ICGN Urges Japan to Focus More on Independent Committees and Director Training, Other Key Areas

We are pleased to note that against the backdrop of the recent events at Nissan, the Institutional Corporate Governance Network (ICGN)  has submitted a letter to Japan’s Council of Experts for the Follow-up of Japan’s Stewardship Code and Corporate Governance Code, stressing the importance of independent directors, independent board committees, director training, use of a “skills matrix”, capital allocation, disclosures, and a number of other issues that BDTI has been stressing for many years,  – ever since its establishment in 2009, in fact.   On the topic of director training, Kerrie Waring of the ICGN wrote:

” ICGN encourages the introduction of high quality training for independent directors in Japan to help build an understanding of what their role entails, particularly in relation to monitoring management and public disclosures. This would help ensure objective decision-making in response to business issues and in alignment with the company’s vision, mission and strategy. We also stress the importance of financial literacy to ensure that independent directors are able to challenge management on issues such as capital efficiency, the use of cross shareholdings and CEO remuneration.”  (emphasis added) 

How Many Shares are Actually Held by “Allegiant Shareholders [1]”?

By Ken Hokugo[2]
Director, Head of Corporate Governance, Pension Fund Association
Director, The Board Director Training Institute of Japan

There has always been confusion surrounding this topic.  From the point of view of those who want to help foreign investors understand the realities of the Japanese market, the most troubling number that is thrown about is the seemingly magic number of “10% or less”.   This number is frequently referred to by the media, with the source given as being the reports by a certain analyst at a research institute that is affiliated with a prominent securities firm.

Quite often, we encounter foreign investors who casually believe this widely-touted number of “10% or less” and therefore are not concerned very much (if at all) with the issue of “cross-shareholdings”  in Japan, in light of recent improvements in Japan’s corporate governance.  Needless to say, it takes a lot of energy to convince such investors that the reality of the Japanese market is different.  In this post, I am not trying to scare foreign investors away from Japan’s stock markets, but rather trying to encourage them to invest based on an accurate understanding of the situation in the context of history, culture, and the overall current environment.

BDTI Update to Supporters, June 2018

Notes: (1) On this page (at top right), you can sign up to receive our English Newsletter; (2) Sign up to receive the (separate) Japanese Newsletter here; (3) Anyone can support the “SEO” of our web site simply by mentioning BDTI on any web page with a link to this page; (4) For details about the chart, see the overview materials.

” Dear Supporter:   I am writing to update you, and to respectfully ask you or your institution to make a donation of 300,000 Yen or more this year, either as a Sustaining Donor or as a Corporate Participating Member. (As explained below in section 5, the latter category now allows donors which are investing institutions to receive 40% discounts on all BDTI courses/seminars that are open to the public, and to share these discounts with companies in their portfolio.)

TBS is Not the Only One – 33 Other Major Companies with Large Investments in Securities

In light of the attention AVI’s shareholder proposal is drawing toward TBS’ huge “non-core” shareholdings in Tokyo Electron, and the light this is shedding on the continued practice of cross-shareholdings in Japan, we thought it would be helpful to screen for companies with similar characteristics.

AVI’s argument draws on solid corporate finance principles that companies should not be diversifying for shareholders when they can do so for themselves in a more efficient manner. Moreover, even when the company is suited toward asset management and has a solid track record for this (e.g., Softbank), investors expect to see behavior that shows that the (quasi) asset manager is exercising judgement as such on an ongoing basis. In other words, the company should exhibit buying and selling activity dictated by profitability and outside forces. In such cases, shareholders tend to view and value the company more as an asset manager than as a company in the originally-stated industry, and therefore expect such behavior.

BDTI/METRICAL CG Research Update: “Linkage between CG Practice and Value Creation”

BDTI and METRICAL collaborate on researching the linkage between CG practices sand value creation. We have recently released our updated analysis as of April 2018 for the roughly 1,800 publicly traded companies with market capitalization exceeding about JPY10 billion.

In this analysis, by examining board practices (CG guidelines, practices, and composition of the Board of Directors) and specific actions (real actions by a company) separately, we try to identify statistically significant correlations with financial performance measures (ROE, ROA, Tobin ‘s q) for each of these respectively – i.e, for, board practices and action respectively.

We have observed a certain degree of improvement in board practices since the introduction of the Corporate Governance Code.  However, assuming that one of the key goals of the corporation is value creation, in order to improve the effectiveness of engagement and stewardship it is very important to regularly analyze the way in which such improvement (and specifically, which improvements) appears to lead to value creation.

We can summarize the results of our recent analysis as follows:

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.

METRICALs CG Analysis Now Covers 1,808 Companies, Up From 511, Yielding More Robust Results

As of February 2018, METRICAL now covers more than 1,800 companies, having increased its scope from 500 companies. Our research now covers all TSE 1st section companies that have a market capitalization greater than Yen 10 Billion, which is to say almost all TSE1 companies. METRICAL has analyzed the corporate governance of Japanese companies for three years, using 10 criteria and more than 20 sub-criteria. The analysis focuses on both board practices as well as the corporate actions that should be closely affected by CG practice and should ultimately improve financial performance of companies.

Cross-Shareholdings: “Enjoying the Quiet Life: Corporate Decision-Making by Entrenched Managers”

This excellent working paper by Naoshi Ikeda, Kotaro Inoue and Sho Watanabe describes their research that leads to the conclusion (similar to BDTI’s own research) that cross-shareholdings in Japan negatively impact risk-taking, investment for growth, and the frequency of restructuring activities.  Conversely, when managers are monitored more heavily by investors and independent directors, they are positively affected.

What Correlates with Superior Corporate Performance? (Summary of Research)

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.

2017 OECD Corporate Governance Factbook