Global Investing

Investors investigated

We’ve wondered before about the validity of the British ‘shareholder spring’ narrative. A few high-profile casualties gave the story drama, but as we showed back in the summer,¬†evidence of a widespread change in thinking was hard to find. KPMG has arrived at a similar conclusion this week.

This morning, FairPensions, a British charity which aims to promote responsible investment, has dug deeper into the behaviour of major institutional investors during that supposedly febrile period, and among the nuggets it has produced is the chart below of voting on contentious pay reports at annual meetings.

There are some questions which crop up straight away. What did BlackRock and Standard Life like so much about the Barclays pay deal that no other investor could spot; why did BlackRock think Martin Sorrell’s potential 500% bonus was a goer; and given that, why did almost everyone think a maximum bonus award of 923% of BP CEO Bob Dudley’s salary was just dandy?

(For the record, BlackRock tells us that it does not comment on voting decisions, and notes its Barclays vote was outsourced over a potential conflict of interest linked to its 2009 acquisition of BGI. Standard Life couldn’t find the right people to comment directly, but a spokeswoman noted public statements that it had been pacified by concessions made by Barclays shortly before the AGM)

In truth, and as FairPensions acknowledges, investors were picking their fights during the UK AGM season, which helps to explain some of the oddities in the above graphic. But it’s fair to ask whether such inconsistencies are helpful in drawing a line under excessive pay deals or promoting the idea of investor stewardship

Making the most of the shareholder spring

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.

UPDATE: Well sprung?

(This May 25 post has been updated to reflect AGMs which took place on Friday and to include graphics)

We’ve just witnessed a stirring spectacle of shareholder empowerment during the British AGM season. Haven’t we?

Well…. I’ve pulled together some numbers on remuneration resolutions from the 63 FTSE100 AGMs we’ve seen so far this year which shows that the average protest vote against pay did indeed go up from 2011 to 2012….