Big News Out of the U.S. Department of Labor For Fiduciaries — Opportunity to Utilize ESG Factors in Investment Analysis and Portfolio Management

by Hank Boerner – G&A Institute Chairman

Back in the late-1960s and early 1970s, as allegations of older worker retirement abuses gained wide media attention, members of the U.S. Congress focused on “retirement security” issues. After high-profile committee hearings, the Congress passed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, signed into law by our 40th CEO, President Gerald Ford. The U.S. Department of Labor was assigned to develop and oversee the operating rules-of-the road for retirement plan fiduciaries — including public employee pension systems; corporate retirement plans; endowments; foundations; trusts.

Over the next 30 years the Department of Labor’s operating arms for regulating “ERISA” — especially including the Employee Benefits Security Administration — tweaked the rules & regulations with such actions as clarifying letters (such as to the Pacific Coast Roofers Pension Plan and the Northwestern Ohio Building Trades and Employer Construction Industry Investment Plan) and a series of “interpretive bulletins” to clarify the rules for fiduciaries.

The passage of ERISA was a great boon for many Americans. The law opened the door for institutional investors to dramatically expand their investments in other than the traditional “prudent man” vehicles of old, like U.S. Treasury notes, bills and bonds and municipal bond issues. Trillions’ of dollars flowed into the equities market after the 1970s and trading volume (at exchanges) soared.

Many of us benefited directly and indirectly from ERISA, including individuals opening 401-k plans made possible by the legislation. The portfolios of public pension funds in particular soared in total value. (CalPERS, the California public employee plan, has US$300 billion in AUM; $150 billion of these assets are in public equity.)

The financial good times rolled, in large measure due to ERISA!

Periodically, the ERISA officials (working under the political appointees of various U.S. Presidents) would issue guidance. The cottage industry of law firms, accounting firms, pension consultants, actuaries and other ERISA-focused professionals grew by leaps and bounds. And, from the early 1980s on, there was steadily growing embrace of new approaches to investing, and new products ginned up with retirement “security” in mind.

Game Changer: The Emergence of Sustainable Investing

The new approaches included embrace of ESG performance for greater analysis [by asset owners and asset managers], and greater focus on and inclusion of ESG-related products offered by financial services firms for fiduciaries’ portfolios (mutual fund, indexes, benchmarks, etc). The latest survey by the Forum for Sustainable & Responsible Investing (US SIF) established a high water mark: a total of US$6.2 trillion in Assets Under Management were managed using ESG approaches as we entered 2014; that’s $1 in $6 in U.S. equity markets. The US SIF was in the vanguard in getting the Department of Labor guidance clarified regarding ESG investment.

Emblematic of the changes taking place as the Department of Labor prepared its latest guidance, S&P Dow Jones Indices (part of McGraw Hill Financial) busily announced three new climate change index series — two focused on carbon efficiency, and a fossil fuel free index. “Climate change and its impact present a challenge from an investment perspective,” said the index company.

2008 ERISA Guidance — Chilling Effect for ESG

In October 2008, in the waning days of President George W. Bush’s Administration, the Department of Labor issued its Interpretive Bulletin Relating to the Fiduciary Standard in Considering Economically Targeted Investments (“ETIs” in government-ese). The regulators’ guidance was interpreted by many investors as saying that only financial risk and return could be considered by the tens of thousands of fiduciaries in the USA overseeing pension funds, etc. “Other” considerations, such as a company’s ESG performance, were not acceptable.

Never mind that sustainable investing was growing significantly in importance in the U.S. and global capital markets. Never mind that the collapse of the stock market in 2008, thanks to the reckless behavior of the big bank holding companies, and look-the-other way regulators. The dives of stock prices would drive investors to the safety offered by sustainable investing products and instruments. Never mind that a growing army of stakeholders saw sustainable investing — that is, investing with collateral interests as well as the traditional financials — was becoming mainstream.

October 2015 ERISA Guidance – Encouraging!

Institutional investors (asset owners) and professional asset managers began engaging with Department of Labor officials soon after President Barack Obama took office to discuss DoL guidance for plan fiduciaries. Since 2009, of course, ESG-focused investments have soared in volume. One after another academic studies have been published to provide evidence that sustainable investment has clear financial payoff as well as “collateral” benefits. (Think:  Who would not encourage company managements to lower their environmental liabilities, create more “green” products that consumers want, improve policies and actions involving the diversity of their enterprises, avoid regulatory costs including fines, and more, more, more in terms of becoming a more sustainable company attractive to a greater number of investors?)

In late-October, the DoL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration issued an updated Interpretive Bulletin — this time, clearly stating that terms like socially responsible investing, sustainable & responsible investing, ESG investing, impact investing, and economically targeted investing (ETI), while not uniform in meaning…are related to any investment that is selected in party for its collateral benefits apart from investment return to the investor.

The Bulletin is being distributed via the Federal Register now to explain to fiduciaries that the 2008 Bulletin is officially withdrawn and replaced with language that reinstates the language dating back to 1994 (setting out the basic advice that fiduciaries should act prudently to diversify their plan to minimize the risk of large losses).

Highlights of the new DoL ERISA guidance:

• In updated terms, guidance includes plan consideration of ESG factors such as environmental, social or corporate governance (ESG) — these do not need special scrutiny (as the 2008 guidance implied). The 2015 Bulletin specifically refers to such current terms-of-art as sustainable & responsible investing.

• Fiduciaries should not be dissuaded from pursuing [such] investment strategies as those that consider ESG factors, even when they are used solely to evaluate the economic benefits of investments and identify economically superior instruments and investing in ETIs [where they are economically equivalent].

• When a fiduciary prudently concludes that such an investment is justified solely on the economic merits of the investment, there is no need to evaluate collateral goals as “tie breakers.” And, setting aside the 2008 advice, there is no need for considerable documentation as to why (for example an ESG investment) was chosen.

• The Labor Department does not believe ERISA (the 1974 law and subsequent rules & regulations, and opinions) prohibits a fiduciary from addressing ETIs or incorporating ESG factors in investment policy statements or integrated ESG-related tools, metrics and analyses to evaluate an investment’s risk or return or choose among otherwise equivalent investments.

Cautionary guidance: In issuing the October 2015 Bulletin the DoL staff reminds fiduciaries that section 403 and 404 of ERISA do not permit fiduciaries to sacrifice the economic interests of the plan participants in receiving their promised benefits in order for the plan to pursue collateral goals. BUT — the DoL has “consistently recognized” that fiduciaries MAY consider collateral goals as tie-breakers when choosing between investment alternatives that are otherwise equal with respect to risk and return over the appropriate time horizon.

ERISA does not direct investment choice where investment alternatives are equivalent and the economic interests of the plan’s participants and beneficiaries are protected if the selected investment in economically equivalent to competing instruments.

Setting the Record Straight

The 2008 guidance appeared to say that investing with collateral goals in mind should be rare, and had to be documented to demonstrate compliance with ERISA’s “rigorous standards.” The 2015 guidance sets the record straight: “Plan fiduciaries should appropriately consider factors that potentially influence risk and return — ESG issues may have a direct relationship in the economic value of the plan investment. These issues are proper components of the fiduciary’s primary analysis of the economic merits of competing investment choices.”

Again, underscoring for the record: The Department does not believe ERISA prohibits a fiduciary from addressing ETIs or incorporate ESG factors in investments….

We could say that investors encouraging such actions as fiduciaries divesting fossil fuel companies because of concerns about “stranded assets” left in the ground (and not be counted as reserves) can breathe easier with the new DoL guidance.

John K.S. Wilson, head of corporate governance and engagement at Cornerstone Capital Group noted in response to the guidance: “An important purpose of this Interpretive Bulletin is to clarify that plan fiduciaries should appropriately consider factors that potentially influence risk and return. Environmental, social and governance issues may have a direct relationship to the economic value of the plan’s investments. Collateral benefits include environmental protection, social equity and financial stability, which Cornerstone considers necessary outcomes for the mitigation of long-term macroeconomic investment risk.” (Wilson is the former director of corporate governance at TIAA-CREF, where he oversaw voting of proxies at the CREF portfolio (8,000 companies.)

Sending a Clear Signal to Plan Fiduciaries

We see the Interpretive Bulletin as sending a clear signal to U.S. fiduciaries that considering ESG factors is recognized as an important part of the fiduciary’s duty in evaluating risk and return. As Social Finance commented in its reaction — “US DOL Announced ERISA Guidance to Unlock Impact Investments.” Over time — the guidance will (unlock ESG investing’s power. that is)!

You can read the U.S. Department of Labor Interpretive Bulletin summary at: http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/ebsa/EBSA20152045.htm

# # #

Congratulations to US SIF chief executive officer Lisa Woll and her colleagues in continuing the long engagement with the Department of Labor to get clear guidance on ESG investing. Sustainable investing champions involved in the long engagement with the Department of Labor include Adam Kanzer (Domini Fund); Jonas Kron (Trillium); Meg Voorhes (SIF); Tim Smith (Walden Asset Management).

Dodd-Frank Act at 5 Years – Not Quite Done in Rulemaking

by Hank Boerner – Chairman – G&A Institute

So Here We Are Five Years on With The Dodd-Frank Act

Summer’s wound down/autumn is here  – while you were sunning at the beach or roaming Europe, there was an important anniversary here in the U.S.A. That was the fifth anniversary of “The Dodd-Frank Act,” the comprehensive package of legislation cobbled together by both houses of the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 21, 2010.

The official name of the Federal law is “The Dodd-Frank Reform and Consumer Protection Act,” Public Law 111-203, H.R. 4173. There are 15 “titles” (important sections) in the legislative package addressing a wide range of issues of concern to investors, consumers, regulators, and other stakeholders.

Remember looking at your banking, investment and other financial services statements …in horror…back in the dark days of 2008-2009?

The banking and securities market crisis of 2008 resulted in an estimated losses of about US$7 trillion of shareholder-owned assets, as well as an estimated loss of $3 trillion ore more of housing equity, creating an historic loss of wealth of more than $10 trillion, according to some market observers.

That may be an under-estimation if we consider the wide range of very negative ripple effects worldwide that resulted from [primarily] reckless behavior in some big investment houses and bank holding companies…rating agencies…and then there were regulators dozing off…huge failures in governance by the biggest names in the business…and therefore the ones that investors would presumably place their trust in.

In response to the 2008 market, housing and wealth crash, two senior lawmakers — U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts — went to work to enact sweeping legislation that would “reform” the securities markets, address vexing issues in investment banking practices, and “right wrongs” in commercial banking, and consumer finance services. (Five years on, both are retired from public office. Congressman Frank is still vocal on the issues surrounding Dodd-Frank.)

After more than a year of hearings – and intense lobbying on both sides of the issues — the The Dodd-Frank Act became the Law of the Land — and the next steps for the Federal government agencies that are charged with oversight of the legislation was development of rules to be followed.

So — in July, we observed the fifth anniversary of Dodd-Frank passage. I didn’t hear of many parties to celebrate the occasion. Five years on, many rules-of-the-road have been issued — but a significant amount of rule-making remains unfinished.

Yes, there has been a lot of work done: there are 22,000-plus pages of rules published (after public process), putting about two-thirds of the statutes to work. But as we write this, about one-third of Dodd-Frank statutes are not yet regulatory releases — for Wall Street, banks, regulators and the business sector to follow.

Is The Wind At Our Back – or Front?

What should we be thinking regarding Dodd-Frank half-a-decade on? Are there positive results as rules get cranked out — what are the negatives? What’s missing?

We consulted with Lisa Woll, the CEO of the influential Forum for Sustainable & Responsible Investment (US SIF), the asset management trade association whose members are engaged in sustainable, responsible and impact investing, and advance investment practices that consider environmental, social and governance criteria.

She shared her thoughts on D-F, and progress made/not made to date: “Congress approved the Act following one of the worst financial crises in our country. The 2008 crash impacted the lives of millions of Americans who lost their homes, jobs and retirement savings. The Dodd-Frank Act helped to bring about much-needed accountability and transparency to the financial markets.”

Examples? Lisa Woll thinks one of the most important achievement was creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), “which is up and running and now one of the most important agencies providing relief to consumers facing abuse from creditors.” She points out that CFPB has handled more than 677,000 complaints since it opened its doors four years ago.

Put this in the “be careful what you wish for” category: You may recall that the buzz in Washington power circles was that Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren was slated to head the new bureau – -which was a concept championed by her. Fierce financial service industry opposition and Republican stonewalling prevented that appointment. Elected Senator from Massachusetts on November 6, 2012, she is now mentioned frequently in the context of the 2016 presidential race.

Continuing the discussion on Dodd-Frank, US SIF’s Lisa Woll points to a recently released regulatory rule that addresses CEO-to-work pay-ration disclosure. This is a “Section” of the voluminous Dodd-Frank package requiring publicly-traded companies (beginning in 2017) to disclose the median of annual total compensation of all employees except the CEO, the total of the CEO compensation, and the ratio of the two amounts.

Says Lisa Woll: “Disclosure of the CEO-to-worker pay ratio is a key measure to ensure sound corporate governance.”

She says in general US SIF members are pleased that the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) rule applies to U.S. and non-U.S. employees, as well as full-time, part-time, seasonal and temporary workers employed by the company or any consolidated subsidiaries, with some exceptions: “The rule will provide important information about companies’ compensation strategies and whether CEO pay is out of balance in comparison to what the company pays its workers. Those will be measurable results.”

What Doesn’t Work/ or May be Missing in D-F?

CEO Woll says investors were disappointed that the pay ratio provision (CEO-to-worker) did not include smaller companies and that up to five percent of non-U.S. employees may be excluded from reporting. Her view: “High pay disparities within companies can damage employee morale and productivity and threaten a company’s long-term performance. In a global economy, with increased outsourcing, comprehensive information about a company’s pay and employment practices is material to investors.”

The Conflict Minerals Rule

Another positive example offered by Lisa Woll: The Dodd-Frank Act requirement that companies report on origin of certain minerals that are used, and that originate in conflict zones such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Section 1502 of Dodd-Frank instructed SEC to issue rules to companies to disclose company use of conflict minerals if those minerals are “necessary to the functionality or production of a product manufactured by the company”. This includes tantalum, tin, gold or tungsten.)

Lisa Woll observes: The submission of these reports exposes operational risks that are material to investors. Last year 1,315 companies submitted disclosures, according to Responsible Sourcing Network. We continue to urge more corporate transparency in conflict minerals reporting.”

Dodd-Frank Rule Making Scorecard

The US SIF CEO notes that of 390 rules required to be enacted, 60 rules have yet to be finalized and another 83 have not even been proposed, according to law firm Davis Polk & Wardell LP.

Woll: “One example is the Cardin-Lugar Amendment, requiring any U.S. or foreign company trading on a U.S. stock exchange to publicly disclose resource extraction payment made to governments on a project basis. We are still waiting for SEC to complete the rule.”

CEO Woll sees the ongoing effort by some members of the U.S. Congress to undermine or weaken The Dodd-Frank Act as “very concerning,” and putting investors at risk. “In my own work with our asset management members, I am seeing positive effects in that they have greater access to information in order to make an investment decision in companies. The examples are rules around transparency and disclosure. At the same time, asset managers lack access to information in a number of areas where rules are still pending, such as payment disclosures to companies by extractive companies.”

Of rules not yet adopted (or addressed), Lisa Woll urges continued work by SEC: “We hope to see more of the rules finalized so that we can move toward more transparent financial markets and a more sustainable economy.”

# # #

Notes: The Forum for Sustainable & Responsible Investment (US SIF) is an asset management trade association based in Washington, D.C. Member institutions include Bank of America, UBS Global Asset Management, Bloomberg, Calvert Investments, Legg Mason, Domini Social Investments, Cornerstone Capital, Walden Asset Management, and many other familiar names.

Members are engaged in sustainable, responsible and impact investing, and advance investment practices that consider environmental, social and governance criteria. Lisa Woll has been CEO since 2006.

Disclosure: G&A Institute is a member organization of US SIF and team members participate in SIRAN, the organization’s “Sustainable & Responsible Research Analyst Network.”) Other SIF entities include The International Working Group; Indigenous Peoples Working Group; and Community Investing Working Group. Information is at: http://www.ussif.org/

The Role of Individual Investors in Prompting Governance Reform via the Proxy Process

guest commentary by Tim Smith – Walden Asset Management

We have all read a great deal about the concern that companies, the [US] Chamber of Commerce and SEC Commissioner Gallagher have about the “highjacking” of the proxy process.

Particular anger is aimed at John Chevedden, Bill Steiner  and James McRitchie who file multiple resolutions on governance reforms — like majority vote, annual election of directors, changing different classes of shares with unequal voting rights, right for shareholders to call a special meeting and separate Chair and CEO, among others.

Mr. Chevedden is criticized for some of the language in his resolution texts as well as his seeming unwillingness to change false and misleading statements in the whereas clauses . In fact, 4 companies sued him this year to block resolutions he submitted either for himself as a shareholder or for colleagues like James McRitchie.

But it seems much of the frustration is not aimed at him but at the strong positive votes for such reforms  supporting many of these proposals . On many governance issues he coordinates and files, votes are in the 30 to 40 % range AND as you will see below many get well over 50%. Few are low level vote getters.

So while questions can be raised about the style of Mr. Chevedden’s engagements, few can argue that they don’t touch a nerve and get a positive investor response .

That leaves one questioning why SEC Commissioner Gallagher sees this as an abuse and believes there should be an increase in the value of shares held for a proponent to US$200,000 or “even better $2 million.”  Of course, such a change would virtually wipe out the role of small individual investors in the proxy process.

Another way to view it is that these are valuable governance reforms being tested by individual shareholders who could certainly brush up on the facts in their whereas clauses and open up engagement with companies — but nevertheless add real value to an ongoing debate about best governance practices and actually stimulate numerous reforms by companies .

Why is a resolution filed by a major pension fund or investment firm on the same topic any more meritorious than one by an individual shareholder?

The votes seem to indicate that proxies are voted on the issue — not the proponent.

********

–Timothy Smith, Senior Vice President and Director of Environmental Social and Governance Shareowner Engagement Walden Asset Management .

Boston, MA 02108 – Tel: 617-726-7155

tsmith@bostontrust.com

********

FYI – Samples of Votes With Over 50% – Companies Receiving Resolutions from John Chevedden:

 

Costco Wholesale Corporation (COST)
Simple Majority Vote
James McRitchie
65%

Brocade Communications Systems, Inc. (BRCD)
Special Meeting Kenneth Steiner 60%

Allergan, Inc. (AGN)
Independent Board Chairman
John Chevedden
50%+

BorgWarner Inc. (BWA)
Simple Majority Vote
John Chevedden
79%

Brink’s Company (BCO)
Annual Election of Each Director
William Steiner
78%

Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMY)
Simple Majority Vote
Kenneth Steiner
85%

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (CMG)
Simple Majority Vote
James McRitchie
75%

Duke Energy Corporation (DUK)
Special Meeting
John Chevedden
60%

iRobot Corporation (IRBT)
Simple Majority Vote
James McRitchie
82%

PPL Corporation (PPL)
Special Meeting
William Steiner
59%

NextEra Energy, Inc. (NEE)
Simple Majority Vote
Myra K. Young
73%

Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (ALXN)
Pill
John Chevedden
91%

Ferro Corporation (FOE)
Simple Majority Vote
Kenneth Steiner
99%

Neustar Inc (NSR)
A
nnual Election of Each Director
John Chevedden
86%

Staples Inc. (SPLS)
Independent Board Chairman
John Chevedden
50%+

Does the Draft EU Directive for Mandatory Sustainability Reporting Apply to US Companies? AND – Stock Exchanges Move One Big Step Closer Towards GLOBAL Mandatory Reporting As Well

By Louis D Coppola @ G&A Institute..

I received an overwhelming response to the post on March 17, 2014 concerning the European Unions moves to make Sustainability / CSR reporting mandatory.  For those of you that have not read my original post you can take a look here:

http://ga-institute.com/Sustainability-Update/2014/03/17/european-union-moves-closer-to-make-sustainability-csr-reporting-mandatory-in-all-28-member-countries/

A question that came up a lot was whether or not this would apply to US companies operating in the European Union with more than 500 employees.  This is a great question and although I had heard through the grapevine that it would apply, I did not feel certain enough to state that fact because I could not find an official statement or clause that I had found in draft directives.  I had only heard this from other practitioners, in other articles etc that it would impact US companies.

Then I received an email from Carly Greenberg and Tim Smith at Boston Trust thanking me for the post, and calling my post “informative”.  I am very fond of Tim Smith and a real fan of his tremendous work in driving SRI over his entire 40+ year career with ICCR and now with Walden Asset Management – I sometimes refer to him as one of the Godfathers (Hey – I’m Italian and from NY so.. forgive me )  of SRI so I was very humbled to get this email and I knew that I had to find the answer to this question.  I consider myself lucky that over my relatively short career in Sustainability (14 years) Tim and I have crossed paths, shared panels, and discussed issues in some depth.  He has truly impacted the field more than almost anyone (and continues to today), and has impacted my career / thoughts etc dramatically.  (Thanks Tim!)

EUREKA! – I did find the copy of the draft directive itself and after reading through it with a fine toothed comb I came across a clause which I believe to be the smoking gun which was under section 3 “LEGAL ELEMENTS OF THE PROPOSAL” (the bold part is the important part):

The Accounting Directives regulate the information provided in the financial statements of all limited liability companies which are incorporated under the law of a Member State or European Economic Area (EEA). As Article 4(5) of the Transparency Directive refers to Article 46 of the Fourth Directive and to Article 36 of the Seventh Directive, the amendements proposed to these provisions will also cover companies listed on EU regulated markets even if they are registered in a third country.

Based on this clause, any company that trades on at least one of the many stock exchanges in the European Union (most global companies) which you can see in this list taken from a Wikipedia article number over 100+:

Economy Exchange Location Founded Listings Link
European Union European Union Euronext Amsterdam 2000 1154 Euronext
GXG Markets Horsens 1998 GXG
Albania Albania Tirana Stock Exchange Tirana 1996 TSE
Armenia Armenia Armenian Stock Exchange Yerevan 2001 12 NASDAQ OMX Armenia
Austria Austria Vienna Stock Exchange Vienna 1771 99 WB
Azerbaijan Azerbaijan Baku Stock Exchange Baku 2000 BFB
Belarus Belarus Belarus Currency and Stock Exchange Minsk 1998 BVFB
Belgium Belgium Euronext Brussels Brussels 1801 213
Bosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and HerzegovinaFederation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Sarajevo Stock Exchange Sarajevo 2001 SASE
Republika Srpska Republika Srpska Banja Luka Stock Exchange Banja Luka 2001 BB
Bulgaria Bulgaria Bulgarian Stock Exchange Sofia 1914 BFB
GuernseyJerseyChannel Islands Channel Islands Stock Exchange Guernsey 1987 1000 CISX
Croatia Croatia Zagreb Stock Exchange Zagreb 1991 ZB
Cyprus Cyprus Cyprus Stock Exchange Nicosia 1996 HAK
Czech Republic Czech Republic Prague Stock Exchange Prague 1861 29 PX
Denmark Denmark Copenhagen Stock Exchange Copenhagen 1620 172 OMX Nordic Market
GXG Markets Horsens 1998 GXG Markets
Estonia Estonia Tallinn Stock Exchange Tallinn 1920 OMX Baltic Market
Faroe Islands Faroe Islands Faroese Securities Market Tórshavn 2004 VMF
Finland Finland Helsinki Stock Exchange Helsinki 1912 130 OMX Nordic Market
France France Euronext Paris Paris 1724 1301 Euronext Paris
MATIF Paris 1986 MATIF (Euronext)
Georgia (country) Georgia Georgian Stock Exchange Tbilisi 1999 261 SSB
Germany Germany Berliner Börse Berlin 1685 Börse Berlin
Börsen Hamburg und Hannover Hamburg/Hanover BÖAG
Börse München München 1830 Börse München
Börse Stuttgart Stuttgart 1861 Börse Stuttgart
Deutsche Börse Group Frankfurt Deutsche Börse Group
Eurex Frankfurt 1998 EUREX
Frankfurt Stock Exchange Frankfurt 1585 FWB
Gibraltar Gibraltar Gibraltar Stock Exchange Gibraltar 2006 GibEX
Greece Greece Athens Stock Exchange Athens 1876 ATHEX
Hungary Hungary Budapest Stock Exchange Budapest 1864 52 BET
Iceland Iceland Iceland Stock Exchange Reykjavík 1985 11 OMX Nordic Market
ICEX
Republic of Ireland Ireland Irish Stock Exchange Dublin 1793 ISE or ISEQ
Irish Enterprise Exchange Dublin 2005 IEX
Italy Italy Borsa Italiana Milan 1808 BIt
Kazakhstan Kazakhstan Kazakhstan Stock Exchange Almaty 1993 KASE
Latvia Latvia Riga Stock Exchange Riga 1816 OMX Baltic Market
Lithuania Lithuania Vilnius Stock Exchange Vilnius 1993 OMXV
Luxembourg Luxembourg Luxembourg Stock Exchange Luxembourg (city) 1927 Bourse de Luxembourg
Republic of Macedonia Macedonia Macedonia Stock Exchange Skopje 1995 MSE
Malta Malta Malta Stock Exchange Valletta 1992 Borza Malta
Moldova Moldova Moldova Stock Exchange Chişinău 1994 BVM
Montenegro Montenegro Montenegro Stock Exchange Podgorica 1993 MNSE
Netherlands Netherlands Euronext Amsterdam Amsterdam 1602 Euronext Amsterdam
Norway Norway Oslo Stock Exchange Oslo 1819 Oslo Børs
Poland Poland Warsaw Stock Exchange Warsaw 1817 439 WSE
Portugal Portugal Euronext Lisbon Lisbon 1769 66 Euronext Lisbon
OPEX Lisbon 2003 OPEX
Romania Romania Bucharest Stock Exchange Bucharest 1882 70 BVB
RASDAQ Bucharest 1996 1486 BVB
Sibiu Stock Exchange (futures) Sibiu 1997 BMFMS
Russia Russia Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange Moscow 1992 MICEX
Russian Trading System Moscow 1995 RTS
Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange Saint Petersburg 1811 SPBEX
Serbia Serbia Belgrade Stock Exchange Belgrade 1894 BELEX
Slovakia Slovakia Bratislava Stock Exchange Bratislava 1991 BSSE
Slovenia Slovenia Ljubljana Stock Exchange Ljubljana 1989 61 LJSE
Spain Spain Bolsa de Valores de Barcelona Barcelona Bolsa de Barcelona
Bolsa de Valores de Bilbao Bilbao Bolsa de Bilbao
Madrid Stock Exchange Madrid 1831 Bolsa de Madrid
Mercado Oficial Español de Futuros y Opciones Madrid 1989 MEFF
Bolsa de Valores de Valencia Valencia Bolsa de Valencia
Sweden Sweden Nordic Growth Market Stockholm 2003 NGM
Stockholm Stock Exchange Stockholm 1863 289 OMX Nordic Market
Switzerland Switzerland SIX Swiss Exchange Zürich 1850 SIX Swiss Exchange
Bern eXchange Bern 1888 BX
Turkey Turkey Borsa Istanbul Istanbul 1985 417 BIST
Ukraine Ukraine PFTS Ukraine Stock Exchange Kiev 2002 PFTS Stock Exchange
Ukrainian Exchange Kiev 2008 UX
United Kingdom United Kingdom London Stock Exchange London 1801 2800 LSE
PLUS Markets London 2004 [N 1] PLUS Markets

 

If you are a publicly traded company and trade on any of the exchanges above you will be affected by this directive.

Also, it is interesting to see that NYSE and NASDAQ both are represented in some ways on this list above. For example NYSE and Euronext are owned by the same parent company – The IntercontinentalExchange Group (ICE).  Euronext has connections to the markets in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the UK.

The NASDAQ OMX seems to have its name (both OMX and NASDAQ) associated with several exchanges above including Armenia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Sweden etc.

I’m not sure how these connections tie into this directive, but I think its interesting to point them out as the world becomes more global and exchanges become truly global how do regulations like the EU directive, with the clause above effect these global exchanges?  And what does that mean going forward?

It gets even more interesting when you look at the fact that the NYSE and the NASDAQ are both signatories of the Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative (SSEI): http://www.sseinitiative.org/.

The initiative comes from a collaboration between PRI, UNEP, UNCTAD, and UNGC and many of the partners in the initiative already have listing requirements for Sustainability reporting (ex, JSE , BM&F Bovespa).

To become a partner exchange SSEI asks that the exchange publicly endorses the following statement:

We voluntarily commit, through dialogue with investors, companies and regulators, to promoting long term sustainable investment and improved environmental, social and corporate governance disclosure and performance among companies listed on our exchange.

They have also both done their own GRI Sustainability Reports:

NASDAQ: http://www.nasdaqomx.com/digitalAssets/84/84295_2012nasdaqomxsustainabilityreportv2.pdf

NYSE: https://www.nyx.com/sites/www.nyx.com/files/14977_2012_cr_report_130803.pdf

AND

BREAKING NEWS out of Boston (Mar 26th, 2014) – as I write this article CERES, BlackRock (the largest asset manager in the world) and other major institutional investors released their recommendations for listing requirements on exchanges titled:

Investor Listing Standards Proposal: Recommendations for Stock Exchange Requirements on Corporate Sustainability Reporting

These standards will be sent directly to the World Federation of Exchanges (WFE – the trade group for exchanges) who has launched a Sustainability Working Group to discuss and debate sustainability disclosure issues with member exchanges (virtually all global exchanges in the world).

Here’s what NASDAQ had to say:

“We need a joint solution that will help bring more consistent and comparable information to all markets, and will not leave any one exchange at a competitive disadvantage for taking leadership in this space,” NASDAQ OMX CEO Robert Greifeld said, speaking of the sustainability disclosure engagement process. NASDAQ OMX and Ceres have been working together for almost two years on this issue. 

NASDAQ OMX Vice Chairman Meyer “Sandy” Frucher stressed, “What we hope comes out of this process is strong support by exchanges around the globe to move together to create a more uniform approach to sustainability reporting.

“We committed last year, at the urging of institutional investors within Ceres’ Investor Network on Climate Risk, to provide thought leadership for our listed companies on sustainability reporting guidance,” Frucher continued. “To provide us with greater clarity on what investors want in such guidance, INCR, with support from the Principles for Responsible Investment, launched a global consultation among investors, and presented us with a proposal that we are now discussing with other exchanges.”

Here’s what BlackRock had to say:

“Cross border collaboration by stock exchanges will help shift public companies towards more comparable and meaningful disclosure of ESG (environmental, social and governance) risk factors,” said Gwen Le Berre, Vice President of Corporate Governance and Responsible Investment at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager with $4.3 trillion in assets under management. “This will enable investors to more accurately value companies and make better informed investment decisions.”

 

Here is the full release which has many other quotes from very important people in very important places demonstrating their commitment to moving this forward:

http://www.ceres.org/press/press-releases/world2019s-largest-investors-launch-effort-to-engage-global-stock-exchanges-on-sustainability-reporting-standard-for-companies

To read the release on the WFE launching its Sustainability Working Group, visit: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20140325006381/en/World-Federation-Exchanges-WFE-Launches-Sustainability-Working#.UzL2styt-_Y

The following exchanges came together to initially launch the WG:

  • BM&FBOVESPA
  • Borsa Istanbul
  • Borsa Malaysia
  • CBOE
  • CME
  • Deutsche Börse
  • InterContinental Exchange/NYSE
  • Johannesburg Stock Exchange
  • NASDAQ OMX
  • National Stock Exchange of India
  • Shenzhen Stock Exchange

So when you take all of this into account, why are you still reading this article, and why haven’t you already started working with me to get started on Sustainability reporting? ;)

That was a joke of course, but seriously – one way or another you will be affected – so get in front of these coming regulations/mandates because if you are not, you will be scrambling to get in compliance, and in a position of weakness compared to any competitors that are already doing it.  If you are already reporting, kudos to you, and you will be in a position of strength against your competitors – you have strategically positioned yourself well in the new global environment.   Just make sure you are covering all your bases and your reporting is in-line with whats expected and global standards.

This is not to mention the additional pressures for disclosure and transparency coming from:

  • Key Customers
  • Employees
  • Suppliers
  • NGOs
  • Investors
  • Government
  • Community
  • and other Stakeholders

Which I could write a whole additional book about.

I think its clear to see that the question is not SHOULD you start reporting, its HOW will you get started as quickly as possible.  Your window of opportunity to be prepared is closing, and the time is now to move on this if you have been questioning whether or not to get started.

At G&A we continue to watch these trends shaping the global markets.  We position ourselves at the intersection of corporations and the capital market.  We monitor the groups that shaping corporate valuation and reputation in today’s modern global marketplace.  If you have any questions or would like to talk more about these topics please reach out to me at lcoppola@ga-institute.com.

Best,

Louis D Coppola

For your reference here is a copy of the EU draft directive in full:
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:52013PC0207

And Here is the EU portal for non-financial disclosures:
http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/accounting/non-financial_reporting/index_en.htm

 

 

The Corporate Proxy Season is Underway – ESG Issues Are in Focus

by Hank Boerner, Chairman, G&A Institute

It’s a new year and the 2014 corporate proxy season is really underway, and the topics in focus are reflective of asset owners’ and managers’ concerns about key societal issues. Managements taking no action on the issues, deciding the wrong actions, or boards and managers ignoring the facts regarding key topics of concern to the asset owners could lead to greater risk, lost opportunities, and dramatic hits on corporate reputation — and share price valuations.

And all of that that could affect the value of the investors’ holdings. Since many of the shareowners are fiduciaries (think of SRI mutual funds, public employee pension funds, state trust funds), the growing consensus is that as fiduciaries, asset owners have a duty to be vocal, to actively engage with corporate management, and to take strong stands on key ESG issues. And, in some cases, to bring those issues to the electoral process at proxy time so all shareholders can have their say. Of course, there is usually negative press resulting for some companies.

“Proxy season” used to be those times of year when certain gadflies showed up to (in the view of management and board) ” harass” the assembled corporate leadership. (Such pioneer proxy luminaries as the Gilbert Brothers and Evelyn Davis come to mind.)

Today, the proxy  season is actually a year-round engagement, with advocates such as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) institutional members active in dialogue with corporate managements and board members on various E-S-G issues. One sea change of a decade ago or more was the linking of traditional corporate governance concerns with environmental and social or societal issue concerns, and working through the barriers to getting their resolution to the proxy statement and to vote.

Linking “good governance” practices with progress (or lack of) on supply chain issues, or product stewardship, marketing practices, protection of natural resources, or lobbying and political spending, now helps advocates avoid the “no action” letter from the SEC that allowed corporate managements to ignore the shareholder’s resolution. (In the past, the usual practice of SEC staff was to advise the company protesting the draft resolution that “no action” would be recommended to the commissioners if the company ignored the draft.)

So what is in store for 2014 corporate proxy voting — what are the issues in focus? Sustainable & responsible investing (SRI) advocates are raising issues with companies about public policy and climate. (As we write this, every US state is in the grip of a cold wave, that is being linked to climate change by experts.)  For two decades now, investors have engaged company managements about climate change.

Now, coalitions of shareholders are involved in a larger collective effort — “Raising the Bar” — in response, they say, to the expanding and alarming scientific evidence of our changing climate. And, as long-term advocates like Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management point out, the resulting significant environmental and economic impacts on the corporate enterprise. Investor interests are very concerned about climate change.

A number of companies — AEP, Chevron, Conoco, ExxonMobil – have received draft resolutions by coalition shareowners urging boards and managements to re-examine their opposition to regulation and legislation intended to address climate change. That includes their lobbying on climate change issues and disclosing more about those actions to their owners.

It’s not just direct company actions in focus — the shareowners include the corporation-funded efforts of the US Chamber of Commerce , the oil lobby (American Petroleum Institute) and the National Association of Manufacturers in the lobbying and advocacy on issues…

Beyond climate change, other proxy resolutions call for companies to re examine their state-level lobbying, especially through such groups as ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which operates primarily with corporate contributions and promotes conservative public policy issues with :”model” legislation which often moves from state-to-state. (An example is the “Stand Your Ground” laws adopted by a number of states.)

The companies in focus include Microsoft, Pfizer, Time Warner Cable, and UPS. Among the prime movers in this initiative: State of Connecticut Retirement Plans, Zevin Asset Management, Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, and Walden Asset Management clients.

Some companies are responding to shareowner concerns — Coca-Cola, John Deere, Dell, P&G, GE, GM, Unilever, and Wal-Mart have reduced their involvement or quit ALEC,according to information provided by Walden Asset Management.

Other concerns: ICCR’s David Schilling advises that an issue now in focus is the garment industry’s pricing policies, following the Rana Plaza tragic fire in Bangladesh (killing 1,000+ people). The “Accord for Fire and Building Safety” addresses pricing practices and the almost 300 institutional members of ICCR and other shareholder advocates are focused on current pricing models, outsourcing, and prevailing wages in developing countries.

And, from Green Century Capital Management we hear that more than 40 institutional investors representing US$270 billion in AUM are urging the other invesotrs, major palm oil products, consumers, and major shareholders in such companies as food marketers Kellogg and financiers HSBC to support an effort to not contribute to further deforestation or support human rights violations. “Fueling deforestation is bad business for any company seeking to position itself as a responsible, sophisticated global player,” says Lucia von Reusner, Green Century’s shareholder advocate.

Ceres helps to mobilize business and investor leadership on climate change. Rob Berridge, director of shareholder engagement, says investors Ceres works with are asking corporate managements to actively address forced labor, deforestation, habitat destruction, and accelerating GhG emission, and to develop and operate palm plantations more responsibly.

Consumer-facing brand companies — Uniliver, Kellogg, Dunkin Donuts, HSBC — are facing high-profile consumer campaigns on palm oil issues. Some companies are saying in response that they will purchase of finance palm oil that has been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

There is much more action to come in the days ahead as the peak of proxy voting nears — we’ll bring you news and commentary and insight on trends in this space.  Stay Tuned to the 2014 ESG-focused proxy campaigns.