Activist Shareholders and Directors, Beware! (Nishimura & Asahi)

When exiting minority holdings, not only beware about insider trading rules, but also short-swing profit rules. “Similar to the securities laws of other jurisdictions, Japanese securities laws also have short swing profit rules that require directors (and equivalents thereto) or 10% or greater shareholders to disgorge profits earned from matching buy-sell transactions (i.e., purchases and sales occurring within a six month window of each other, subject to certain limited exceptions) regardless of whether they are in possession of material non-public information. To avoid a costly surprise, an investor should confirm that it has not acquired any Public Company shares during the six month period leading up to the proposed share sale in order to avoid the perfunctory short swing profit disgorgement rules under Japanese securities laws. “

Correlations Between Governance Factors and Foreign Ownership

While overseas investors’ ownership decreased a year ago, activist investors are now likely to focus on Japanese companies. Corporate governance in Japan has improved since the Corporate Governance Code was introduced in June of 2015, but progress is much slower than foreign investors hoped. At this time, we analyze the relationship between % ownership held by overseas investors and key governance criteria. The following table shows the result of our regression analysis of the 13 governance factors that METRICAL uses as criteria and two performance measures, ROE and ROA. Of the 15 factors, 14 factors are significantly correlated with level of ownership by overseas investors.

Disclosure of Executive Compensation Required by New Cabinet Office Order… and Companies’ Responses

On January 31, 2019, the Cabinet Office Order on Disclosure of Corporate Affairs was amended, and the format of for securities reports was changed. With regard to the securities reports for the fiscal year ending March 2019, it is said that the employees in charge of dealing with the new format were put under considerable stress and extra work. The most troubling item was probably the section on executive compensation.

The revision of the Cabinet Office Order was made in response to the Financial Council Disclosure Working Group (DWG) report published on June 28, 2018. Mr. Carlos Ghosn was arrested in November of the same year, and executive compensation, which has been a subject of much debate for some time, once again disturbed the public mind. The new format, modified under these circumstances, calls for broader and detailed information disclosure. However, the top executives of many companies view disclosure of compensation as undesirable, because it has carries the potential for divisiveness or embarrassment. Mr. Ghosn’s false statement of compensation was attributable to this sense of aversion. Not only him, but also many other executives, desire as a basic human emotion to avoid disclosure of the amount of their compensation.

What were these two contradictory vectors, – requirements from Cabinet Office Order, and the company leaders’ intentions – reflected securities reports? Although we should wait for the thorough analysis on many securities reports published at the end of June 2019, in this article I would like to convey the initial impression that I obtained by surveying a few of them.

Japanese Institutional Investors Need to Take Their Own ESG Medicine

Does anyone have any theories as to why institutional investors that support director training in Japan are overwhelmingly foreign, and not Japanese?

The Board Director Training Institute of Japan (BDTI) was established as a “public interest” nonprofit in order to enable Japanese institutional investors to support something badly needed by their home market, director and governance training, on a tax-deductible basis…. so that such training could be offered at high quality yet low price, thereby spreading customs of governance/director training throughout Japan. However, after running BDTI for eight years since obtaining certification, we have noticed a disturbing but continuing reality: over time, more than 95% of BDTI’s donations from institutional investors have come from foreign institutions or fund managers, and less than 5% of donations to BDTI have come from Japanese institutions. Moreover, none of the Japanese institutional donors are “major” (top 30) investing institutions in Japan.

Communication Protocols for Acquisitive Strategic Investors with Board Nominees in Japan

The Corporate Counselor – Insights into Japanese Corporate Law –

by Stephen D. Bohrer and Yusuke Urano, Nishimura & Asahi NY LLP

Summary: “Strategic investors owning more than 10% of the shares of a Japanese company often seek board appointment rights as a measure to protect their investment. Board appointment rights offer a strategic investor a number of significant benefits, such as permitting the strategic investor to obtain useful information about the business plans and key technologies of the company. Although the director nominated by a strategic investor could breach contractual commitments and fiduciary duties if such director relays certain confidential information to the strategic investor, it is inevitable in these arrangements that a strategic investor will obtain some key information that it ordinarily would not have obtained had its nominee not served as a director.

The receipt of confidential information is a double-edged sword for a strategic investor as such information can be very useful for investment monitoring and competitive purposes, but at the same time can result in a violation of Japanese securities laws if a strategic investor makes a purchase or sale while in possession of material non-public information (“MNPI”). Consequently, a strategic investor contemplating a securities transaction with a publicly traded portfolio company (a “Public Investee Company”) in which it has a nominee serving on the board should implement communication protocols to channel information flows to and from its director nominee and the Public Investee Company so the strategic investor does not breach Japanese securities laws (curiously, the prohibition under Japanese insider trading rules does not apply to a privately held company).”

Japan’s Corporate Governance Conundrum, and How Investors Can Solve it

Out of more than 700 defined-benefit corporate pension plans in Japan, only five non-financial corporate pension plans have signed the SC. Second, a major portion of Japan’s asset owners are the companies themselves, in the form of direct “policy holdings” of the shares issued by other companies. Japan’s dual walls of “conflicted pension governance” and “allegiant shareholders” need to be torn down. Here is how it can be done.

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.”

Public Comment to the METI Fair M&A Study Group (by Nicholas Benes)

As the person who initially proposed the Corporate Governance Code to the LDP in 2013 and 2014, I am well aware of its limitations in various areas. For this reason, I am very pleased that Fair M&A Study Group have decided that its discussions should cover not only MBOs, but also ”cases which are likewise significantly affected by the issues of conflict of interest and information asymmetry”[1], including “cases of acquisition of a controlled company by its controlling shareholder.”[2]

This indeed an important mission, because these topics include virtually all types of M&A transactions and the public statements of executives and boards with regard to them. For many years in the post-war era, the failure of the government and the JPX/TSE to set forth clear bright-line rules that facilitate a fair, robust M&A market in Japan has stunted productivity, dynamism and growth in the Japanese economy.

“Linkage Between Corporate Governance and Value Creation” (METRICAL/BDTI) – Update as of January, 2019

Our joint research – “Linkage Between Corporate Governance and Value Creation” – between BDTI and METRICAL has been updated as of January 31. The most important inferences are summarized below.

(1) Correlations: Board Practices
and Performance

Significant correlation between board practices and performance continues.

(a) ROE: Nominations Committee existence, the number of female directors and percentage of INEDs show a significant positive correlation.

(b) Tobins Q: Nominations Committee, retired top management “advisors” (ex-CEO “advisors”), and percentage of INEDs show significant positive correlation.

(c) ROA (actual): Compensation Committee existence (negative correlation), Incentive Compensation Plan disclosure, and retired top management (ex-CEO) serving as advisors show significant correlation.