Great Analysis of the Larry Fink/BlackRock Letter

“Today, after more than a year of increasing pressure from climate activists, investors, legislators, and thought leaders, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, in his highly-anticipated annual letter to CEOs and to clients, announced a sweeping new set of policies which aim to put climate change and sustainability at the center of BlackRock’s business model. BlackRock is the world’s largest asset manager with almost $7 trillion in assets under management as of Q3 2019. …..The announcement is a major shift for BlackRock, which previously had failed to take meaningful action on climate, and is a very important step in the right direction as the world faces increasing risk from climate change. Massive capital shifts away from fossil fuels and deforestation-risk commodities are necessary to mitigate the worst of the climate crisis and set the world on a path toward sustainability.

Nicholas Benes: Public Comment on Revision of the Stewardship Code

1) Pension Funds
2) Other Types of Investors
3) “ESG Factors”
4) Debt Instruments

1) Pension Funds

The proposed revisions to the Stewardship Code do not make it clear enough exactly how corporate pension funds, or smaller pension funds of any type, can sign the Code and comply with it without bearing excessive cost, work, or confusion.  Because this is not sufficiently clear at present, to date only an extremely small number of the defined-benefit pension funds at listed non-financial companies in Japan have signed the Code (only about 10, out of a total of 700 or more such funds). As a result, a rather odd situation exists in that most Japanese companies claim to care for their employees deeply, but judging from their actions, do not seem to care much about employees’ investments or post-retirement quality of life – or even, to care about preserving shareholder value by reducing the cash infusions needed to keep their pension plan fully funded. This makes a mockery of the language in the Corporate Governance Code about stewardship (Principle 2.6 企業年金のアセットオーナーとしての機能発揮), and of the Stewardship Code itself.

TIIP:”Sustainable Investing in Japan: An Agenda for Action”

Executive Summary

More than a quarter of assets under management (AUM) worldwide are invested in “sustainable” strategies, strategies that consider environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in pursuit of financial sustainability and/or environmental or social sustainability. Investors – both individual and institutional and at all wealth levels – are increasingly interested in integrating these strategies into their financial plans and investment portfolios, and asset managers and global financial institutions are embracing the approach and expanding related services and product offerings.

Interest in sustainable investing and sustainably invested AUM are growing rapidly in Japan. But despite this enthusiasm and growth, few mainstream investors, financial advisors, and investment consultants in Japan are embracing the practice.

Corporate Governance in Japan: What Has Changed in the Past Three Years?

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”:

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.

“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.

Japan CG Top20 Stock Performance: Gap with Market Indices Widens (August 2018)

CG Top 20 stocks continued solid performance in August

August stock prices have continued low trading volume. Topix and JPX400 indices tumbled in the middle of the month, but recovered toward the month end. Meanwhile, CG Top 20 prices also recovered their losses toward the end of the month. The gap between CG quality stocks and the market indices is widening. The stock price charts for in the indices and the composite of CG top 20 companies are shown in the following link.

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.

Draft Revision of Japan’s Corporate Governance Code: Public Comment Period Begins

The Council of Experts Concerning the Follow-up of Japan’s Stewardship Code and Japan’s Corporate Governance Code (Chairman: Kazuhito Ikeo, Professor of Economics and Finance, Keio University) has  published its proposals for “Revision of the Corporate Governance Code” and  “Guidelines for Investor and Company Engagement”. Both are being put out for public comment until April 29, 2018.  Full information from the FSA is available here.   The documents themselves are available the links below.

Revision of the Coporate Governance Code and Establishment of Guidelines for Investor and Company Engagement(including Appendix1 and Appendix2)

(Appendix1)Japan’s Corporate Governance Code (Draft Revision)

(Appendix2)Guidelines for Investor and Company Engagement (Draft)