According to a review of shareholder activism by Lazard (the Lazard Review) that examined global activism trends in the first half of 2020 (H1 2020), economic uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with heightened awareness of widening socioeconomic inequalities around the world, has altered shareholder activism activity globally. We highlight some important trends to watch as companies and shareholders continue into the second half of 2020.
Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) announced earlier this year that, in its 2019 proxy research reports, it will be displaying financial ratios derived from a base measure called Economic Value Added (EVA). The EVA ratios will initially be used for informational purposes only, meaning they will not factor in to say-on-pay voting recommendations or evaluations of compensation policies. Nevertheless, boards should understand EVA’s value as a means of assessing management performance, and how ISS intends to use the measure in its reports.
EVA is an estimate of a firm’s true economic profit, that is, its after-tax operating … Continue Reading
A recent decision of the UK’s High Court — Stobart v Tinkler  EWHC 258 (Comm) — has been released following a dispute between directors of a large infrastructure company (the “Company”). The decision, and the circumstances preceding it, serve as a cautionary tale about the duties of a dissident director and of board members in the context of proxy contests.
The board dispute was initiated by a founder and significant shareholder of the company (the “Dissident Director”). After his resignation from the office of CEO in 2017, the Dissident Director remained with the Company as … Continue Reading
Activist Insight recently published the sixth edition of its annual report, entitled “The Activist Investing Annual Review 2019” (the “Review”). The Review analyzes recent global shareholder activism trends, forecasts expected developments in 2019, and highlights and compares jurisdictional data.
Oh, Canada: Increased Canadian Activism
As the Review outlines, 2018 was a notable year in Canada for shareholder activism. Not only did one of the biggest proxy fights of the year stem from Canada, but 75 Canadian companies received public demands from activist investors. The number of public demands received last year is significant considering there were 56 Canadian … Continue Reading
It will come as no surprise to those who have participated in a proxy fight to learn that these disputes can be heated affairs. Parties to a fight will routinely seek to discredit the other side to bolster their own narrative or otherwise gain a strategic advantage. In such an atmosphere, it can be difficult to draw the line between behaviour that’s merely aggressive and behaviour that crosses into unethical or illegal territory. A recent U.S. District Court case, Eshelman v. Auerbach et al, provides an example of the serious consequences that can ensue for those who cross this … Continue Reading
The rights of shareholders and directors to access corporate books and records is undisputed, but what about the rights of a former Chief Executive Officer, especially when the termination was contentious?
In the United States, a recent decision by the Delaware Court of Chancery dealt with this scenario. In that case, the CEO was involved in a highly publicized controversy believed to be injurious to the company’s image. An investigation was launched, and a special committee was formed, and the relationship quickly deteriorated. The board severed contractual ties with him, and sought his resignation despite him being the … Continue Reading
Shareholder proposals are often viewed as an essential tool for maintaining corporate accountability, but what role do they play in shaping corporate governance? ISS Analytics recently published a study (the Study) that reviewed the impact of shareholder proposals on corporate governance practices among U.S. companies since 2000. The Study offers helpful insights into shifting trends in corporate governance and investor attitudes, and provides important lessons for Canadian issuers.
A brief history of shareholder proposals in the U.S.
According to the Study, after a significant surge in the number of governance proposals in the early 2000s, the number of proposals … Continue Reading
Walied Soliman and Orestes Pasparakis, co-chairs of Norton Rose Fulbright’s Canadian Special Situations team, will host a 60-minute webinar on corporate governance, shareholder activism, and hostile M&A on Tuesday, February 12, 2019 at 12 p.m. EST. To sign up, please click here.
Our Special Situations team played a leading role in some of the most complex and high-profile corporate governance, shareholder activism and hostile M&A matters of 2018. The webinar will highlight some of the key trends and developments in 2018 and trends taking shape in 2019.
This will be essential viewing for directors and executives at public companies, … Continue Reading
In a recent study published on SSRN by the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, authors David F. Larcker, Stephen Miles, Brian Tayan and Kim Wright-Violich argue that CEO activism – the practice of CEOs taking public positions on environmental, social and political issues not directly related to their business – is a “double-edged sword”: CEOs who take public positions might build loyalty with employees, customers or constituents, but these same positions can inadvertently alienate important segments of those populations.
The authors – who aimed to better understand the implications of CEO activism by examining its prevalence, the … Continue Reading
Considering the robust global M&A markets of the last few years, it is unsurprising that activist investors have increasingly sought to leverage these transactions for their own gain. To that end, shareholder activists have developed a variety of M&A-related strategies. Most commonly, they either seek to catalyze transactions by pressuring companies into a merger or acquisition, or to scupper deals that would otherwise have gone ahead. Another commonly-used strategy involves agitating for better deal terms. Often referred to as ‘bumpitrage’, the activist investor purchases shares in a company that is subject to a takeover bid, and then rallies other shareholders … Continue Reading
Kingsdale Advisors has released its annual Proxy Season Review for 2018. The Review examines trends observed in 2018, predicts issues on the horizon, and provides advice to both issuers and activists in the marketplace.
In what follows, we pick out just a few of the important trends that emerge from Kingsdale’s analysis. The complete report can be viewed here.
Public activist activity remains healthy
Kingsdale counts 29 public proxy contests for the year to date. Though not reaching the high-water mark set in 2015 (55), the 29 public fights so far this year are up by 38%, as compared … Continue Reading
This month’s edition of Activist Insight Monthly, which focuses on Canada, features an in-depth interview with Walied Soliman and Orestes Pasparakis, Co-Chairs of Norton Rose Fulbright’s Canadian Special Situations team. The interview focuses on recent trends our team is seeing in the Canadian marketplace, including activist short selling, settlements, and the continued rise of “nice” activists.
Global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright’s Canadian Special Situations Team has ranked in the top 10 of global legal advisors advising both companies and activists in shareholder activist campaigns and is the only Canadian firm to be represented on the global ranking.
Recently, there has been a trend among both Canadian and United States companies to buy back their shares in order to boost stock prices. In the past – most notably during the “Buyback Bonanza” of 2007 – this strategy has been employed by companies as a mechanism to decrease the amount of outstanding shares, thereby increasing the value of the stock.
For years some have criticized share buybacks, asserting that focusing on short term increases in stock prices and profits is detrimental to long term economic growth. They argue that as individuals invest more in the short term, there … Continue Reading
A study conducted by global consultancy firm Alvarez and Marsal (A&M) showed that companies with more women on their boards attract fewer activist investors. In particular, the study, which surveyed 1,854 public groups, revealed that companies not targeted by hedge fund activists had on average 13.4 per cent more women on their boards.
Despite being a European study, it appears that the push for diverse governance only seems to be getting stronger across the world, and Canada is no exception. With the passage of Bill C-25, all CBCA companies with publicly traded securities must now disclose how many women … Continue Reading
On July 5, 2018, the Ontario Securities Commission (“OSC”) released its annual Statement of Priorities (the “Statement”) for the financial year to end March 31, 2019. The Statement outlines the most pressing issues that the OSC hopes to address in connection with the administration of the Securities Act, regulations and rules.
While investor protection is a major focal point of the Statement, the OSC also addresses a number of issues that pertain to shareholder rights and proxy contests. As discussed in a previous post, there is a looming question as to whether regulators will implement … Continue Reading
A fee-shifting by-law in the shareholder litigation context, “obligate[s] the plaintiff-shareholder to reimburse the corporation’s expenses (including attorneys’ fees and other costs) when the plaintiff [is] unsuccessful in litigation.”
Shareholder litigation in the United States operates under the “American Rule” which provides that each party is responsible for their own attorney’s fees. Unlike South of the border, in Canada lawyers’ fees are largely recoverable by the prevailing party. The 2008 financial crisis escalated the number of shareholder-initiated suits, especially in the United States. To address this, American corporations have attempted to avoid bearing the cost burden of unsuccessful shareholder initiated … Continue Reading
In a recent post about Canadian proxy contest trends, we discussed the growing concern with “The Active Passive investor” and potential issues on the horizon given a surge in the use of “withhold” campaigns. As of late, the prominence of withhold campaigns to signal shareholder discontent to boards of directors in North American markets has seen an even sharper rise.
In an uncontested election of directors, management of companies solicit proxy cards or ballots that allow shareholders to either cast an affirmative vote “for” the director candidate of the board, or “withhold” their voting authority. If a shareholder … Continue Reading
Recently, Activist Insight released a report on activist short selling. Activist short selling is when investors publicly bet on a stock going down in value. Among other interesting trends, the report shows that Canada ranks number 3 in the world for activist short campaigns. The data suggest that Canadian companies should be on high alert about the possibility of an activist short play.
The global number of activist short campaigns is trending downward
2015 represented a high water mark for activist short selling, with 274 campaigns globally. Since 2015, numbers have trended downward, with 263 campaigns in 2016, 186 in … Continue Reading
Shareholder activism has steadily been on the rise in Asia in the past seven years, but is it here to stay?
According to a recent report published by J.P. Morgan in May 2018, the numbers seem to support this proposition. As outlined in the report, only 10 shareholder activist campaigns took place in Asia in 2011 — that number ballooned to 106 in 2017.
Shareholders of Asian firms have historically been reluctant to engage in public activism. There are likely many reasons for this, including, according to Chelsea Naso of Law360, the prevalence of control block shareholders in the Asian … Continue Reading
Bill C-25 received Royal Assent on May 1, 2018. The bill will amend the CBCA by: reforming certain aspects of director elections; creating requirements for public companies to disclose officer and director diversity representation; and introducing the new Notice-and-Access Regime.
While some of the CBCA amendments have come into force, many of the amendments – including those described below – will come into force on a future date. As well, certain amendments must await changes to relevant regulations. The Federal Government has published the proposed regulatory amendments and is currently accepting comments from the public. It is projected that it … Continue Reading
In late 2014, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) published “comply or explain” rules regarding female representation in director and executive officer positions. The requirements were codified in National Instrument 58-101 (the Disclosure Requirements) and created a positive duty for issuers in participating jurisdictions to disclose the details of female representation, including issuers’ targets, policies, and mechanisms to address female representation in director and executive officer roles. Where issuers do not adopt such mechanisms or consider female representation, they are required to explain their reasons for not doing so. The Disclosure Requirements were adopted in all CSA jurisdictions … Continue Reading
In a recent post, we discussed investors’ growing interest in environmental and social (E&S) governance. As a recent report published by the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance (CCGG) demonstrates, public company boards are no less attentive to growing shareholder interest in E&S issues. The Directors’ E&S Guidebook (Guidebook), which is the product of consultations with industry leaders in the management of E&S factors, provides practical insights and recommendations for effective board oversight and disclosure of E&S matters.
Companies have good cause to respond to investor interest in E&S matters. For some, past incidents … Continue Reading
Background: Registered Shareholders and Beneficial Shareholders
While a registered shareholder holds its shares directly with a company and can be contacted through its transfer agent, a beneficial shareholder does not have the shares registered in its name. Instead, a securities depository is the registered shareholder. There are two types of beneficial shareholders, a Non-Objecting Beneficial Owner (NOBO) and an Objecting Beneficial Owner (OBO). A NOBO has authorized a financial intermediary to disclose its identity and share position. An OBO has taken affirmative steps to object to such disclosure. Therefore, while a NOBO can be contacted directly, … Continue Reading