Archive | March, 2016

ExxonMobil – Shareholders Offer 4 Options

Exxon MobilI don’t own ExxonMobil $XOM stock or the stock of any other oil companies, so won’t be examining their proxy when it comes out or making voting recommendations. However, oil companies do remain a potent economic force and won’t be going away anytime soon… even though folks like me hope to be driving around in electric cars fueled by the sun and wind within a few years.

ExxonMobil may be a special case, since they appear to have essentially funded a disinformation campaign on climate change for many years.  See Exxon Knew, among many other sources and campaigns. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at shareholder proposals grappling with the beast. If you own stock in ExxonMobil and want to be a responsible fiduciary, how do you get them to take climate change seriously?

Since the proxy hasn’t been published, I don’t know what proposals will be included. However, ExxonMobil requested four no-action letters from the SEC that were refused. Let’s look at those.  Continue Reading →

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Brocade Communications BRCD: Proxy Score 57

BRCDBrocade Communications Systems, Inc. (BRCD) provides storage area networking and Internet protocol networking solutions for businesses and organizations worldwide. $BRCD is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is on April 7, 2016.

ProxyDemocracy.org had collected the vote of one fund when I checked. I voted AGAINST the pay package, compensation committee and against the exclusive jurisdiction forum. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 57% of the time. View Proxy Statement. Continue Reading →

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Proxy Cards Must be Impartially Labeled

Proxy CardsProxy cards must be impartially labeled, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Rule 14a-4(a)(3) requires that proxies “identify clearly and impartially each separate matter intended to be acted upon.” (Guidance) Over and over again during the last twenty years I have written to the SEC asking them to enforce this rule on proxy cards, especially with regard to misleading or uninformative descriptions of shareholder proposals frequently provided on voter information forms (VIFs).

According to Broadridge “98% of all shares of U.S. public companies are held by institutions or retail brokerage accounts in “street name,” leaving just 2% registered through transfer agents.” (Registered Shareholders: How to Manage the Millennial Challenge) Everyone voting shares held in street names votes their ‘proxy’ using a VIF. Yesterday, the SEC finally issued clarification in the form of Questions and Answers of General Applicability: Section 301. Description under Rule 14a-4(a)(3) of Rule 14a-8 Shareholder Proposals. Should we be celebrating? Will the SEC guidance actually change behavior? Does it apply to VIFs or only to legal proxies? Who will enforce the rule? How?  Continue Reading →

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Rein In Hedge Funds: Will Pension Funds Join Effort?

Rein In Hedge Funds

Rein In Hedge Funds – Wausau Paper Closure

Senators seek to rein in hedge funds through legislation by narrowing the window in which hedge funds must file 13D disclosures with the SEC once they have taken a 5% stake in a company. Right now that window is 10 days. The bill would reduce that to two days.

The bill also seeks to block activist “wolf packs” — that is, activist investors who collectively hold more than 5% of a company but who individually hold less and therefore do not need to disclose their stakes. Will public pension funds join this effort? Continue Reading →

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‘Substantial Implementation’ Will Backfire

Substantial Implementation Will Backfire

‘Substantial Implementation’ Defense for Proxy Access Lite Under (i)(10) Will Backfire for Corporate Boards

Substantial implementation, that’s the deception companies have been arguing in order to obtain ‘no-action’ relief under SEC Rule 14a-8(i)(10) after implementing proxy access ‘lite.’ Law firms have been touting recent no-action letters released on February 12, with more in March  2016. It looks like a clear win for entrenched managers and directors for implementing only proxy access lite. In reality, such deception will cost companies more in legal fees and will reduce board discretion, since shareholders will increasingly file binding bylaw resolutions to obtain the same robust proxy access promised under vacated Rule 14a-8(i)(10). Continue Reading →

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Lobbying Disclosure Sought by Investors

lobbying disclosureLobbying disclosure is sought by shareholder resolutions filed at 50 companies by 66 institutional and individual investors.

Corporate lobbying disclosure remains a top shareholder proposal topic for 2016. At least 66 investors have filed proposals at 50 companies asking for lobbying reports that include federal and state lobbying payments, payments to trade associations used for lobbying, and payments to any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation. Political activity remains a top investor topic for the sixth consecutive year, with more than 90 proposals filed for 2016 that seek disclosure of either lobbying or political contributions. Continue Reading →

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Starbucks Corporation: SBUX Proxy Score 59

Starbucks CorporationStarbucks Corporation (SBUX, $SBUX) is the roaster, marketer and retailer of specialty coffee. Starbucks Corporation is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is coming up on March 23, 2016. ProxyDemocracy.org had collected the votes of four funds when I checked. I voted AGAINST the pay package, bonus plan, members of the compensation committee and the proposal by the National Center for Public Policy Research. I voted FOR proxy access, the auditor and most of the Board. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 59% of the time. View Proxy Statement.

Read Warnings below. What follows are my recommendations on how to vote the proxy in order to enhance corporate governance and long-term value.

Starbucks Corporation: ISS Rating

From Yahoo! FinanceStarbucks Corporation’s ISS Governance QuickScore as of March 1, 2016 is 1.. The pillar scores are Audit: 1; Board: 9; Shareholder Rights: 1; Compensation: 1. Brought to us by Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS). Scores range from “1” (low governance risk) to “10” (higher governance risk). Each of the pillar scores for Audit, Board, Shareholder Rights and Compensation, are based on specific company disclosures. That gives us a quick idea of where to focus: Board. Continue Reading →

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iRobot Adopts Proxy Access: McRitchie Withdraws – Contest Looms

iRobot Adopts Proxy AccessiRobot adopts proxy access bylaws filed with SEC Form 8-K on March 9, 2016 (See Section 11). James McRitchie, publisher of Corporate Governance (CorpGov.net) conditioned withdrawal of his proposal for proxy access at iRobot (IRBT) on the amended bylaws, including several key elements meeting best practices as outlined by the Council of Institutional Investors.  Continue Reading →

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McRitchie Interview by Rafat: Whole Foods

McRitchie Interview by Rafat

McRitchie Interview by Rafat after Whole Foods Annual Meeting

McRitchie Interview by Rafat

McRitchie interview by Rafat. At last week’s meeting of Whole Foods Market shareholders, I met with Matthew (Mateo) Rafat, whom I’d known of because of his series of posts at Seeking Alpha. He was the only one reporting what happened at shareholder meetings. This was the first time we had met in-person.

Matthew Rafat and John Mackey at Whole Foods Meeting

Matthew Rafat & John Mackey

After the Whole Foods meeting, where my proxy access proposal received a 40% vote, Matthew and I grabbed a bite to eat. He then recorded the interview posted below. I’ve add some commentary below to make our discussion, especially my answers, a little more comprehensible.

We discussed issues of interest to many shareholders such as proxy access and how it differs from a proxy contest, why diversity is important, why shareholders submit precatory proposals rather than binding resolutions and a little about the rulemaking process. Continue Reading →

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SHE Index to Promote Gender Diversity

Index to Promote Gender DiversityIndex to Promote Gender Diversity: From the Press Release

Index to Promote Gender Diversity announced by State Street Global Advisors (SSGA), the asset management business of State Street Corporation (NYSE: STT). Check out the SPDR® SSGA Gender Diversity Index ETF (Ticker: SHE). SHE seeks to track the performance of the SSGA Gender Diversity Index, which comprises listed US large capitalization companies with the highest levels within their sectors of gender diversity on their boards of directors and in their senior leadership.

I view this as a very positive development but also see it as an opportunity to take action by requesting that SSGA also vote its proxies to promote gender diversity. Continue Reading →

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RIA Hands Untied by SEC No-Action Denial

RIA Hands Untied

RIA Hands Untied

RIA hands untied by Newground Social Investments team and the SEC’s refusal to grant a no-action letter to Baker Hughes (BHI, $BHI) on February 22, 2016. Congratulations to Bruce Herbert and staff at Newground, as well as to their advisors.

We have discussed the importance of not counting abstentions before at Simple Majority Vote Counting Initiative for Proxies. Bruce has worked tirelessly in chipping away at vote counting deception for years… making some progress. However, what we are celebrating here are two precedents established that will ease the burden faced by Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs, Investment Advisor or Investment Adviser?) and their clients: Continue Reading →

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Vote Real Proxy Access at Whole Foods

Real Proxy Access at Whole Foods - Give Us the Key

Real Proxy Access at Whole Foods – Give Us the Key (cartoon from old issue of Pensions & Investments)

Today is your last chance to vote for real proxy access at Whole Foods Market Inc. (WFM, $WFM), unless you plan to attend the meeting in San Francisco tomorrow. The annual shareholder’s meeting will be held at the Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason Street, San Francisco, California 94108 and will begin at 8 a.m. See Pension funds line up in favor of proxy-access bylaw change at Whole Foods

If you do attend, please stop me and say hello. I would love to get your feedback on how shareholders can improve accountability through improved corporate governance. Whole Foods used to be one of the largest holdings in my portfolio. Back in October 2013 shares sold for about $65; today $35 seems to be the threshold to beat.

I used to head California’s cooperative development program, so had a lot of experience with struggling grocers and their co-op wholesale. I invested in Whole Foods Market because their model was something of a hybrid, with its emphasis on teams, employee ownership and organic foods. Let’s discuss how Whole Foods can get its groove back.

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SEC Protects the 2%: Qualcomm Example

SEC Protects the 2%

SEC protects the 2%, an absurd meaningless gesture

The SEC protects the 2%. No, I am not writing about the top 2% of America in terms of wealth or income, although there is probably some correlation. I am writing about the 2% of shares that are still registered. While the SEC is protecting shareholders who own that 2% of shares, they are falling down on the job with respect to protecting the rights of shareholders owning the other 98%. Yesterday, I asked the SEC to invalidate the proxy ballot sent out by Qualcomm (QCOM). I’ve raised this issue before, filing a rulemaking petition on the subject in 2009 but can’t let the SEC’s inaction slide. A few examples of previous posts are as follows:

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Whole Foods Market (WFM): Proxy Score 82

Whole Foods Market (WFM)Whole Foods Market, Inc. (WFM, $WFM) is a retailer of natural and organic foods and grocer. WFM is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is on March 9, 2016. ProxyDemocracy.org had collected the votes of five funds when I checked. I voted FOR proxy access, pro-rata vesting of equities and a report on food waste. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 82% of the time. View Proxy Statement.

Read Warnings below. What follows are my recommendations on how to vote the proxy in order to enhance corporate governance and long-term value.  Continue Reading →

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Apple Shareholders Rejected Real Proxy Access

Apple Shareholders Rejected Real Proxy AccessApple shareholders rejected real proxy access at their meeting on February 25, 2016. Maybe shareholders thought they already have it. Recent decisions by the SEC could lead shareholders to believe proxy access was “substantially implemented.”

Maybe they wanted to support Apple’s management while the company is under attack from the FBI.  

ISS recommended a “For” vote. Shouldn’t that have guaranteed passage?

We probably won’t know for months which Apple shareholders rejected real proxy access… and maybe that’s the key point.

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