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New York City Pension Funds continue push for improved shareholder rights

The New York City Pension Funds have filed new shareholder resolutions in their continued campaign to get investors the right to nominate a director to the boards of US companies.

The Boardroom Accountability Project, which was launched in November 2014, has already seen 115 companies compared with six originally, adopt a bylaw which gives shareholders owning 3 percent of a company for three or more years the right to list their director candidates on a company’s ballot – known as proxy access bylaws. The New York City Pension Funds -working with a coalition of investors – filed 75 non-binding shareholder resolutions with companies initially and two-thirds of the proposals that went to a vote received majority support and 37 of the companies have agreed to enact new bylaws to date.

The New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said. “The message they delivered to corporate boards is this: shareowners want a meaningful voice in the boardroom and they are prepared to voice their support for that right. Today, companies are responding by adopting proxy access at an astounding rate and momentum is growing for this movement toward greater accountability.”

In total, 109 companies have enacted viable proxy access bylaws since the launch of the project, either in response to a shareowner proposal or proactively, including 78 companies between October and December 2015.

In 2016, the City funds’ 72 company focus list included 36 companies from its 2015 focus list which have yet to act to amend their bylaws to the satisfaction of the New York City Pension Funds – although six of these resolutions have now been withdrawn due to changes by the companies. There are also 36 new companies which are those that the funds are heavily invested in or are companies with wider corporate governance or sustainability issues such as utility firms still heavily reliant on coal generation or firms whose chief executive’s pay is seen as excessive. Nine of these companies have now acted on the pressure from investors which means the shareholder resolutions have been withdrawn.

“The City Pension Funds invest in nearly 3,500 U.S. companies.  We depend on boards to make the right decisions that create long-term value.  The best way to ensure that we have the right people on those boards, those who are independent, diverse and accountable, is through proxy access.  This reform gives investors a seat at the table and ensures that boards are responsive to the concerns of its shareowners,” Stringer said.

Stringer believes evidence backs up his claims. A 2014 analysis of studies by the CFA Institute found that proxy access could improve the responsiveness of boards, which could raise the value of all companies by nearly 1 percent or $140 billion across the U.S. market.  A 2015 study by staff economists at the Securities and Exchange Commission found a 0.5 percent increase in shareowner value at the 75 companies the Boardroom Accountability Project targeted.

The New York City Pensions Funds have also released the 2015 Post-Season Shareowner Report, a summary of the City funds’ over the past year, including a complete breakdown of voting results and agreements stemming from the push for proxy access. Stringer serves as the investment advisor to, and custodian and a trustee of, the New York City Pension Funds. The New York City Pension Funds are comprised of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, Teachers’ Retirement System, New York City Police Pension Fund, New York City Fire Department Pension Fund and the Board of Education Retirement System.

What do you think?