Charles Schwab chronicles the history of his namesake firm in Invested: Changing Forever the Way Americans Invest. I knew he led a technological revolution and was among the first to slash prices. From A Nation of Small Shareholders, I also knew Schwab was on a long-term mission to have every American share in our growing economy as an investors. Continue Reading →
Tag Archives | Walden Asset Management
LGBTQ CorVel (CRVL) workplace equality advocates celebrate a significant victory in the midst of a historic Pride month representing the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Shareholders will have a voice on CorVel’s EEO policy. Continue Reading →
Proxy Preview 2019 reveals intensified shareholder pressure on corporations across a wide range of ESG issues from climate and political spending to women. Investors with a conscience; we are having a bigger impact every year. Download the report and/or watch webinar here. Continue Reading →
NAM Board Targeted
Investors led by Walden Asset Management, New York Common and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) called on 45 companies sitting on the Executive Committee and Board of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to end the trade association’s attacks on shareholders.
The investors’ letter asks the companies to distance themselves from NAM’s recent attempts to discredit shareholder engagement, particularly on climate change. These efforts have been undertaken primarily through NAM’s membership in the Main Street Investors Coalition (MSIC) and through a report NAM funded and distributed that wrongly asserts that shareholder resolutions diminish company value. MSIC represents no investors. In my opinion, it is a front group for corporate managers attempting to generate fake news, stirring public opinion against investor rights. I originally posted in September. A January 2019 Addendum has now been added below.
Quotables on NAM
“The irony is that many companies on the NAM board are active business leaders on climate change,” said Timothy Smith, Director of ESG Shareowner Engagement at Walden Asset Management.
They understand the very real risk to our environment and have active forward-looking policies and programs on climate. Yet their dues to NAM are funding an aggressive attack against the very investors they meet with regularly to address climate change. We are appealing to these companies to clearly state their opposition to these positions taken by NAM and Main Street Investors Coalition. It is important to do so to protect their company reputations and integrity.
“Environmental risk consideration is part of the evolution of investing. Whether a retail or institutional investor, assessing the risks of investments is a standard practice,” said CalSTRS Portfolio Manager in Corporate Governance Aeisha Mastagni.
NAM appears out of touch with its own constituents. Over the last decade more than 75 percent of the environmental-related proposals CalSTRS filed were withdrawn because the companies were willing to negotiate a mutually agreeable outcome.
The Letter’s Key Paragraph
The MSIC perpetuates the myth that incorporating environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) factors inherently conflicts with protecting and advancing shareholder value. However, the 1,200 members of the United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment – including Fidelity, BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street – with over $70 trillion in assets under management, have committed to consider ESG issues in the investment decision-making process since these factors may affect shareholder value. There is ample evidence that incorporating ESG issues into investment decisions is part of responsible management as a fiduciary. Moreover, hundreds of global companies demonstrate leadership and transparency on sustainability issues. These companies’ action are not guided by “political and social interests” but by what is good for their investors and stakeholders over the long term.
NAM is a trade organization that represents and advocates for manufacturers across industrial sectors. Many NAM members are taking active steps on climate issues as a result of shareholder engagement. Nevertheless, NAM has established significant ties to MSIC, which purports to speak for investors, but which instead appears to be engaged in an attempt to undermine shareholders’ rights by denouncing ESG-related shareholder proposals and by suggesting shareholders’ concerns are politically motivated.
Why NAM is Attacking Shareholders Now
The investor letter noted that, “The emergence of MSIC and the release of this report come at a time when investor support for shareholder proposals is growing” because the “business case behind them is clear and convincing.” The signatories requested that the companies explain their views on MSIC’s public attempts to discredit investor engagement and shareholder proposals.
Over 80 institutional investors, including state and city pension funds, investor trade associations, investment firms and mutual funds, foundations and religious investors added their organization’s names in support of the letter.
Investors are actively engaging companies in their portfolios as concerns over climate risk grow. Most recently, investors representing approximately $30 trillion urged some 150 companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, disclose their assessment of climate risks, and explain what actions they plan in response to climate risk.
Investors like BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street have made it clear that they want the companies in which they own shares to address climate risk.
“It is extremely bad timing for NAM and by implication the members of its board to be attacking investors addressing climate change at a moment when we desperately need to work together,” said Smith.
Since I am older than most of my readers, I offer the following historical perspective. The investor letter sent to the Executive Committee and Board NAM is correct in assuming that shareholder rights are under attack because their proposals are winning. The current fight on climate change and social issues reminds me of an older one on proxy access. In 1977 the SEC held a number of hearings to address corporate scandals. At that time, the Business Roundtable (BRT) recommended amendments to Rule 14a-8 that would allow access proposals, noting such amendments
… would do no more than allow the establishment of machinery to enable shareholders to exercise rights acknowledged to exist under state law.
The right to pursue proxy access at any given company was uncontroversial. In 1980 Unicare Services included a proposal to allow any three shareowners to nominate and place candidates on the proxy. Shareowners at Mobil proposed a “reasonable number,” while those at Union Oil proposed a threshold of “500 or more shareholders” to place nominees on corporate proxies.
One company argued that placing a minimum threshold on access would discriminate “in favor of large stockholders and to the detriment of small stockholders,” violating equal treatment principles. CalPERS participated in the movement, submitting a proposal in 1988 but withdrawing it when Texaco agreed to include their nominee.
Early attempts to win proxy access through shareowner resolutions met with the same fate as most resolutions in those days – they failed. But the tides of change turned. A 1987 proposal by Lewis Gilbert to allow shareowners to ratify the choice of auditors won a majority vote at Chock Full of O’Nuts Corporation and in 1988 Richard Foley’s proposal to redeem a poison pill won a majority vote at the Santa Fe Southern Pacific Corporation.
In 1990, without public discussion or a rule change, the SEC began issuing a series of no-action letters on proxy access proposals. The SEC’s about-face was prompted by fear that “private ordering,” through shareowner proposals was about to begin in earnest. It took more than 20 years of struggle to win back the right to file proxy access proposals.
Let’s hope the current attack on shareholder rights by NAM and the fake Main Street Investors Coalition does not set investor rights back by another 20 years.
Addendum: John Hale of Morningstar (Responses to CalSTRS/Walden letter)
In August of 2018, investors led by the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) and Walden Asset Management called on the 45 companies sitting on the Executive Committee and Board of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to distance themselves from the Main Street Investors Coalition project and its objectives.
Of the companies contacted, Microsoft and Intel quickly said they would distance themselves from NAM on this issue. According to an August 14, 2018 letter from Fred Humphries, Corporate Vice President, U.S. Government Affairs at Microsoft:
“I’ve written to the CEO of NAM Jay Timmons to share our long experience with the positive value of shareholder engagement and to encourage NAM to consider this perspective.”
“[W]e do understand your concerns with aspects of recent MSIC statements and the NAM sponsored report ‘Political, environmental, and social shareholder proposals: do they create or destroy value?’, including language that frames issues addressed by ESG-related shareholder proposals as ‘politically charged’ instead of within the context of how these issues can impact shareholder value. We intend to share our perspective on the value of constructive ongoing investor-company engagement.
“We will continue to take action to advance corporate responsibility practices, improved transparency and climate change strategies, and engage with our stockholders as a key part of Intel’s and our Board’s corporate governance commitment.”
Good for Microsoft and Intel.
The other responses were less supportive. ConocoPhillips’ letter noted that it does have issues with the current shareholder-resolution process, but added this is not a “priority issue,” It doesn’t necessarily support every position taken by a trade association of which it is a member.
“ConocoPhillips recognizes the value of stockholder proposals, as well as the costs and burden of responding to formal stockholder resolutions. The Company wants to preserve stockholders’ access, but that does not imply that the current system for filing stockholder proposals could not be improved. While not currently a priority issue for the company, we are interested in an open dialogue on the topic, including ideas on criteria for reintroduction of stockholder resolutions which had previously been voted upon without passing.
“Our participation with a trade association does not imply that we are aligned on all issues; however, it does provide a seat at the table… . Our association membership should not be interpreted as a direct endorsement of the entire range of activities or positions undertaken by such trade associations.”
Cummins, Lockheed Martin, and Pfizer responded with general statements touting their shareholder engagement policies and activities, prompting this reply (to Pfizer) from Walden Asset Management:
“In our letter we raised a specific governance issue, specifically Pfizer’s role as a Board member of NAM. We also understand that Pfizer is a member of the Business Roundtable. Both organizations have chosen to lead aggressive attacks against shareholder rights and the ability to file resolutions.
“We are concerned that your dues and good reputation are being used in this campaign. We therefore appealed to Pfizer to state your own company position and agreement or disagreement with the NAM initiative. We are not asking Pfizer to disengage from the Buisness Roundtable or NAM, but to use your role as a responsible board member to address this issue and state that you do not believe these campaigns are in the best interests of companies that serve on their Board.
“We are aware that Pfizer has a long history of communication with trade associations, whether it be the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or ALEC. Thus, as our letter articulates, we are asking Pfizer to urge NAM to end their attacks on shareholder rights.”
The silence from most companies speaks volumes. Despite their stated support for shareholder engagement, they actually are supporting efforts to curtail shareholder rights. It is easier to hide behind NAM of the Main Street Investors Coalition than to be on the front lines as an individual company. Even if a company does not support NAM’s position in this case, NAM’s influence could come in handy on any number of other issues in the future. Hence, companies want to be members in good standing.
The third possibility is that a lot of member companies simply may not have been paying much attention to NAM’s attacks on shareholder rights. Groups like NAM operate with considerable autonomy from their membership, except during times when a major issue galvanizes the membership to demand action. At other times, a trade group may conjure up issues on its own that it believes its membership supports as part of an ongoing agenda that conveys to members that the group is actually doing the work that justifies its membership fees.
Great work by Walden Asset Management and CalSTRS in raising this issue with NAM members and pressing them to take action.
*I get the distinction between an actual lobbyist specifically hired by a corporation to pursue its unique interests in Washington and “trade associations”, which are pressure groups that advocate more generally, but all are part of the swamp.
Main Street Investors: Conclusion
The Main Street Investors Coalition fights a rear-guard battle. Yes, they can fund surveys that find most people invest primarily to earn money, not to have a social impact. However, people often invest with multiple objectives in mind. Not all their reasons are financial.
The Coalition tries to convince the public the only legitimate reason to own equities is for the highest financial gain, regardless of social or environmental consequences. They encourage investors to take a purely instrumental view of others and the natural world. What’s in it for me? Take, take, take without reciprocity.
Economics and politics suffer not from too much moral argument, but too little. Both fail to engage the big questions people care about. Winning in life is NOT dying with the most toys. We can neither empathize with others nor persuade them by sweeping our values or theirs under the rug. Finding shared norms requires moral imagination, exploration and dialogue, both as economic agents and citizens.
As Jessie Norman concludes in his book, Adam Smith: Father of Economics,
Economics itself needs to own up to its limitations… it has long been overly preoccupied with its own models rather than with the real-world phenomena they are supposed to represent… It encourages politicians to persist in the responsibility-abrogating technocratic fantasy that economics trumps politics and can itself solve issues of justice, fairness and social welfare… There can be no such thing as value-free economics.
There can also be no such thing as value-free investing. Both the modern democratic state and the modern evolving corporation depend on mutual moral obligation. For the center to hold, common values must be created through open dialogue and democratic elections, not by a few unaccountable individuals hidden in the shadows controlling companies like Wal-Mart, Koch Industries, Alphabet, or Facebook. See Recommendation of the Investor Advisory Committee: Dual Class and Other Entrenching Governance Structures in Public Companies. Both the purpose of the state and corporations must be discussed openly to create shared cultural values.
Like the Trump administration, the Main Street Investors Coalition seeks to win over public opinion, not through moral argument but largely through fake news and bluster. Hopefully, the Coalition’s campaign itself will open eyes to the need for wider participation in corporate governance by real Main Street investors, or as SEC Chairman Clayton calls them, Mr. and Ms. 401(k).
SEC Proxy Process Video: November 15, 2018
In the interest of documenting important events in corporate governance, I am here bookmarking the SEC Proxy Process Video from November 15, 2018, for future reference. Read transcript by downloading the following pdf: SEC TranscriptShareholderProposalsRoundtable. (full day)
The first part of an in-depth look at Virtual-Only Shareholder Meetings, a new front in corporate-investor engagement.
Scenario 1: In-Person Shareholder Meeting
A shareholder proposal calling for the chairman’s resignation is coming up for vote at the physical annual meeting of Acme Inc.
In the packed hall, a supporter of the proposal rises to her feet and begins to describe exactly why the chairman must resign, making fulsome reference to his incompetence in negotiating the latest CEO’s pay package, dealing with the former CEO’s sexual misconduct and a botched acquisition that halved the company’s market cap. Continue Reading →
Conoco’s virtual only annual meeting is the target of a shareholder proposal by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. A similar proposal was filed at Comcast. The Conoco resolution has already been cofiled by the Church of the Brethren Benefit Trust and the Needmor Fund, a Walden client.
As responsible shareholders, we believe good corporate governance includes the opportunity for shareholders to meet face-to-face with the company’s Board and management at the Annual Shareholders Meeting.
Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management stated
The decision to move an annual meeting to cyberspace has moved far beyond a minor internal management decision and become an important governance matter for companies. Imagine if companies facing major controversies had decided to forgo physical meetings. If a company faces debate on their comp package or its climate change position or has votes on shareholder resolutions it is also a problem to have a disembodied discussion on line for a stockholder meeting.
For more views, see Nuns tell companies to get real over virtual AGMs @FT and In Depth: Growth in Virtual-Only Meetings a Concern for Institutional Investors @ Chief Investment Officer.
Walden Asset Management has engaged a number of investment managers and mutual funds on their proxy voting practices, specifically challenging voting records on shareholder resolutions addressing significant social and environmental issues. I see this as a major victory. However, more Vanguard shareholders need to speak out to ensure momentum continues. Contact Vanguard.
In 2017, Walden filed resolutions with two Vanguard equity index funds that requested a review of their proxy voting at portfolio companies, particularly on shareholder resolutions focused on climate change. While mutual funds are not required to hold annual meetings for investors, Vanguard scheduled a November meeting for other reasons, thus setting up the opportunity for a vote on the Walden resolution. Continue Reading →
Publisher’s Note: The following guest post from Timothy Smith reproduces a recent investor letter to the BRT (Business Roundtable) concerning the importance of shareholder resolutions. I added title, graphics, changed some of the formatting and added a note about the BRT for background. See also previous posts: Financial CHOICE Act: From too big to fail, to too big to listen and Financial CHOICE Act: Take Action. Download the original letter via pdf.
July 6, 2017
Mr. Joshua Bolton
President and CEO
The Business Roundtable
300 New Jersey Avenue, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20001
Dear Mr. Bolton:
We are writing to express the deep concerns of numerous investors regarding the Business Roundtable’s active campaign to effectively end the ability of most investors to file shareholder resolutions for a vote at corporate annual general meetings. Continue Reading →
A proposal seeking protections for LGBT employees at The CATO Corporation (CATO), a women’s clothing retailer headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, will not appear on the corporate proxy thanks to what I believe are misleading statements from the company and acquiescence from SEC staff. Sometimes a no-action win can end up as a loss for everyone. That is likely to be the case at CATO.
The resolved statement of the proposal read as follows:
The Shareholders request that Cato Corp amend its written equal employment opportunity policy to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression and report on its programs to substantially implement this policy.
Walden Moves BlackRock: Background
A number of investors, led by Walden moves BlackRock on climate Risk. Walden Asset Management and the Center for Community Change, along with the City of Seattle Employees’ Retirement System and First Affirmative Financial Network, filed a shareholder resolution requesting a review of BlackRock’s proxy voting process and record on climate change.
Following extensive engagement and constructive dialogue between BlackRock, Walden and a number of investors, the shareholder resolution was withdrawn. As a result of the dialogue, BlackRock has updated its website to provide fresh insights into the ways it believes climate change creates risks and opportunities for companies. BlackRock also noted that climate risk will be a priority for their engagement with companies and boards throughout 2017 and 2018. Continue Reading →
It is rare when investors file a resolution with a mutual fund since most funds don’t hold regular annual meetings. Nonetheless the act of filing puts the fund on notice that participants are concerned about their voting record on issues like climate change. Tim Smith shared this new resolution with Vanguard, which as many know signed onto the UN’s PRI.
It is significant that investors are questioning their proxy voting record on issues like climate change. Continue Reading →
Shareholders of Wells Fargo $WFC and members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility today announced that they have filed multiple resolutions as a result of fraudulent activities uncovered by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Wells Fargo recently reported a $185 million settlement with the CFPB due to widespread and systemic illegal acts of consumer fraud, including setting up two million deposit and credit card accounts for customers without their permission. Continue Reading →
On September 29, 2016 Tim Smith, Walden Asset Management’s director of ESG Shareowner Engagement, will be honored at the annual event of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) for his decades-long, indefatigable leadership shaping the landscape of shareholder advocacy for more just and environmentally sound business policies and practices.
Tim is the first secular recipient of the ICCR Legacy Award, a recognition of his nearly quarter-century history at the helm of ICCR as well as 16 years at Walden where he continues to demonstrate daily how shareholder leverage can be an effective vehicle for positive change.
ICCR describes Tim as having had a profound impact on the field of sustainable and responsible investing, noting:
Tim plays a valuable role in virtually every ICCR program area but has been an especially effective leader of investor engagements on climate change and on governance topics including lobbying and political spending, executive compensation and separate Chair/CEO, as well as board diversity.
T. Rowe Price Group Inc (NASD:TROW, $TROW) is a financial services holding company. It is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is coming up on April 26, 2016. ProxyDemocracy.org had collected the votes of three funds when I checked. I voted AGAINST the pay plan, compensation committee and directors with no shares. I voted FOR the auditor and the shareholder proposal seeking a report on incongruities between policies and voting practices on climate change– voting with the Board’s recommendations 13% of the time. View Proxy Statement.
International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM, $IBM) provides information technology (IT) products and services worldwide. It is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is coming up on April 26, 2016. ProxyDemocracy.org had collected the votes of four funds when I checked. I voted AGAINST the pay plan, and most of the directors. I voted FOR the report on lobbying, written consent, split CEO/Board Chair positions – voting with the Board’s recommendations 21% of the time. View Proxy Statement.
Shareholders have been urging companies to fully disclose the lobbying they do directly and through trade associations and third parties for six years now. This year 66 investors joined in filing resolutions with 50 companies seeking expanded lobbying transparency. Twinned with calls for disclosure of political spending aimed at affecting elections, this effort has had a steady positive effect. For example, this year companies including Raytheon, CenterPoint and DuPont came to agreements with investors to expand their lobbying disclosure.
We also find that many companies, even if they do not want to fully disclose, have expanded their reporting on items like Board oversight, priority issues they lobbied on, whether and when they did grassroots lobbying, making it easier to access their quarterly Senate reports or disclosing specific dollar amounts spent on federal lobbying. Continue Reading →
CLARCOR Inc. (CLC) hosted its Annual General Meeting on March 29, 2016. A shareholder proposal led by Walden Asset Management for environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting received 61% support from shareholders, excluding abstentions.
With this result, CLARCOR joins a small minority of companies to ever experience a majority vote in support of on an environmental or social resolution. According to proxy advisor ISS, just one environmental or social proposal passed out of 474 submitted in 2015. Continue Reading →
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 →
Sustainability reporting, as an issue, came out strongly this season on February 4, 2016, when ESCO Technologies hosted its Annual General Meeting (AGM). A shareholder proposal by Walden Asset Management requesting a comprehensive sustainability report, including greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals, received 43.5% support, excluding abstentions. I was sorry to see BlackRock vote against this proposal, especially since they signed the UN-PRI calling on increased efforts around sustainability. Continue Reading →
I don’t hold shares of JPMorgan Chase (JPM) in my portfolio but the shareholder proposals that will be voted this year deal with crucial issues that will come up at many other companies this proxy season. I received the following letter from shareholders urging readers to vote for a proposal requesting a report on lobbying at JPMorgan Chase and thought it worth your attention, especially given that I had already blogged about a resolution seeking to end government service golden parachutes also to be voted at JPMorgan Chase, as well as voted collected by ProxyDemocracy.org. I would vote in favor of all the shareholder proposals, if I owned the stock. Continue Reading →
Missing from the preliminary proxy statements of Illinois Tool Works $ITW and Huntington Ingalls Industries $HII are special meeting proposals from William Steiner, even though the SEC months ago withdrew no-action letters previously issued to the companies. (Illinois Tool Works and Huntington Ingalls Industries) Shareowners of these companies might want to inquire as to why the proposals were left off preliminary proxy statements. (see ITW and HII statements) Continue Reading →
The following on shareholder rights by Timothy Smith, Director of ESG Shareowner Engagement at Walden Asset Management, originally appeared in the Summer 2014 Edition of Walden’s Values Newsletter, which included the usual disclaimer at the bottom.
I’ve added the links and have tacked on some additional reformatted comments from Timothy Smith regarding the role of individual investors in prompting reform.
Every once in a long while a group of companies, usually led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, launches a campaign to change the rules allowing investors to file shareholder resolutions. Welcome to the latest iteration. Continue Reading →
Google Inc, $GOOGL, is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is coming up on 5/14/2014. ProxyDemocracy.org had collected the votes of three funds when I checked and voted on 5/8/2014. As I post this, I see they now have voting for five funds. I voted with management 41% of the time. View Proxy Statement.
Warning: Be sure to vote each item on the proxy. Any items left blank are voted in favor of management’s recommendations. (See Broken Windows & Proxy Vote Rigging – Both Invite More Serious Crime). Continue Reading →
Good morning Mr. Tucci, members of the board, and fellow shareholders.
My name is Heidi Soumerai and I am the Director of ESG Research at Walden Asset Management, a division of Boston Trust & Investment Management Company where I also serve as Managing Director. Together, we hold approximately 1.6 million shares of EMC. Continue Reading →
It is wonderful to have supportive friends, especially when they represent socially responsible investors and advisors. John Chevedden, Myra K. Young and James McRitchie extend sincere thanks to the following for sending letters of concern regarding their recent lawsuits against us to: EMC Corp, Omnicom, Express Scripts, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.: Continue Reading →
The deadline for submitting comments on the SEC’s proposed pay ratio disclosure is coming up quickly on December 2, 2013. SEC general comment instructions. Submit Comments on S7-07-13 Pay Ratio Disclosure. Get your comments in soon, before Thanksgiving. Another advantage to earlier submittal is that those who wait for the deadline are likely to borrow from previous submission. The earlier you submit, the more likely you are to influence others. For example, I am impressed by comments from the following: Continue Reading →
Climate Change Portfolio Exposure
Boston Common Asset Management has a proposal that will appear on the proxy of PNC Financial Services ($PNC) requesting that it report to shareowners on the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from its lending portfolio and its exposure to climate change risk in its lending, investing, and financing activities. Watch for your proxy. The annual meeting will be held on April 23, 2012. According to the proposal, Continue Reading →
Last week, investors announced filing shareholder resolutions at more than 50 corporations as part of a 2013 proxy season initiative asking companies to annually report their federal and state lobbying, including any payments to trade associations used for lobbying as well as support for tax-exempt organizations that write and endorse model legislation.