What is the Difference Between Mr. Ghosn’s Deferred Compensation and Hiring Post-Retirement Directors as “Advisors?”

When you squint closely at the facts, not as much as you might think. Mostly, it is the difference between individual self-dealing and collective self-dealing.

As corporate policy, many Japanese companies re-hire their executive directors as “advisors (“sodanyaku” or “komon“) immediately after they retire from the board. The re-hiring occurs automatically, and the work expected from such “advisors” in their contracts (if any) is usually vague to the point of being non-existent.

Corporate Governance in Japan: What Has Changed in the Past Three Years?

I recently gave a presentation in which I tried to answer this question. Here are the top-line conclusions:

  • Investors are finding their voting voices
  • Now they need to find to find their asking voices
  • There is a way to tear down the “allegiant shareholder ” wall
  • Factors that correlate with superior performance include: >= independent directors, low “allegiant” holdings, >15% female directors, and age of firm <45 years
  • Activism is becoming more effective

These conclusions are based on a huge amount of time-series data we have collected. We are now building a comprehensive time-series database that includes not only financial data, but all text and numerical data from financial reports and CG Reports, as well as tabulated AGM voting results for each resolution. The data will be organized so that one can zero in on exactly the data one needs. Here is a simple example showing board practices parameters, historical AGM participation and CEO approval rates, and the trend of ownership of “allegiant shareholdings”:

Governance Progress in Japan, – Pension Governance – Next, Rules for Listed Subsidiaries?

Nice to see that my personal push that resulted in the CG Code revision re pension fund governance mentioned in the article below, has now led to 14 pensions of non-financial corporates that signed the Stewardship Code…. up from one two years ago. https://www.al-in.jp/investmentjapan/2922/ But as to independent directors on boards, keep in mind that […]

How to Demolish Japan’s Wall of Yes-Man Allegiant Shareholders

By Nicholas Benes

The short story: it will not be so hard if institutional shareholders really want to topple it, and use the technique suggested here. But first, the background.



Background

This is still the biggest defect of Japan’s equity market, and recent reforms have only made a small dent in it. At the average listed company, between 35% and 50% of the stock is owned by such holders if one includes not only firms in “cross-shareholding” relationships but also firms that unilaterally hold stock in order to win business; most holdings by
banks and insurance companies; and parent companies, subsidiaries, and affiliates. Consistent with this estimate, when Japanese listed companies were asked, “what percent of your shareholders can you count to support management?” in late 2017, fully more than two-thirds of companies responded with numbers in the 30-60% range.

These “policy holdings” by “stable shareholders” represent a massive misallocation of capital that is being put at risk largely for the purpose of protecting executive teams at other companies. In 1967, Japan’s one of Japan’s most venerated managers and the founder of Panasonic, Konosuke Matsushita, minced no words in noting his concern about the then-recent rise of “stable” cross-shareholdings in these words: “If this situation continues, I think it is in no way desirable, because of the risk that once again a maldistribution of capital in our country will occur. I believe that this is not a sign of progress in capitalism; rather, it should be considered as a sign that we are moving backwards.”

Amended, Detailed Public Comment by Nicholas Benes to JPX re: “Review of the TSE Cash Equity Market Structure”

NOTE:  This public comment supersedes and replaces the one that I, Nicholas Benes, submitted on January 12, 2019)

As the person who initially proposed the Corporate Governance Code to the LDP in 2013 and 2014, and suggested a number of principles in it, I am well aware of its limitations in various areas and the fact that Japan has not yet attained the quality level for an equity market that is expected by global investors. In this sense I am very pleased that the JPX has decided to review its equity market structure and related standards.

Challenges and Realities

This indeed an important mission, for which is it essential to recognize and discuss the impact of a number of challenges that Japan faces in improving governance, efficiency, and trustworthiness of its equity capital markets. These challenges include:

Public Comment by Nicholas Benes to JPX re: “Review of the TSE Cash Equity Market Structure”

(As submitted to the JPX on January 12, 2019)
There should be only two sections of the JPX: (1) a TSE Premium Section and (2) an Emerging Companies Section.
Listing on the Premium Section should have the following requirements in addition to the existing TSE1 listing criteria:
(a) a five-year average market capitalization exceeding 50 Billion yen; (b) the ratio of total “policy holding stocks” (seisakuhoyukabu, 政策保有株) to [net assets less cash equivalents(純資産ー現金等)] as of the most recent FYE “yuho” financial report (or the one submitted just after any AGM) must not be more than 15%(10% in 2022, and 5% in 2024); (c) use of the electronic voting platform; (d) convocation notices must be sent out by both post and electronic methods at least four weeks before each AGM; (e) production of financial reports, kessan tanshin, corporate governance reports, convocation notices, and jigyou hokokusho in both Japanese and English, in all cases using XBRL formats using the same XBRL tags as those used for the respective Japanese materials…

Public Comment to the Proposed Revisions to Japan’s Governance Code – Nicholas Benes

by Nicholas Benes (as an individual)
April 30, 2018

1. Regarding the Overall Revision Process
2. Regarding Principle 2-6 (Activating the Function of Corporate Pension Funds as Asset Owners)
3. Regarding Principle 1-4 (“Policy Shareholdings”)
4. Regarding Principles 4-1③,4-3② and 4-3③ (Appointment and Termination of the CEO)
5. Regarding Principle 4-10① (The Use of Optional Structures)
6. Regarding Principle 4-14 (Training of Directors and Kansayaku)
7. Regarding Revision of the Machine-Readable Format of Corporate Governance Reports

(Note: This is a translation of a public comment which was originally written in Japanese and submitted in that form to the JPX/TSE.  The original version of the public comment is available here.)

1. Regarding the Overall Revision Process

I would like to express my thanks and appreciation for the hard work of the members of the Followup Committee with respect to this review of the Corporate Governance Code (the “CG Code”) . However,I would note that four years have elapsed since the initial drafting of the Code. As you know, in Germany there is a commission which monitors the effectiveness of the governance code on an ongoing basis, and proposes changes on a yearly basis if and as necessary.

Company Law Reform in Japan:  Losing its Mojo?

by Nicholas Benes

This year, Japan’s governance reform drive will either keep going, or run out of steam. Judging from the amendment of the Company Law that is now underway by an advisory council of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), the latter is likely.

Strikingly absent is a clear over-arching vision of the most important themes that amendment of the Company Law should address now that the country has a corporate governance code. In other words, what is missing, that can only be addressed via the Company Law?

If the government were truly intent on bringing about behavioral change on the part of all Japanese boards and executives, it would focus on harmonizing key aspects of the confusing array of three different corporate governance models which listed companies can adopt, and moving towards a more consistent version of the “monitoring model” for governance that has become internationally accepted and is now embodied in its own corporate governance code.

To do this, it would change the law to enable boards to flexibly appoint capable (and legally accountable) senior executives from a much wider range of candidates than is currently possible. It would also establish rules that require boards to fulfill the independent supervisory and oversight roles envisioned for them under the corporate governance code, unaffected by managerial self-interest, if they wish to delegate wider authority to executives and pay them incentive compensation determined solely by the board.