CAP reviews proxy disclosures of S&P 500 companies on a weekly basis as part of an on-going Say on Pay study. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (“Dodd-Frank”) mandates that public companies provide shareholders with a non-binding vote on executive compensation every one, two or three years. This study tracks all Say on Pay and Say on Frequency related proposals and the corresponding vote results.

On February 6, 2017 the Acting Chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a Public Statement on Reconsideration of Pay Ratio Rule Implementation. The pay ratio rule was adopted by the SEC on August 5, 2015 under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. It requires companies to disclose their CEO’s annual total compensation as a multiple of the annual total compensation of the median employee for the first fiscal year beginning in 2017.

The statement indicated that “some issuers have begun to encounter unanticipated compliance difficulties that may hinder them in meeting the reporting deadline.” The SEC began a 45-day comment period for issuers to submit detailed comments on challenges they have experienced in preparing for compliance with the rule. Additionally, the staff was directed to determine whether additional guidance or relief is necessary.

Click on this link to see the full text of the Public Statement.

We believe pay ratio disclosure is an example of regulation that will be costly to implement and serves no clear purpose to benefit investors or American companies. We expect that a number of issuers will provide their comments on the challenges, cost and effort related to the preparation of compliance with the rule. This may be a first step in a major overhaul, delay or reversal of the rule.

In addition to the SEC’s Public Statement, it was reported by Bloomberg BNA that House Republicans “plan to introduce legislation to roll back the Dodd-Frank Act in mid-February”. Depending on the timing of any changes to the Dodd-Frank Act or the results of the comment review process, issuers may not have definitive direction before the summer.

We will track these issues over the coming year and keep you informed of new developments as they occur.

 

 

In today’s post Dodd-Frank executive compensation market, most companies are familiar with, and many have implemented, “shareholder-friendly policies” such as clawbacks, hedging/pledging, and stock ownership guidelines. Further, companies have grown increasingly savvy on the executive compensation policies of shareholder advisory firms such as Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass-Lewis—specifically as they relate to Say on Pay resolutions (SoP). Most executive compensation professionals—ourselves included—do not deny the influence on voting results when a company receives the dreaded Against recommendation from one or more of the proxy advisory firms. Our research shows that when ISS and Glass-Lewis recommend Against an SoP resolution, there is an approximate 20-30% and 5-15% reduction in the voting results, respectively.

Is this causation or simply correlation? Perhaps that question cannot be answered so easily, but it is possible to study how large institutional shareholders vote on SoP in order to try and understand what factors influence their voting. Companies are already aware of who their largest shareholders are, but an understanding of their voting policies and practices can provide insights on potential shareholder reaction to executive compensation program design, program modifications, and company performance.

To gain a deeper understanding of how large institutional shareholders tend to vote on SoP, CAP compiled a list of the top 25 institutional shareholders (in terms of assets under management) that were invested in at least 250 of the companies in the S&P 500 (“Institutional Shareholders”). CAP collected voting data from Proxy Insight, a leading provider of global shareholder voting analytics.

Among these Institutional Shareholders, 92% (23 out of 25) have their own “in-house” voting policies. What that means, is that even if ISS or Glass-Lewis makes a recommendation, the Institutional Shareholder will make the final determination on its voting decision. Based on 2016 voting results, Institutional Shareholders voted Against SoP 6.6% of the time, at median, for S&P 500 companies. When we expanded the scope of our review to all U.S. public companies, we found that Institutional Shareholders voted Against SoP 8.2% of the time, at median.

Source: Proxy Insight

Why do Against votes occur more frequently among all U.S. public companies compared to S&P 500 companies? This outcome could reflect that S&P 500 companies, in the aggregate, are larger and tend to have the resources to develop and maintain more balanced compensation programs. For example, a long-term incentive (LTI) program that is composed of a portfolio of time- and performance-based awards is viewed positively by institutional shareholders and is more common among S&P 500 companies versus all U.S. Companies. S&P 500 companies also have the capacity to lead more extensive shareholder outreach campaigns, which allows them to explain the rationale for their programs.

Although most Institutional Shareholders vote For SoP in most cases, there are some that will vote Against SoP 10% of the time or more. When voting on S&P 500 Companies, 5 out of 25 of the Institutional Shareholders vote Against 10% of the time or more. When voting on all US companies, 11 out of 25 vote Against 10% of the time or more.

Institutional Shareholder

Percent of Time Voting Against SoP

Institutional Shareholders Voting Against S&P 500 Companies 10% of the Time or Greater

Robeco/RobecoSAM

30%

BNY Mellon

27%

Dimensional Fund Advisors, Inc.

18%

California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS)

16%

Schroders

10%

Institutional Shareholders Voting Against U.S. Companies 10% of the Time or Greater

BNY Mellon

44%

Robeco/RobecoSAM

28%

Dimensional Fund Advisors, Inc.

23%

California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS)

20%

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB)

13%

Schroders

13%

AllianceBernstein LP

12%

T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc.

10%

AXA Investment Managers

10%

Principal Global Investors LLC

10%

RBC Global Asset Management, Inc.

10%

Source: Proxy Insight

CAP suggests that companies should track the voting tendencies of their major institutional shareholders, particularly if they vote Against more frequently. Companies may want to look at historical voting on SoP and should review their institutional shareholders’ proxy voting guidelines—particularly as it relates to compensation. For example, BNY Mellon voted Against SoP at 27% of S&P 500 companies and Against SoP at 44% of all U.S. companies. A review of BNY Mellon’s proxy voting guidelines states that they “consider proposals on a case-by-case basis in situations where:”

  • There are tax gross-ups or make-whole provisions in CIC/severance agreements
  • The company has poor relative stock performance, especially when compensation is deemed excessive compared to peers
  • The company fails to address compensation issues identified in prior meetings
  • There appears to be an imbalance between performance-based and time-based long-term incentive awards

Therefore, if one of your company’s major shareholders is an institutional investor that supports SoP less frequently, it is important to understand their voting guidelines, especially if your executive compensation program has practices or includes features that are viewed negatively (i.e. tax gross ups, 100% time-based LTI program, etc.).

Although most Institutional Shareholders have in-house voting policies, they do still subscribe to proxy advisory research from ISS and Glass-Lewis. Among Institutional Shareholders, 88% (22 out of 25) subscribe to ISS and 48% (12 out of 25) subscribe to Glass-Lewis. While there is only one out of these 25 Institutional Shareholders that generally automatically-votes with ISS (Principal Global Investors LLC), CAP determined that there is a correlation between an ISS or Glass-Lewis Against recommendation and voting results. When subscribing to ISS or Glass-Lewis, we found that Institutional Shareholders’ voting aligns with an Against recommendation, at median, 62% of the time for ISS subscribers and 31% of the time for Glass-Lewis subscribers. The data exhibits a greater correlation (approximately double) of vote alignment with an Against recommendation from ISS than Glass-Lewis. This may occur because Glass-Lewis recommends Against about twice as often as ISS does (16% of companies receive an Against recommendation from Glass-Lewis vs. 8% from ISS).

Source: Proxy Insight

As mentioned above, it is not easy to confirm whether the alignment of an Against recommendation from ISS or Glass-Lewis and voting outcomes is the result of causation or simple correlation—perhaps it is a bit of both. However, when companies are trying to understand the voting practices of their institutional shareholders, knowledge of how their institutional shareholders vote in relation to an ISS or Glass-Lewis Against recommendation is a valuable input, particularly in cases where the alignment is very consistent. Since the recommendation from ISS and Glass-Lewis precedes voting, companies can predict potential outcomes based on shareholder tendencies—particularly in cases where the institutional shareholders voting tendencies are correlated with an Against recommendation a high percentage of the time.

Institutional Shareholder

Percent of Time Voting with Rec.

Institutional Shareholders Voting with ISS Against Rec. Greater than 85% of the Time

Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management

99%

Principal Global Investors LLC

98%

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB)

97%

RBC Global Asset Management, Inc.

97%

Dimensional Fund Advisors, Inc.

96%

AllianceBernstein LP

91%

BNY Mellon

87%

Institutional Shareholders Voting with Glass-Lewis Against Rec. Greater than 50% of the Time

California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS)

75%

Dimensional Fund Advisors, Inc.

60%

BNY Mellon

57%

Source: Proxy Insight

In examples where Institutional Shareholders do not have a high correlation of voting with an ISS or Glass-Lewis Against recommendation, this can generally be attributed to those Institutional Shareholders that vote For SoP a high percentage of the time in line with their own voting policies.

In our view, it is important for companies to develop a compensation program that aligns with the business strategy, promotes shareholder growth while minimizing risk, and attracts and retains key talent. Once a framework is established, companies can then overlay an understanding of the voting practices of their institutional shareholders, including specific proxy voting guidelines, voting history, as well as the alignment of voting results with ISS or Glass-Lewis recommendations. This becomes more important in cases where the institutional shareholder votes Against SoP more frequently than the norm or follows ISS and Glass-Lewis recommendations a very high percentage of the time. While some companies may engage in comprehensive shareholder outreach programs, other companies do not have the resources for large-scale shareholder engagement. For these companies, an understanding of their institutional shareholder voting policies and practices becomes an important consideration when it comes to compensation program plan design.

Appendix

Institutional Shareholders Used in this Analysis

AllianceBernstein LP

Legg Mason Partners Fund Advisor, LLC.

AXA Investment Managers

MFS Investment Management, Inc.

BlackRock

Morgan Stanley Investment Management, Inc.

BNY Mellon

Norges Bank Investment Management

California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS)

Northern Trust Investments

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB)

Principal Global Investors LLC

Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management

RBC Global Asset Management, Inc.

Dimensional Fund Advisors, Inc.

Robeco/RobecoSAM

Federated Investment Management Co.

Schroders

Fidelity Management & Research Co.

SSgA Funds Management, Inc. (State Street)

Fidelity SelectCo

T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc.

Franklin Templeton Investments

Vanguard Group, Inc.

Goldman Sachs Asset Management LP

What We Found

Each of the 23 large banking organizations has adopted an annual Say on Pay vote, and among these companies average annual support from 2011-13 approximated 90%.

During this time period, only one company, Citigroup in 2012, did not receive majority shareholder support for its Say on Pay resolution. However, a number of additional large banking organizations (3 others in 2012; Northern Trust, Huntington Bancshares and BNY Mellon) received at or below 75% shareholder support. In each of these cases, we observed significant pay program changes in the subsequent year that were in line with changes seen among companies across industries, not just financial services firms that are affected by regulatory oversight. One company in 2013, Comerica, received below 75% shareholder support and as such we expect a similar response to efforts around shareholder outreach and potential program changes this year.

Proxy advisory firms (i.e., ISS and Glass Lewis) voting recommendations also have been impacting Say on Pay results. Our research shows that an ISS vote recommendation impacts Say on Pay vote results by approximately 30 percentage points.

Say on Pay Vote Results and Implications

Comparisons of results over the last 3 years generally show a consistent pattern with the majority of banks studied receiving 90+% shareholder support. Further, when comparing 2013 shareholder support levels to the S&P 500 to-date, results among the broader industry yields slightly higher support at median (95% vs. 93%).

A company only “fails” a Say on Pay vote if a majority of shareholders do not vote in support of the Say on Pay resolution. However, an “acceptable” shareholder support threshold has emerged around 75%. ISS identified 70% as a minimum acceptable level of support, while Glass Lewis prefers 75%. Further, even with results above 70% or 75%, if results are significantly below prior year results, companies will reevaluate their compensation programs. It is important to note that companies and Boards may be subject to reputational risk with “low” pass rates (i.e., approximately 75% or below).

One company in 2013 – Comerica – reviewed received less than 75% shareholder support. Comerica’s low support level (61%) was likely attributed to two factors: 1) weak 1- and 3-year TSR and 2) ISS recommending shareholders vote “Against” the Say on Pay resolution. ISS’ “Against” recommendations are often driven by high pay relative to performance and/or poor pay practices.

Four companies in 2012 received 75% or lower shareholder support for their Say on Pay resolution – Citigroup (45%), Northern Trust (75%), Huntington Bancshares (61%), and BNY Mellon (58%). Several factors may have led to the low support levels among these large banks, including, low TSR, high pay levels for the CEO or problematic pay practices (i.e., high discretionary payouts associated with poor performance). TSR among these four companies was negative for the one, three and five year periods ending in 2011.

Following the low Say on Pay support level, all made significant changes to their pay programs and conducted enhanced shareholder outreach efforts. In the subsequent year, average support increased by 33 percentage points. In 2013, all four received an ISS “For” Say on Pay vote recommendation (only 1 of 4 did in 2012).

We have observed a link between Say on Pay vote results and company performance, as primarily measured by TSR. Not surprisingly, companies that enjoy high levels of shareholder support for their Say on Pay resolutions tend to have performed better in the prior year and over the latest three year period.

TSR vs. Say on Pay Vote Results

% in Favor

Avg. 3-Yr TSR @ 12/31/12

Avg. 1-Yr TSR @ 12/31/12

Prior to 2013 Annual Meetings

Prior to 2013 Annual Meetings

95 – 100%

16.3%

38.2%

90 – 94%

5.2%

42.8%

70 – 89%

2.5%

27.6%

50 – 69%

2.1%

19.7%

Below 50%

n.m.

n.m.

 

Another significant factor affecting Say on Pay vote results has been the vote recommendations of proxy advisory firms, with lower voting outcomes when companies do not receive support from the proxy advisory firms on their Say on Pay proposals. The factors generally used by these firms include level of CEO pay, program design and the use of non-performance based pay. These factors can drive an “Against” vote especially when in combination with poor TSR results. In 2013, only Comerica received an “Against” vote on Say on Pay from ISS, and they received 61% support compared to 93% support in 2012. In 2012, 3 companies received an “Against” vote recommendation from ISS, and the average support decreased by 34 percentage points. From 2011-13, ISS recommended shareholders vote Against the Say on Pay resolution at 8 of the companies reviewed. Each time the result was less than 80% support.

Given the growing importance placed on shareholder outreach regarding Say on Pay and executive pay programs, some of the companies (i.e., Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs) use supplemental filings as an additional outreach tool. In some cases, the large banks file supplementary soliciting materials pushing back on the voting recommendations of ISS or Glass Lewis. While the voting recommendations do not change, companies continue to push back on the proxy advisory firms when they believe they have strong programs.

Conclusion

Financial services firms will need to continue to strike the right balance between pay-for-performance and alignment among varying stakeholder perspectives. This is increasingly challenging for these companies as interests will conflict between shareholders, employees and the Federal Reserve. We expect to continue to see changes as companies balance these multiple constituencies.

Despite significant changes from large banks over the last 3 years (e.g. decreased upside on long-term performance plans, decreased emphasis on stock options or increased opportunity to make ex-post adjustments on deferred incentive awards), Say on Pay results have been strong from 2011-2013. We will continue to monitor how these risk-mitigating features are implemented by these banks as part of the Federal Reserve’s input and their effect on Say on Pay voting results.

  1. 1 Companies reviewed include: American Express, Bank of America, BNY Mellon, Citigroup, Capital One Financial, Discover Financial Services, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Northern Trust, PNC, State Street, SunTrust Bank, US Bancorp, Wells Fargo, BB&T, Comerica, Fifth Third, Huntington Bancshares, KeyCorp, M&T Bank, Regions and Zions Bancorp.

Say on Pay Update

2012 marks the second year of mandatory Say on Pay voting. In 2011, the SEC issued final rules implementing Section 951 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”). Dodd-Frank provides shareholders of US public companies with the right to cast three types of advisory votes related to executive compensation:

  1. A vote to approve the compensation of the Named Executive Officers (NEOs), effective for shareholder meetings occurring on or after January 21, 2011;
  2. A vote on the frequency with which shareholders should be entitled to cast Say on Pay votes (every one, two or three years), effective for shareholder meetings occurring on or after January 21, 2011; and
  3. A vote on golden parachute arrangements for NEOs related to a sale, consolidation or merger, effective April 25, 2011.

CAP Comment: While these votes are non-binding, we see evidence that companies carefully evaluate their vote results, taking some action if there is low shareholder support for the company’s executive compensation program. In 2011, a consensus developed that a low pass rate was a concern.

Say on Pay Vote Results Among the S+P 500

So far this season, Say on Pay resolutions received majority shareholder support at all but seven S&P 500 companies.1 The seven companies where a majority of shareholders did not support the executive compensation program were International Game Technology, Citigroup, Cooper Industries PLC, Mylan, NRG Energy, Pitney Bowes and Simon Property Group.

Comparison of year-to-date results for 2012 to 2011 results shows a consistent pattern. We found that the median vote in support of a Say on Pay resolution is 93.7% s in 2012. This is almost identical to the 93.2% median support level that we observed last year.

2011 and 2012 Say on Pay Vote Results

% in Favor

# of Companies in 2012

% of Companies in 2012

% of Companies in 2011

90% – 100%

200

69%

63%

80% – 90%

42

14%

17%

70% – 80%

17

6%

10%

50% – 70%

26

9%

9%

0% – 50%

7

2%

2%

 

CAP Comment: While a company does not “fail” its Say on Pay vote unless a majority of shareholders vote against the compensation program, most companies have received 90+% shareholder support and an “acceptable” shareholder support threshold has emerged around 70% – 80%. ISS identified 70% as a minimum acceptable level of support, while Glass Lewis prefers 75%. Among institutions, CalSTRS and Black Rock identified 75% and 80%, respectively.

Notably, all of the S&P 500 companies that failed Say on Pay in 2011 that have completed their 2012 Say on Pay votes, have received passing grades from shareholders. Some of these companies have made significant changes to pay programs. In addition, management teams at these companies have devoted considerable effort to shareholder outreach and engagement to better understand the issues that may be creating concerns.

Company
Failing Say on Pay in 2011

% Support Received in 2012 Say on Pay Vote

Modifications Made to Compensation Program

Hewlett-Packard

77%

  • Target compensation at the market median
  • Limited the use of discretion in pay decisions and provided more detailed disclosure
  • Redesigned the annual incentive plan
  • Disclosed more detailed information about historical performance targets, actual performance against targets, and payouts under the annual incentive plan
  • Changed the structure and design of CEO’s compensation, to increase performance-based elements 
  • Eliminated tax gross-ups for Section 16 officers except for gross-ups on relocation benefits
  • Amended Severance Plan for Executive Officers to reduce the need for individual agreements and the use of discretion

Jacobs Engineering

96%

  • Performance-based market stock unit grants replaced grants of time-based restricted stock

Masco Corp.

95%

  • Reduced stock options and introduced long-term cash incentive based on return on invested capital performance over 3 years
  • Changed mix of long-term awards
  • Eliminated excise tax gross-up feature on all equity grants beginning in 2012
  • Increased CEO’s stock ownership requirements
  • Adopted “double-trigger” vesting of equity on a change in control

Stanley Black & Decker

93%

  • Modified Compensation Committee membership
  • Increased stock ownership requirements for executive officers and directors
  • Imposed a 1-year post exercise holding period on options and RSU grants to executive officers
  • Replaced “single-trigger” change in control provisions with “double-trigger” provisions

CAP Comment: SEC disclosure rules require additional disclosure in the CD&A regarding whether, and if so how, companies have considered the results of the most recent Say on Pay vote.

Several factors impact Say on Pay Voting results. We have observed a clear link between voting outcomes and company performance as measured by Total Shareholder Return (“TSR”). Not surprisingly, companies that enjoy high levels of shareholder support tend to perform better. Companies with lower performance tend to receive lower shareholder support.

TSR vs. Say on Pay Vote Results

% in Favor

Average 1-Yr TSR @ 12/31/11 Prior to 2012 Annual Meetings

Average 1-Yr TSR @ 12/31/10 Prior to 2011 Annual Meetings

90% – 100%

3.4%

24.5%

80% – 90%

-5.3%

24.1%

70% – 80%

-7.6%

17.3%

50% – 70%

-5.8%

8.0%

0% – 50%

-5.9%

9.6%

The recommendations of the proxy advisory services also have an impact. For example, when ISS recommends an “Against” vote on Say on Pay, the voting outcome is normally low. To date in 2012, we found that companies receiving a “For” recommendation from ISS had average shareholder support of 93%. In contrast, companies receiving an “Against” recommendation from ISS had average shareholder support of only 60%.

Among companies where ISS recommended “Against” the Say on Pay proposal, 93% received less than 80% support.

Companies Receiving “Against” Vote Recommendation

% in Favor

# of Companies

% of Companies

90% – 100%

0

0%

80% – 90%

3

7%

< 80%

38

93%

Given the growing influence of the proxy advisory firms, more and more companies are pushing back. Many companies have been proactive during this proxy season, with more than 50 firms filing supplementary soliciting materials. Prominent examples include Qualcom and Disney. Companies provide additional soliciting material to rebut the vote recommendations of the proxy advisory firms. While the supplemental materials do not impact the recommendation of the proxy advisory firms, they are positive in terms of investor outreach. Arguments over the appropriateness of peer groups selected by the proxy advisory firms are relatively common. In addition, a number of companies have adopted the proxy summary concept to direct attention to key messages, highlight the proposals that shareholders will be voting on and supplement the pay orientated disclosure provided in the CD&A.

Say on Pay Frequency Vote Results

An annual vote frequency emerged as the clear shareholder preference in 2011. Among S&P 500 companies reporting vote results, a majority of shareholders supported an annual frequency at 94% of companies. This differs from vote recommendations, with only 70% of the companies recommending an annual vote.

Board Recommendation for Vote Frequency

# of Companies

 

Frequency Receiving Majority Shareholder Support

% of Companies

Annual

70%

 

Annual

94%

Biennial

3%

 

Biennial

0%

Triennial

23%

 

Triennial

5%

No Recommendation

4%

 

None (only plurality)

1%

The strong support for annual votes is not a surprise. 39 institutional investors, representing more than $830 billion in assets, issued a public call for companies and investors to support annual advisory votes on executive compensation in 2011 proxy statements. Similarly, a number of major mutual funds, as well as ISS and Glass Lewis, have indicated support for annual Say on Pay votes.

CAP Comment: Over time, we expect the prevalence of annual Say on Pay voting to increase.

CAP Comment: Following the frequency vote, the SEC rules mandate disclosure through an 8-K of how often the company will hold future Say on Pay votes. Issuers must also provide proxy-based disclosure of the current frequency of Say on Pay votes and when the next scheduled Say on Pay vote will occur.

CAP Comment: For companies that conduct Say on Pay vote frequency in line with the preference of a majority of shareholders, shareholder frequency proposals can be excluded from the proxy for six years.

Conclusion

Last year many questioned what level of shareholder support should be viewed as “acceptable.” Based on experience to date, the acceptable “threshold” will be around 80% support, a higher hurdle than simply a pass / fail test. This is somewhat higher than the minimums identified by ISS and Glass Lewis, and should be sufficient to avoid undue scrutiny of the compensation program.

Going forward, a Say on Pay vote will be an annual event at most companies. Our experience indicates that Sayon Pay voting has been a catalyst for change, and certain themes have emerged:

  • Companies with stronger performance generally receive higher levels of shareholder support;
  • Negative vote recommendations from the shareholder advisory firms will likely reduce the vote below the “acceptable” level and companies will need to campaign to obtain a positive voting outcome;
  • Many companies have increased dialogue with their largest investors by engaging early;
  • Say on Pay proposals include supporting statements;
  • Use of executive summaries in the Compensation Discussion and Analysis (CD&A) of the proxy statement is commonplace; and
  • Use of a proxy summary or potentially filing supplemental material to rebut negative voting recommendations should be considered.

1 Outside of the S&P 500, an additional 22 companies did not receive majority shareholder support for their NEO compensation program as of 5/25/2012: Actuant Corporation, Argo Group International, Cenveo, Charles River Laboratories, Chemed Corporation, Community Health Systems, Comstock Resources, First California Financial, FirstMerit Corp., Gentiva Health Services, Hercules Offshore, Infinera Corporation, KB Home, Knight Capital Group, Manitowoc Company, OM Group, Palomar Medical Tech., Phoenix Companies, Sterling Bancorp, The Ryland Group, Tower Group, and Viad Corp.

  1. Going forward, a Say on Pay vote will be an annual event at most companies
  2. A simple majority should not be considered a passing grade
  3. Companies with stronger performance generally received higher levels of shareholder support
  4. Say on Pay voting has already been a catalyst for change

As background, on January 25, 2011, the SEC issued final rules implementing Section 951 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”), which generally provides shareholders of US public companies with the right to cast three types of advisory votes related to executive compensation:

  1. A vote to approve the compensation of the Named Executive Officers (NEOs), effective for shareholder meetings occurring on or after January 21, 2011;
  2. A vote on the frequency with which shareholders should be entitled to cast Say on Pay votes (every one, two or three years), effective for shareholder meetings occurring on or after January 21, 2011; and
  3. A vote on golden parachute arrangements for NEOs related to a sale, consolidation or merger, effective April 25, 2011.

Say on Pay Frequency Vote Results (2011 Proxy Season)

An annual vote frequency has emerged as the clear shareholder preference. Among 93% of S&P 500 companies reporting vote results, a majority of shareholders supported annual Say on Pay vote frequency. This differs from vote recommendations, where only 68% of the companies had recommended an annual vote.

Company Recommendation (n=455)

Vote Frequency # of Companies % of Companies
Annual 310 68%
Bienniel 13 3%
Triennial 111 24%
No Recommendation 21 5%

Vote Results: Received Majority Shareholder Support (n=438)

Vote Frequency # of Companies % of Companies
Annual 409 93%
Bienniel 1 0%
Triennial 21 5%
None (only plurality)1 7 2%

The strong support for annual votes is not a surprise. 39 institutional investors, representing more than $830 billion in assets, issued a public call for companies and investors to support annual advisory votes on executive compensation in 2011 proxy statements. Similarly, a number of major mutual funds have also indicated support for annual Say on Pay votes, and ISS’ policy recommends that shareholders support annual votes (Glass Lewis has indicated a similar preference).2

CAP Comment: Following the frequency vote, the SEC rules mandate disclosure of how often the company will hold future Say on Pay votes, generally through an 8-K. Issuers must also provide proxy-based disclosure of the current frequency of Say on Pay votes and when the next scheduled Say on Pay vote will occur.

CAP Comment: When companies conduct their Say on Pay vote in line with the frequency preferred by a majority of shareholders, they may exclude shareholder frequency proposals from the proxy for six years.

Say on Pay Vote Results (2011 Proxy Season)

Say on Pay resolutions received majority shareholder support at all but eight S&P 500 companies, with average support of 89% (most companies received greater than 80% support for their NEO pay program).3

%inFavor #of Companies %of Companies Average1-Yr TSR @12/31/10 A “threshold” for acceptable passage rates seems to have emerged; to-date, results indicate this threshold is around 80% shareholder support.
90%-100% 274 62% 25.2%
80%-90% 73 17% 24.3%
70%-80% 43 10% 16.5%
50%-70% 40 9% 7.4%
0%-50% 8 2% 9.6%

As shown above, companies with stronger TSR on a 1-year basis generally received a higher level of support from shareholders on their executive pay programs.

CAP Comment: While a company does not “fail” its Say on Pay vote unless a majority of shareholders vote against the compensation program, many companies have received 90+% shareholder support and an “acceptable” shareholder support threshold has emerged around 80%. Below this level of support, we have found that there often is a notable level of shareholder discontent that should be carefully reviewed.

CAP Comment: While these votes are non-binding, we expect that most companies will carefully evaluate their vote results, taking some action if there is low shareholder support (not just in the limited cases where a majority of shareholders did not support the company’s executive compensation program).

CAP Comment: The final SEC rules require additional disclosure in the CD&A regarding whether, and if so how, companies have considered the results of the most recent Say on Pay vote.

CAP Comment: As a result of the Dodd-Frank legislation, the SEC will eventually adopt rules requiring proxy-based disclosure of the pay-for-performance relationship at each U.S. public company (rules currently schedule to be adopted during 2012).

The eight companies where a majority of shareholders did not support the executive compensation program, and the Say on Pay vote results for these companies, are:

Company 1-Yr TSR % Votes in Favor
Hewlett-Packard -17.7% 48.2%
Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold 52.6% 45.5%
Jacobs Engineering 21.9% 44.8%
Masco Corp. -6.1% 44.6%
Nabors Industries 7.2% 42.5%
Janus Capital Group -3.2% 40.1%
Constellation Energy Group -10.3% 38.0%
Stanley Black and Decker 32.7% 38.0%

Impact of Proxy Advisor Recommendations

On average, shareholder support for Say on Pay votes was considerably lower when ISS recommended an “Against” vote to shareholders.4,5

ISSVote Recommendation Average Shareholder Support
For(n=377) 92%
Against(n=61) 64%
Companies Receiving “Against” Vote Recommendation
% in Favor # of Companies % of Companies
90% – 100% 2 3%
80% – 90% 4 7%
< 80% 55 90%

CAP Comment: Where ISS recommended an “Against” vote for Say on Pay, 90% of companies received less than the 80% percent shareholder support threshold discussed above.

As shown below, companies that received an “Against” vote recommendation from ISS generally had lower TSR.

 

ISS Vote Recommendation # Companies that Passed # Companies that Failed Total Average 1-Yr TSR @ 12/31/10
For 377 0 377 24.3%
Against 53 8 61 10.3%
Total 430 8 438 22.5%

 

CAP Comment: Of the 438 companies reporting vote results, to-date, ISS recommended an “Against” vote for Say on Pay at 61 S&P 500 companies (14%). Only 8 of the 61 companies (13%) did not receive majority support for their Named Executive Officer compensation program.

Responding to Proxy Advisor Recommendations

Some notable companies took additional steps related to executive compensation during this proxy season, filing supplementary soliciting materials and/or making last minute modifications to their CEO pay program. Select examples include: General Electric, Disney, ExxonMobil, Johnson & Johnson, Hewlett-Packard, Lockheed Martin, and Northern Trust. While these filings were generally in reaction to negative vote recommendations from shareholder advisory services such as ISS, ExxonMobil went a step further by filing supplementary materials (essentially an executive pay brochure) on the same day as the proxy. ExxonMobil still received a negative vote recommendation from ISS, and later filed additional soliciting material rebutting ISS’ vote recommendation.

Conclusion

During the 2011 proxy season, a clear shareholder preference for annual Say on Pay votes emerged. In terms of the actual Say on Pay vote, an 80% threshold emerged as an “acceptable” level of shareholder support, a significantly higher hurdle than simple a pass / fail test.

Say on Pay has already been a catalyst for change. Companies are more willing to address controversial pay practices than they were a year earlier. Disclosure of executive compensation in proxy statements has evolved, and the influence of proxy/shareholder advisory services (such as ISS) has increased.

Looking forward, companies will need to carefully evaluate their Say on Pay vote result from the 2011 proxy season, and determine how to best incorporate any findings into planning for 2012.

1 None of the three frequency options (annual, biennial, or triennial) received majority support (greater than 50%).

2 For additional detail, see 12/5/10 CAPFlash: “ISS 2011 Policy Updates – Here Comes Say on Pay.”

3 Outside of the S&P 500, an additional 29 companies did not receive majority shareholder support for their NEO compensation program.

4 ISS refers to Institutional Shareholder Services, an influential proxy advisory service. Source of vote recommendations was ISS Voting Analytics.

5 Sample = 434 companies that filed vote results to-date.

Say on Pay Update

On January 25, 2011, the SEC issued final rules implementing Section 951 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”), which generally provides shareholders of US public companies with the right to cast three types of advisory votes related to executive compensation:

  1. A vote to approve the compensation of the Named Executive Officers (NEOs), effective for shareholder meetings occurring on or after January 21, 2011;
  2. A vote on the frequency with which shareholders should be entitled to cast Say on Pay votes (every one, two or three years), effective for shareholder meetings occurring on or after January 21, 2011; and
  3. A vote on golden parachute arrangements for NEOs related to a sale, consolidation or merger, effective April 25th, 2011.

To date, 419 of the S&P 500 companies included Say on Pay resolutions in either a preliminary or definitive proxy statement. Vote results from annual meetings are available for 290 of these companies.

CAP Comment: While these votes are non-binding, we expect that most companies will carefully evaluate their vote results, taking some action if there is low shareholder support (not just in the limited cases where a majority of shareholders did not support the company’s executive compensation program).

Say on Pay Frequency Vote Results

An annual vote frequency is emerging as the clear shareholder preference. Among 94% of S&P 500 companies reporting vote results, a majority of shareholders supported annual Say on Pay vote frequency. This differs from vote recommendations, where only 67% of the companies had recommended an annual vote.

Company Recommendation (n=419)
Vote Frequency # of Companies % of Companies
Annual 281 67%
Biennial 13 3%
Triennial 108 26%
No Recommendation 17 4%

Vote Results: Received Majority Shareholder Support (n=290)
Vote Frequency # of Companies % of Companies
Annual 272 94%
Biennial 1 0%
Triennial 12 4%
None (only plurality)* 5 2%

The strong support for annual votes is not a surprise. 39 institutional investors, representing more than $830 billion in assets, issued a public call for companies and investors to support annual advisory votes on executive compensation in 2011 proxy statements. Similarly, a number of major mutual funds have also indicated support for the annual Say on Pay votes, and ISS’ policy recommends that shareholders support annual votes (Glass Lewis has indicated a similar preference)[1].

CAP Comment: As the 2011 proxy season continues, we expect the prevalence of annual vote frequency recommendations to increase.

CAP Comment: Following the frequency vote, the SEC rules mandate disclosure through an 8-K of how often the company will hold future Say on Pay votes[2]. Issuers must also provide proxy-based disclosure of the current frequency of Say on Pay votes and when the next scheduled Say on Pay vote will occur.

CAP Comment: When companies conduct their Say on Pay vote in line with the frequency preferred by a majority of shareholders, they may exclude shareholder frequency proposals from the proxy for six years.

Say on Pay Vote Results

Say on Pay resolutions received majority shareholder support at all but five S&P 500 companies, with support ranging from 55% to 100%[3]. The five companies where a majority of shareholders did not support the executive compensation program were Hewlett-Packard, Jacobs Engineering, Janus Capital Group, Masco Corp. and Stanley Black & Decker.

% in Favor # of Companies % of Companies
90% – 100% 192 66%
80% – 90% 43 15%
70% – 80% 26 9%
50% – 70% 24 8%
0% – 50% 5 2%

CAP Comment: While a company does not “fail” its Say on Pay vote unless a majority of shareholders vote against the compensation program, an “acceptable” shareholder support threshold is likely to emerge. To-date, results indicate this threshold will be around 80% shareholder support.

CAP Comment: The final SEC rules require additional disclosure in the CD&A regarding whether, and if so how, companies have considered the results of the most recent Say on Pay vote.

Some notable companies have been proactive during this proxy season, filing supplementary soliciting materials. Select examples include: General Electric, Disney, ExxonMobil, Johnson & Johnson, Hewlett-Packard, and Northern Trust. While these filings were generally in reaction to negative vote recommendations from shareholder advisory services such as ISS, ExxonMobil went a step further by filing supplementary materials (essentially an executive pay brochure) on the same day as the proxy. ExxonMobil still received a negative vote recommendation from ISS, and later filed additional soliciting material rebutting ISS’ vote recommendation.

New Fidelity Compensation-Related Voting Guidelines

Fidelity recently released revised proxy voting guidelines that are effective immediately[4]. Our discussion below focuses on guidelines for Say on Pay proposals and new share requests[5].

Say on Pay Proposals

Fidelity will generally vote for proposals to approve executive compensation unless such compensation is misaligned with shareholder interests or otherwise problematic[6]. In determining any misalignment, Fidelity will take into account, among other factors, whether:

  • A company has an independent Compensation Committee
  • The Compensation Committee engaged independent compensation consultants
  • The Compensation Committee waived equity vesting restrictions
  • The company adopted or extended a golden parachute without shareholder approval[7]

Fidelity will also:

  • Support annual advisory votes on executive compensation
  • Generally vote against proposals to support golden parachutesix

Equity Plan Votes – New Share Requests

The guideline for determining votes related to new share requests is now based on a company’s three-year average burn rate, instead of the dilutive effect of the proposed plan (the basis for the previous guideline)[8]. The guidelines state that Fidelity will generally vote against approval of additional shares if a company’s three-year average burn rate exceeds certain caps.

Companies 3-Yr. Avg. Burn Rate
Large Capitalization
(A company included in the Russell 1000 Index)
1.5%
Small Capitalization
(A company not included in the Russell 1000 Index that is not a Micro-Capitalization Company)
2.5%
Micro Capitalization
(A company with market capitalization below US $300 million)
3.5%

CAP Comment: Similar to the prior dilution caps, if a burn rate exceeds the caps Fidelity will consider circumstances specific to the company or plans that lead it to conclude the burn rate is acceptable; details on mitigating factors not yet available.

CAP Comment: While Fidelity will be reviewing historic burn rate, it is not clear if they will consider prospective burn rate in terms of how many years the shares are expected to last. A duration of greater than five years is considered problematic by ISS. Glass Lewis has a similar policy, but uses a three-to-four year threshold.

CAP Comment: The guidelines do not make allowances for companies in industry groups that have historically had higher burn rates, such as technology. In contrast, ISS does vary burn rate caps by industry.

CAP Comment: Unlike ISS, Fidelity will not use a multiplier for full-value awards in its burn rate calculation. Since the calculation does not differentiate stock option awards and full-value stock awards, it could encourage greater use of full-value stock awards and less use of stock options.

Additional equity plan voting guidelines include:

  • Vote against equity plans where:
    1. Stock option exercise price is less than fair value on the grant date, unless the discount is 15% or less and is expressly granted in lieu of salary or cash bonus
    2. The plan’s terms allow repricing of underwater stock options
    3. The Board or Compensation Committee has repriced outstanding options in the past two years without shareholder approval
  • Vote against equity plans that include an evergreen provision[9]
  • Vote against equity plans that provide for acceleration of equity award vesting without an actual change-in-control occurring
  • Require a restriction period of no less than three years for time-based share awards and a performance period of no less than one year for performance-based awards[10]

Conclusion

A clear shareholder preference for an annual Say on Pay vote frequency has emerged. In terms of the actual Say on Pay vote, it will be interesting to see what level of shareholder support becomes viewed as “acceptable,” likely a higher hurdle than simply a pass / fail test. Based on current results, the acceptable “threshold” will be near 80% support, but that may change as the proxy season continues. Differences among industries may also emerge.

Where Fidelity’s support is desired for Say on Pay votes or new share requests, it will be important to take their policies into account when: making compensation-related decisions, putting together the Compensation Discussion and Analysis, and preparing shareholder proposals (Say on Pay, new long-term incentive plans and/or share requests, etc.).

Please contact us at (212) 921-9350 if you have any questions about the issues discussed above or would like to discuss your own executive compensation issues. You can access our website at www.capartners.com for more information on executive compensation.

[1] For additional detail, see 12/5/10 CAPFlash: “ISS 2011 Policy Updates – Here Comes Say on Pay.”

[2] Required no later than 150 calendar days after the date of the annual meeting in which the vote took place, but in any event no later than 60 calendar days prior to the deadline for submission of Rule 14a-8 shareholder proposals for the subsequent annual meeting.

[3] Outside of the S&P 500, an additional 18 companies did not receive majority shareholder support for their NEO compensation program (as of 5/20/11): Ameron International, Beazer Homes, Cincinnati Bell, Cogent Communications, Curtiss-Wright, Dex One Corporation, Helix Energy Solutions, Hercules Offshore, Intersil Corp., M.D.C. Holdings, Navigant Consulting, NutriSystem, NVR, Inc., Penn Virginia Corporation, PICO Holdings, Shuffle Master, Stewart Information Services Corporation and Umpqua Holdings Corporation.

[5] The guidelines also cover additional compensation-related topics, such as: bonus plan proposals (162m), equity exchanges/repricings, and employee stock purchase plans.

[6] Fidelity funds sub-advised by Geode Capital Management LLC, which discloses its own set of proxy voting guidelines, will generally vote for proposals to approve executive compensation unless it believes the company has engaged in poor compensation practices (similar to Fidelity’s general guidelines) or provided poor compensation disclosure (different from Fidelity’s general guidelines).

[7] Fidelity defines a “golden parachute” as: “employment contracts, agreements, or policies that include an excise tax gross-up provision; single trigger for cash incentives; or may result in a lump sum payment of cash and acceleration of equity that may total more than three times annual compensation (salary and bonus) in the event of a termination following a change-in-control.”

[8]Fidelity funds sub-advised by Geode Capital Management LLC, which discloses its own set of proxy voting guidelines, will continue to focus on the dilutive effect of the plan; dilution may not be greater than 10% (15% for companies with a smaller market capitalization). If the plan fails this test, the dilution effect may be evaluated relative to any unusual factor involving the company.

[9] A feature which provides for an automatic increase in the shares available for grant under an equity plan on a regular basis.

[10] Shorter periods are permitted for up to 5% of a plan’s shares for Large-Capitalization companies (10% for Small- or Micro-Capitalization companies).