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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Chair of the Board of Directors
We would like to highlight the function of the chair of the board. Of about 1,800 companies, only 27 companies are chaired by an outside director. This indicates just how resistant inside directors are in entrusting the position of chair of the board to an outside director. The table below shows the 27 companies.
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”:
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.
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.
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.”
Frequent visitors to our blog are likely aware of Japan’s major corporate governance reforms, but not everyone is familiar with the story behind how these reforms were crafted. The eminent Steven K. Vogel (Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley), recently wrote a concise and easy-to-follow history of the major reforms to Japanese corporate governance practices since the 1990s, describing how and why they came to pass.
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”, including “cases of acquisition of a controlled company by its controlling shareholder.”
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.