Steady progress is indeed being made as a result of the efforts being made to improve corporate governance in Japan now that remarkable changes are observed. “Japan is the land of the rising sun, but as far as corporate governance is concerned, it has been more a land of false dawns over the past 15 years or so. However, some significant […]
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.
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.
Cross share holding is still a big issue in Japan, as the cancellation of shares and return on shareholders equity remain slower to improve. This report shows this evidence clearly, using analysis of 500 companies of core research universe as of August 2016. Average ROE and CG scores for 50 largest cross share holdings/sales companies were lower than those for overall 500 companies. A half of 50 companies are banks and those holdings have not really decreased for a year. Due to accountability to shareholders, companies should disclose cost/benefit on the holdings that put downward pressure on ROE by earning only dividends. Detail is shown as link below.
Titlis updated companies in Japan improved CG scores from 09/2015-09/2016, following the previous posting of Attribution of change in CG score. Of 455 companies 7 companies removed takeover defense and many companies moved to improve board of directors at slower but steady pace. This is not enough but we should positively appreciate further effort in near future. Meantime share holding and share cancelation that would put positive pressure on return on shareholders’ equity have shown little improvement.
Titlis has updated corporate its governance ratings for 500 major public companies in Japan as of September 2016. The CG scores improved 3/100 pts from a year ago, steadily but at a slower pace than expectations at the inception of Corporate Governance Code. According to the attribution analysis of the changes in CG scores for a year, the category (factor) of the Board of Directors was the largest contributor and the categories of Incentive of Remuneration, Takeover Defense, and Share Cancellation also inched up scores.
Cross-shareholdings should be considered the effect of share price plunges. The resolution of cross-share holding is extremely slow. We should keep eyes on enhancement of CG.
Here is the short speech that I gave to the Fall 2016 Conference of the Council of Institutional Investors (CII), on September 30, 2016. On this video, my speech starts at the 36:00 minute point. Below, I have reproduced the CII’s summary of my comments, and further below, the full text of my speech.
” Nick Benes, representative director for the Board Director Training Institute of Japan, said a sea change is underway in Japan in terms of companies beginning to comply with the Corporate Governance code, but there is still room for improvement. He reported that almost 80 percent of Japanese companies now have two or more independent directors and 40 percent of large companies have their own corporate governance guidelines, but beyond that, the reforms that companies say they have in place are lacking in substance. He estimated that 90 percent of firms say they comply, but have little evidence this is the case and few have actually changed their practices. Despite these setbacks, Benes said he remains optimistic that Japanese companies will move in the right direction because there is now broad awareness that “governance is good”. Additionally, disclosure has vastly improved and the number of votes opposing the re-election of directors is climbing. A video of this session is available here.
Text of Speech (and Slides)
“In 2013, I was lucky enough to propose to key congressmen in Japan, that Japan should have a Corporate Governance Code. I then advised them, and then the Financial Services Agency, about the content of the Code.
So I am very pleased to have this opportunity to summarize the progress that Japanese companies have made so far in implementing the principles of the Code, based on my activities as consultant, independent director, “directorship” trainer, and policy advocate.
My main message to Committee members is this:
1) A sea change is underway in companies, the media, the government, and the public. Because Japan is a “shame-based” society, the vastly enhanced disclosure required by the Code has created a strong virtuous circle.
2) These changes represent a very big opportunity for foreign investors, but only IF they study the Code and the disclosures in detail, and then leverage the Code’s principles so as to make specific requests for better governance practices to Japanese companies they invest in, while also brandishing the possibility of consequences – such as not re-electing senior executives, – if progress is not made.
Here are some highlights “from the trenches” about what is occurring in Japan:
Despite the fact that many still doubt how successful the Abenomics corporate governance reforms in Japan that led to the introduction of the Stewardship and Corporate Governance Code and the amendment of the Companies Act, Arthur Mitchell, a senior counselor with White & Case in Tokyo strongly believes otherwise. He writes an insightful article explaining that while the effectiveness of the reforms will largely depend on the way they are implemented, the reforms will certainly enable market participants to change their corporate performance and overall corporate culture. (Note: Arthur Mitchell has taken BDTI’s director training course in Japanese, and currently sits on the board of Mitsui Sumitomo Financial Group.)
Read full article here.
Executive Summary To me – the guy who proposed the code – the most important logic of Japan’s corporate governance code is: Japan needs committees even more than other countries, because there are so few outside directors to set the base for “committees”, Japanese companies must first appoint “multiple” independent directors Japan needs any and […]