose such company-specific voting records on an individual agenda item basis due to the specific circumstances of an investor, the investor should proactively explain the reason. Institutional investors should at a minimum aggregate the voting records into each major kind of proposal, and publicly disclose them.)”

PRI Publishes “Japan Roadmap” Regarding Fiduciary Duty in Japan

PRI published a “Japan Roadmap” suggesting improvements in Japan regarding fiduciary duty and ESG practices. (http://bit.ly/2pmrbus)  The Roadmap cited BDTI’s recent joint research with METRICAL with regard to our analysis showing that lower cross-shareholders correlate with better corporate performance.

Quote from the PRI’s introduction of the Roadmap: “Japan’s governance reforms will fail unless more asset owners join in, and all the talk about stewardship is accompanied by analysis, action and sweat,” said Nicholas Benes, representative director, The Board Director Training Institute of Japan. “The Japan Roadmap makes sensible recommendations to turn governance goals into realities.”

What Correlates with Superior Corporate Performance? (Summary of Research)

BDTI and METRICAL conducted joint research regarding the governance structure/practices and related corporate actions that correlate with superior firm performance in Japan, and reported on the preliminary results at seminars hosted by BDTI on March 16th and by Goldman Sachs on April 4th. Our research is still underway, but the preliminary results are intriguing and provide useful guidance for the next stage of analysis.

BDTI and METRICAL believe that corporate governance is not functioning effectively unless it leads to superior strategy, fine-tuning of capital allocation and capital structure, and other value-creating corporate actions.  Therefore, in our research we have sought to identify the apparent linkages and correlations between board practice, key corporate actions, and value creation.

In Phase 1 of our analysis, we studied the TOPIX100 Index composite (large 100 companies) to see whether scores we assessed for each company’s nomination policy, training policy, compensation policy, board evaluation policy, and the % of independent directors significantly correlate with ROA and ROE.

2017 OECD Corporate Governance Factbook

(Orrick) – “Corporate Governance Features for Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay Area Public Companies”

(17-page report  Ed Batts, Global Chair of Orrick’s M&A and Private Equity group.)   – ”Corporate governance features have Executive Summary become increasingly prominent for public companies. This has accelerated as economic-oriented activist investors team with institutional investors to serve as catalysts for change. We are often asked by clients in the course of our practice:

What do other companies do?

We thought it would be useful to compare the three primary governance documents – certificate/ articles of incorporation, bylaws and corporate governance guidelines – of Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay Area publicly traded companies.

We focused on three general areas:
• Board of Directors
• Shareholder Actions
• General Provisions

Varieties of “Independent” Director in Asia 

As this working paper reveals, however, the meteoric rise of the ‘independent director’ in Asia is considerably more complex than it initially appears. Although the label ‘independent director’ has been transplanted precipitously from the US (in some cases via the UK) throughout Asia, who is labelled an ‘independent director’ (i.e., the ‘form’ that independent directors […]