Money managers under the microscope
from Global Investing:
We've had a fair while to ponder the implications of a British AGM season which saw investors oust a few CEOs and deal bloody noses to a few others. We've also had some data which implies the revolt wasn't as widespread as advertised, but Sacha Sadan at Legal and General Investment Management thinks we have seen something important, and something that must be exploited.
His take is that austerity is at the heart of the matter. While the public suffers in a faltering economy, and investors stomach dwindling returns, it was never going to fly that pay deals for bosses should survive unchallenged. Add to that government and media pressure on remuneration, plus a new era of investor collaboration thanks to the stewardship code, and you get an ideal set of factors to drive the 'shareholder spring'.
Of course, austerity won't (let's hope) last forever; governments are unlikely to sustain a narrative around 'fat cat' bosses; and the media always moves on. For Sadan that makes it crucial for investors to strike while the iron is hot.
Governance chiefs at the big British fund houses are fond of saying that their best work goes unnoticed. They say that their diplomatic efforts behind closed doors, in delicate negotiations with CEOs and their boards, achieve far more than grandstanding AGM votes which grab front page headlines. All of which could imply that the 'shareholder spring' was a failure by investors to convince executives of their case.
Activist investors have traditionally been kept at arm’s length by the mainstream fund houses. Fund managers at the major players haven’t felt able to align themselves with those agitating for change for fear their cosy chats with company chairmen might be compromised.
There are clear signs though that the mood has shifted.
Not only are institutions getting rapped over the knuckles for failing to apply active ownership principles, but the credit crisis has purged short-termist activists from the market, helping to soften the sector’s association with financial engineering and slash-n-burn tactics.
The shrinkage of the UK-listed banking sector is providing an interesting trade for Legal & General Investment Management’s $46 million Global Macro fund.
After some dramatic share price falls, banks now account for only around 10 percent of the FTSE 100. According to LGIM’s head of asset allocation David North, this means any potential damage of further bank problems to the index is likely to be a lot less from here onwards.