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.”
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 […]
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 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.”
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.
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.
“Minuscule adoption of code a hit to Abe corporate governance efforts”
“…..Nicholas Benes, one of the architects of Japan’s corporate governance code and head of the Board Director Training Institute of Japan said: “In order for the stewardship code to function as it was intended and be effective as hoped for, the most important part of the ‘investment chain’ that needs to be signed up are the end asset owners — a large proportion of which are corporate pension funds … they are the ones that dictate policy to the fund managers that have signed the code”.
Unless the corporate pension funds — as the biggest customers of the asset managers — are actively demanding better stewardship, fund managers would inevitably cut corners on engagement and proxy voting, Mr Benes added…. ”
Titlis has updated corporate its governance ratings for 500 major public companies in Japan as of September 2016. The CG scores improved 3/100 pts from a year ago, steadily but at a slower pace than expectations at the inception of Corporate Governance Code. According to the attribution analysis of the changes in CG scores for a year, the category (factor) of the Board of Directors was the largest contributor and the categories of Incentive of Remuneration, Takeover Defense, and Share Cancellation also inched up scores.
Cross-shareholdings should be considered the effect of share price plunges. The resolution of cross-share holding is extremely slow. We should keep eyes on enhancement of CG.
Despite the fact that many still doubt how successful the Abenomics corporate governance reforms in Japan that led to the introduction of the Stewardship and Corporate Governance Code and the amendment of the Companies Act, Arthur Mitchell, a senior counselor with White & Case in Tokyo strongly believes otherwise. He writes an insightful article explaining that while the effectiveness of the reforms will largely depend on the way they are implemented, the reforms will certainly enable market participants to change their corporate performance and overall corporate culture. (Note: Arthur Mitchell has taken BDTI’s director training course in Japanese, and currently sits on the board of Mitsui Sumitomo Financial Group.)
Read full article here.
Based on the theory that responsible behavior by institutional investors hinges in turn on stimulating a population of active citizen investors, I am attaching two of my recent articles drawn from the new book “What They Do With Your Money: How the Financial System Fails Us and How to Fix It”, by Jon Lukomnik, David Pitt-Watson and me (Yale University Press, just out). The official book launch took place on June 7.
The first article, published on the Harvard Law CG blog, sets out the costs to society and individuals when citizen investors are missing in action, and offers several proposed fixes: