Example of UK Pension Voting Policy – Japan Still Has Far to Go

The London Borough of Camden Pension Fund recently updated its voting guidelines. I thought it might be interesting for Japanese readers to see how detailed such guidelines by foreign pension funds are.  It is interesting to note that if you applied these voting criteria to most Japanese companies, almost none of them would pass muster, and the result we would be that many resolutions (and many directors) would not be approved.  Japan is still far, far behind the level of “stewardship” and expected governance practices in many other countries.

London Borough of Camden Voting Guidelines 2020

Very few pension funds in Japan (none that I know of) have voting policies at anything near this level of detail.


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.

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.


“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.

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.

Governance Progress in Japan, – Pension Governance – Next, Rules for Listed Subsidiaries?

Nice to see that my personal push that resulted in the CG Code revision re pension fund governance mentioned in the article below, has now led to 14 pensions of non-financial corporates that signed the Stewardship Code…. up from one two years ago. https://www.al-in.jp/investmentjapan/2922/ But as to independent directors on boards, keep in mind that […]

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.