Professor Hideaki Miyajima: Activist Shareholders and Companies: Improving the Effectiveness of Management Reform

“…the probability of the success of activism (as described above) accompanied by official requests for activity has not yet reached that of Europe and the United States but has risen to 40%. In addition, the cumulative abnormal return (CAR) when such requests are accepted is about 6%, the same as in the United States and Europe….

Finally, let us consider the keys to improving corporate governance in Japan in the future…..

Memo to Shareholders of Kirin HD, from a Director Candidate

Independent Franchise Partners (IFP) has submitted a shareholder proposal nominating Kanako Kikuchi (an experienced global pharmaceutical executive) and myself as independent directors. Glass, Lewis supports electing both of us, but it seems that ISS has “split the baby” and only supports me. If investors could vote for Ms. Kikuchi as well, it would greatly help ensure that the board makes a fully informed, objective and independent assessment of the strategy on an ongoing basis.

Both of us have no past relations with IFP, and take an approach that is completely agnostic and independent of IFP’s dividend proposal. We both believe that if shareholders do not opt for that proposal, – or in any case – it is most prudent to withhold any decisions about the strategy until such time as when we are on the board and can ask questions and are privy to all internal analysis and confidential information. Therefore, we would both join the board with no pre-decision(s) made before knowing all the facts. This is the only logical position to take as a truly independent director. I have informed IFP in no uncertain terms that my philosophy and legal duty is to answer to all shareholders, and that I may well not agree with positions that IFP has taken or may take in the future. IFP has no problem with this.

Many investors may not realize that unless Ms. Kikuchi is elected, there will be no one with global biopharma experience on this board just at the time when that skill set is most needed. Given the company’s proclaimed strategy to “bridge” into health science products (which could be a good one for all I know), this is not wise and is of great concern to me.

Correlation and Causation: Good Governance Practices and Firm Performance in Japan

On December 11, 2019, I gave a lecture on BDTI’s analysis about corporate governance practices and and firm performance in Japan. Since then we have added indicators of statistical significance to our materials. To view the entire presentation as translated into English, click here: Presentation to Securities Analyst Association 2019.12.11. Those who read Japanese can read the full speech here, and can download the Japanese version of the presentation materials.

Our methodology is shown on page 23 . Our analysis suggests that the adoption of the following practices leads is followed by (appears to cause) improvements in ROA compared to the average for a firm’s industry over the next two years. Please see the charts on the left side of each page:

  • Adding an nomination committee of some sort (p. 27)
  • Appointing an outside director as the chair of that committee (p. 28)
  • The combination of nomination committee with a board composition with >33% independent directors (p. 30)
  • Adopting a performance-linked compensation plan for executives (p. 29)

Various other factors that appear to correlate with superior performance, are shown on page 22, and page 34. We will explore the direction of causation with some of these later.

Governance Practices and Firm Performance in Japan – Preliminary Analysis of Causation

On December 11, 2019, Nicholas Benes gave a lecture on Corporate Governance Practices and Firm Performance in Japan at the Securities Analysts Association of Japan. It was generally well-received and covered the following topics:

  • An Introduction to BDTI
  • General Trends in Corporate Governance
  • Correlation Analysis on Relationships Between Corporate Governance and Firm Performance, and the Direction of Causation
  • Advice for Investors and Prospects for Future Research
  • Appendix: Preview of our internal corporate governance relational database

Of note were the three main themes that were discussed: (1) There are visible relationships between certain corporate governance practices and financial performance (2) the direction of causation is most important to confirm, and so far, BDTI’s analysis suggests that a number of specific governance practices actually do seem to “cause” improvement rather than simply serve as evidence that management wants to “look good”; and (3) this information is vitally useful for analysts and investors alike, in order to improve the effectiveness of investor engagement that enhances profitability, growth and stock performance in a win-win cycle.

“Japan’s Unfinished Corporate Governance Reforms”, by Nicholas Benes

My article on Japan’s unfinished reforms is online now. Lest the Abe administration and regulators “declare victory” when they are only half done, I describe seven specific measures that Japan needs to adopt in order to bring its market up to a global standard for a developed nation:

  1. Detailed rules for an independent committee
  2. A clear requirement for a majority of independent directors on the board
  3. Codifying the role and responsibilities of executive officers
  4. Consolidation of overlapping disclosure reports
  5. Protection of minority shareholder rights
  6. Enhancing transparency to reduce entrenchment and enhance inclusiveness
  7. Strengthening stewardship throughout the investment chain

I stress the reality that in all of these, strong political leadership from the Prime Minister and other senior parliamentarians will be needed. “Thus, is it essential that the Tokyo Stock Exchange (JPX/TSE) and the various regulatory agencies keep up reform momentum. However, one senses a desire from these groups to ‘declare victory’, and they have a tendency to not fully coordinate with each other. If Prime Minister Abe’s cabinet did more to make the key players coordinate their efforts in key areas, meaningful governance change (and protection of investors) would accelerate….

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.

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.

Taking a Horse to Water – Prospects for the Japanese Corporate Governance Code

This paper was originally published by Zeitschrift für Japanisches Recht (Journal of Japanese Law) in its 2019 Spring edition (Vol.24). It is reproduced here by kind permission of the Executive Editors.

SUMMARY

“In 2014–2015 Japan implemented a series of reforms to its corporate governance regime. The principal measures adopted were the country’s first Corporate Governance Code, revisions to its Companies Law, and a Stewardship Code, together with a report (the Itō Review) on corporate competitiveness and incentives for growth. In this paper we analyse the objectives of these reforms and make an assessment of their likely success.

METRICAL/BDTI:Ratings of 1,800 companies (July 2019 Update)

In our July ratings, a more nuanced pictured emerged for Japanese companies. The significantly positive correlation of financial performance with the percentage of INEDs and the number of Female Directors disappeared this month, suggesting that an increasing number of non-superior performers are “copying” other companies in this respect, and/or have only only done so recently so no positive impact (should there be any) is discernible.