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.

The Economist: “Environmental, societal, and…what? The craze for ethical investment has reached Japan”

The Economist has published two articles on ESG, one focusing on its expansion in Japan led by the GPIF and the other focusing on the impact of passive funds on the effectiveness of ESG investment overall. I was [accurately] quoted in the former – ” Nick Benes, who heads the Board Director Training Institute of Japan, an educational body, says he is “all for” the enthusiasm for ESG in Japan. But he frets that Japanese companies are focusing on environmental and social aspects at the expense of governance. “That is the real driver of sustainability,” says Mr Benes. “But here it’s a big, bold E and S, and a small, plain G.”

“A New Dawn for Japanese Governance” by Frank Curtiss

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 […]

Japan’s Revised Stewardship Code Now Requires Disclosure of Voting Records, in Principle

The FSA has finalized its revision of the Stewardship Code. Perhaps the biggest change is that it now encourages signatories to disclose their voting records “for each investee company on a per-agenda basis”, something I proposed to the FSA in 2010 but was ignored. However as you can see below, this is a “comply or explain rule”, thus weakening it to some extent:

“Institutional investors should disclose voting records for each investee company on an individual agenda item basis. (If there is a reason to believe it inappropriate to disclose such company-specific voting records on an individual agenda item basis due to the specific circumstances of an investor, the investor should proactively explain the reason. Institutional investors should at a minimum aggregate the voting records into each major kind of proposal, and publicly disclose them.)”

PRI Publishes “Japan Roadmap” Regarding Fiduciary Duty in Japan

PRI published a “Japan Roadmap” suggesting improvements in Japan regarding fiduciary duty and ESG practices. (http://bit.ly/2pmrbus)  The Roadmap cited BDTI’s recent joint research with METRICAL with regard to our analysis showing that lower cross-shareholders correlate with better corporate performance.

Quote from the PRI’s introduction of the Roadmap: “Japan’s governance reforms will fail unless more asset owners join in, and all the talk about stewardship is accompanied by analysis, action and sweat,” said Nicholas Benes, representative director, The Board Director Training Institute of Japan. “The Japan Roadmap makes sensible recommendations to turn governance goals into realities.”

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.

”Japan’s Coming Shareholder Revolution” (written in 2001!- perspective from the past)

Here is an article I wrote in 2001, about the topic in the title. It makes interesting reading some 15 years later. While I may have made correct call… obviously I was a bit too early! It has taken a lot more work, by many persons, for Japan to move as far as it has come in the past years…and the job is not done yet.

“Last month, the Life Insurance Association of Japan published a survey of 561 public companies and 122 institutional investors, focusing on corporate governance and investor relations practices. The results exploded some myths regarding the supposed lack of support for modern corporate governance concepts among institutional shareholders in Japan. Japanese investors are in effect saying: “We want transparency and clear accountability, independent outside directors on boards, and independent board committees.”

The very fact that the survey addressed these topics is a breath of fresh air. Japan’s institutional investor community is weighing in on the emerging debate over corporate governance. It is none too late. Although they should be the most directly motivated constituency, institutional shareholders had been conspicuously quiet. Like most of Japan’s institutional investors, insurance companies have feared a backlash if they took a stance opposed by certain senior executives and politicians. They feared imperiling governmental assistance with industry cleanup, as well as losing insurance and pension business from companies in which they hold stock.

Logic and hard realities are finally coming to the fore. And the investor community will become more vocal as competition heats up in the fund management industry. Investment advisor companies, known as (toshi komon ), compete on the basis of investment returns and prudent decision-making, and do not have other businesses that might fear adverse repercussions.