Tag Archives | proxyexchange.org

Valeant Pharmaceuticals International (VRX): How I Voted – Proxy Score 33 Revised 5/24/2012

Valeant (VRX) ($VRX) is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is coming up on 5/30/2012. Voting ends 5/29 on Moxy Vote’s proxy voting platform, which had 3 recommendations “from good causes” when I checked and voted on 5/23 but 2 were consolidations of the one. ProxyDemocracy.org had 0 funds voting.  I voted with management 33% of the time. Continue Reading →

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Dreamworks Animation (DWA): How I Voted – Proxy Score 64

Dreamworks Animation (DWA) ($DWA) is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is coming up on 5/29/2012. Voting ends 5/28 on Moxy Vote’s proxy voting platform, which had 4 recommendations “from good causes,” including 2 consolidations, when I checked and voted on 5/22. ProxyDemocracy.org had 1 fund voting.  I voted with management 64% of the time. Continue Reading →

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No Innocent Shareowners #OWS: The Duty of Care

John Paulson, the hedge fund titan who made billions in the financial crisis by betting against the subprime mortgage market defends the 1%: “The top 1 percent of New Yorkers pay over 40 percent of all income taxes, providing huge benefits to everyone in our city and state.”

“I don’t think we see ourselves as the target,” said Steve Bartlett, president of the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents the nation’s biggest banks and insurers in Washington. “I think they’re protesting about the economy. What’s lost is that the financial services sector has to be well capitalized and well financed for the economy to recover.” (In Private, Wall St. Bankers Dismiss Protesters as Unsophisticated, NYTimes, 10/14/2011)

What’s going on in America right now may be the world’s first genuine social-media uprising. Besides the standard channels of Facebook, whose Occupy Wall St page now has nearly 170,000 fans, Twitter, where the hashtags #occupywallst and #ows spew out dozens of tweets a Continue Reading →

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Equilar Change-in-Control Study: Cash Multiples Decrease

Equilar examined change-in-control arrangements among Fortune 100 companies for fiscal years 2008 and 2010. Key Findings:

Change-in-Control Cash Multiples Decrease for CEOs:
The prevalence of 3x salary multipliers among Fortune 100 CEOs decreased from 65.9% in 2008 to 44.2% in 2010, while the prevalence of 2x salary multipliers rose from 18.2% to 34.9%. Similarly, the prevalence Continue Reading →

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L'Apel: Democratic Capitalism at Risk

Recently, ICGN held their annual conference in Paris. From the Twitter feed, it appears I missed a good one. (see ICGN Via Twitter) I’ve already mentioned Jon Lukomnik’s appeal to look again at the idea that shareowners’ interests and executives’ can be aligned through compensation strategies.

I think one origin of our errors was revising the tax code so that executive compensation above $1 million is only a tax deductible expense if performance based. The result has been, as Lukominik observes, that compensation plans have taken on the characteristics of “a slot machine: They pull a lever and three years later out comes a trickle of coins or a fountain of folding money.” This is a topic worthy of much discussion.

Another truthsayer at the conference was Robert A.G. Monks, whose L’Appel can be read as quickly as fast food but provides nutritional value of a much higher order. Bob lays out a number of observations. I’ll just list a few: Continue Reading →

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CEOs Should Get Out Vote Among Employees Says Daly

In remarks before the National Press Club, the CEO of Broadridge, the nation’s largest shareholder communications company, called on all CEOs to encourage individual shareholders, including employee shareholders, to vote their proxies.

In 2010, just one in 20 individual retail investors voiced their opinions about the  companies they invested in by exercising their fundamental shareholder right. That compares to recent historical levels four to five times as high. Public companies need to understand the seriousness of this issue and act to reverse this troubling decline to get each of their individual investors — and all individual investors generally — engaged with their companies.

Richard J. Daly went on to explain that as an initial step in an overall strategy to increase individual shareholder voting, he is calling on CEOs of American businesses to

join with us in launching a nationwide effort to encourage their employees  — numbering in the tens of millions  — to exercise a fundamental shareholder right  — and need  — to vote their proxy ballots, whether  it be proxies relating to their employer or proxies relating to other companies in which they invest

As part of the effort, he is contacting the chief executives of America’s top 1,000 public companies to encourage them to motivate their employee shareholders to vote their shares.  Broadridge will inform shareholders —- within the constraints of regulatory boundaries —- that they have the ability to take action online, eliminate the paper, have all information stored in any format they want, have access to it anywhere they want and vote at any time they want, even on such new devices as Android™ phones and the iPad®.

A relatively small increase in voting participation by employees could meaningfully increase individual investor voting participation from 5% per year to 20% or more per year. Companies that can distinguish their investors’ opinions from others’ will more easily have the strength and confidence to stay on course and create value. There is no greater show of support than the ballot, or in this case, the proxy.

While I certainly agree with Daly that steps need to be taken to ensure more retail shareowners vote, I didn’t like the thrust of his remarks, which appeared to assume that more retail votes would mean more votes for management… or am I reading too much in when he says:

Better to hear from actual owners — whose interests are likely aligned with the company — than from outsiders whose agendas may be in conflict with shareholders’ long-term interests.

Additionally, it would have been nice if he would have emphasized the usefulness of sites that help inform shareowners on the issues.

If it is a public relations move that Daly is after, he might recommend that companies take a page from Prudential Financial. They’re rewarding their voting shareowners with totebags or by planting a tree. Last year, the company got an additional 68,000 shareowners to vote, mailed 120,000 bags and planted more than 112,000 trees.

This year, Prudential added information in its proxy materials on sustainability, corporate citizenship and shareowner engagement. Shareowners who cast their proxies online can view the directors’ bios and the supporting statements for shareowner proposals. More importantly, Prudential’s board supported a shareowner proposal from John Chevedden to eliminate the company’s supermajority voting provision.

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Hands-On Investing

From the title, I was hoping the New York Times was actually going to profile investors who give as much thought to ownership as they do to buying and selling. (Financial Advisers Want Hands-On Investors – NYTimes.com, 2/9/2011)

United Capital Financial Partners to serve people who had $500,000 to $10 million, but to really concentrate on clients with $1 million to $2 million. Still, he said he would take on clients only if they were willing to take an active role in managing their money.

Making people take responsibility for managing their wealth is now emerging as a shared goal of both the brokerage firm and the advisory community.

So far, so good. Maybe clients with a reasonable cushion will want to be involved with the companies they invest with, thinking beyond the next quarter.

“When we started United Capital, we realized people have the wrong financial goals,” said Brandon Moss, a managing director in the firm’s Dallas office. “They want to beat the S.& P. 500. If after this, they still say, ‘Let’s beat the S.& P. 500,’ then we haven’t done a good job of creating the right financial goal.”

Great, I thought, the firm wants to help its clients realize money is a tool, not an end in itself. However, when I read to the end it turns out, the bottom line was asset allocation.

She remained engaged in managing her money for one simple reason: she wanted to have enough to live out her retirement and not be a burden to her family. If that does not get people involved, what will?

How about the idea that she can “not be a burden” to not just her family but to humankind in general? Maybe by helping their client be involved as an owner in the companies she invests in, United Capital could help her do far more than she has dreamed for decades. Aging baby-boomers, especially those with the target $1-2 million to invest, could learn to reach back to the ideals of their youth. They can certainly invest to beat or approximate returns of the S&P 500, or to take a less risky path. They can also use those dollars invested to amplify their voice, transforming the world into a better place for their families and other families as well.

To the investors attracted to the model of being “hands-on,” I would recommend that you spend a little time investigating other sources of investing advice, such as Newground Social Investments. You might also want to check out the United States Proxy Exchange, which is helping investors utilize what levers investors have to transform how corporations are governed. Consider working with them and other organizations, such as ShareOwners.com.

Find working to transform the rules too distant or theoretical? Then consider spending some time with those who are primarily focused on environmental and social issues. The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility has been working for forty years to achieve “a global community built on justice and sustainability through transformation of the corporate world by integrating social values into corporate and investor actions.” Hands-on investing can be so much more than not burdening your family. Think bigger; get your feet wet too.

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Don’t Toss that Proxy

During the next several months, most corporations will be sending out their proxies (ballots) and holding their annual meetings. Individual shareholders own about 30% of the stock in US markets but few bother to participate, even though we often feel corporate managers have too much power and too little accountability.

When we fail to vote, we essentially turn our assets over to management.  Most of us feel we should vote but we also think voting is too complicated and time consuming. Since we only hold a few shares, we often think that failing to vote won’t have any consequences.

Recent changes allowing corporations to e-mail and post proxy materials on the internet have dramatically reduced the proportion of shareholders voting to as little as 5%. (Apparently, it is easier to ignore a stack of e-mails on your computer than a stack of paper on the dining room table.) However, the internet also makes it much easier to vote in corporate elections and to vote intelligently.

There are literally thousands of sites for investors (here’s a few), ranging from brokers to associations to scam artists. Mostly, they focus on

  • stock picking,
  • allocating your investments, and
  • when to sell.

While these are important issues, what’s new are sites on how to be an owner. Voting is how we hold corporate directors and managers accountable.  Obviously, shareholders haven’t done a great job, especially at the banks. Voting is the cornerstone of good corporate governance. All the rules of Washington can’t save us from future Enrons and stock bubbles if shareholders don’t start acting like shareowners instead of gamblers.

Some say shareowners should leave everything to trusted financial advisors. What, like Bernie Madoff? Or we could just trust in the management of the companies we invest in… but their interests are often different from ours. We may not approve of the $6,000 shower curtain at Tyco or the unprotected derivative bets at AIG.

Institutional investors own about 2/3 of the market. Should we just leave voting up to them? After all, they have a fiduciary duty to vote and they have the resources to investigate the issues. Unfortunately, many also have potential conflicts of interests. For example, mutual funds don’t want to vote against corporate managers who may decide who will run the company’s 401(k) plan. That’s potential business a mutual fund doesn’t want to lose.

Additionally, the average turnover of stock, mostly by institutional investors, is huge. For NYSE listings it was 130% in 2008 and 250% in 2009, meaning the average stock was bought and sold 2 ½ times in 2009. Owning Intel 30 times in 10 years isn’t really being what I’d call a long-term owner. Most of us hold our stocks longer.

We’re usually in for the long term but since we generally only hold a small portion of the stock in any one company, we lack the economic incentive to buy expert advice or spend the time ourselves analyzing complicated proxy issues like shareowner proposals, board elections, executive compensation, mergers etc.

Until recently, being an actively involved shareowner was impractical for most of us but just like social media sites like Facebook are bringing people together, several new internet sites are making proxy advice obtainable for free. Here are five sites worth exploring:

1. Corpgov.net is my blog. For over 15 years I’ve discussed major trends and have provided links to dozens of activist or aggregator sites so that investors can join forces or research what other shareowners are doing.

2. ProxyDemocracy.org aggregates, displays and automatically e-mails to subscribers proxy votes announced in advance by respected activist funds like CalPERS, CalSTRS, Calvert, CBIS, Domini, Florida SBA, AFSCME, Trillium and others. Using ProxyDemocracy.org, you can copy the voting behavior of these trusted “brands.” The site also rates funds on how they vote on issues involving: director elections, executive compensation, corporate governance and corporate impact. So, if you know what issues concern you, you can use that information to help you decide whose votes to copy and which mutual funds to buy.

Another feature of ProxyDemocracy.org is that they will tell you when they have collected votes for upcoming proxies on the stocks in your portfolio (if you give them your e-mail address and name the stocks). Because of the breath and depth of the activists funds it follows, you’ll almost always be able to see how at least some funds are voting.  Unfortunately, you can’t vote your shares directly on ProxyDemocracy.

3. Moxyvote.com has dozens of “advisors,” mostly socially responsible mutual funds, unions, environmental groups and public interests groups who take a stand on various proxy issues. At Moxy Vote you can actually get voting advice and vote on the same site, using the pin number you get from your broker. Easier yet, you can also have your broker deliver your proxies directly to Moxy Vote.

If you choose that route, you can even set up voting defaults based on the recommendations of your chosen advocates. That way if you don’t vote your proxy or override your defaults, the system will automatically vote with your advocates. For example, mine are set up to look first to the Investor Environmental Health Network, if they haven’t taken a position on the proxy item, my vote will be cast per the Center for Political Accountability. If they don’t have a position it moves to my third choice and on down the line. Unfortunately, many of the advisors on Moxy Vote are focused narrowly and hold few stocks. They won’t give you advice on every stock you hold or on every issue at the companies where advocates have taken positions.

4. Shareowners.org is an advocacy site aimed at getting shareownrs to lobby Congress on various issues. Advice on voting at specific companies is limited but like Facebook, it is a great place to share announcements and commentaries with others.

5. The United States Proxy Exchange (proxyexchange.org or USPX), like Shareowners.org, is an advocacy site. However, USPX not only involves members in lobbying efforts, it also involves them in analyzing developing policies. Want to learn how to file resolutions? Present resolutions at local companies? Put your expert skills to good use? USPX provides training and multiple points of entry to baby-boomers and young people alike who would like to see their ideals put into action.

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