In some European markets, differential voting rights continue to exist. State Street Global Advisors supports the “one share one vote” policy and favors a share structure where all shares have equal voting rights. We believe pre-emption rights should be introduced for shareholders in order to provide adequate protection from excessive dilution from the issuance of new shares or convertible securities to third parties or a small number of select shareholders.
Unequal Voting Rights
We generally oppose proposals authorizing the creation of new classes of common stock with superior voting rights. We will generally oppose the creation of new classes of preferred stock with unspecified voting, conversion, dividend distribution, and other rights. In addition, we will not support capitalization changes that add classes of stock with undefined voting rights or classes that may dilute the voting interests of existing shareholders. We support proposals to abolish voting caps and capitalization changes that eliminate other classes of stock and/or unequal voting rights.
Increase in Authorized Capital
The ability to raise capital is critical for companies to carry out strategy, to grow, and to achieve returns above their cost of capital. The approval of capital raising activities is fundamental to shareholders’ ability to monitor returns and to ensure capital is deployed efficiently. We support capital increases that have sound business reasons and are not excessive relative to a company’s existing capital base.
Pre-emption rights are a fundamental right for shareholders to protect their investment in a company. Where companies seek to issue new shares whilst disapplying pre-emption rights, we may vote against if such authorities are greater than 20% of the issued share capital. We may also vote against resolutions that seek authority to issue capital with pre-emption rights if the aggregate amount allowed seems excessive and is not justified by the board. Generally, we oppose capital issuance proposals greater than 100% of the issued share capital when the proceeds are not intended for a specific purpose.
Share Repurchase Programs
We typically support proposals to repurchase shares; however, there are exceptions in some cases. We do not support repurchases in casesif the issuer does not clearly state the business purpose for the program, a definitive number of shares to be repurchased, the range of premium/discount to market price at which the company can repurchase shares, and the timeframe for the repurchase. We may vote against share repurchase requests that allow share repurchases during a takeover period.
We generally support dividend payouts that constitute 30% or more of net income. We may vote against the dividend payouts if the dividend payout ratio has been consistently below 30% without adequate explanation or the payout is excessive given the company’s financial position. Particular attention will be paid to cases in which the payment may damage the company’s long-term financial health.
Some companies in European markets have a controlled ownership structure and have complex cross-shareholdings between subsidiaries and parent companies (“related companies”). Such structures may result in the prevalence of related-party transactions between the company and its various stakeholders, such as directors and management, subsidiaries, and shareholders. In markets where shareholders are required to approve such transactions, we expect companies to provide details of the transaction, such as the nature, the value, and the purpose of such a transaction. We also encourage independent directors to ratify such transactions. Further we encourage companies to describe the level of independent board oversight and the approval process, including details of any independent valuations provided by financial advisors on related-party transactions.
Mergers and Acquisitions
Mergers or restructurings often involve proposals relating to reincorporation, restructurings, mergers, liquidation, and other major changes to the corporation. Proposals will be supported if they are in the best interests of the shareholders, which is demonstrated by enhancing share value or improving the effectiveness of the company’s operations. In general provisions that are not viewed as financially sound or are thought to be destructive to shareholders’ rights are not supported.
We will generally support transactions that maximize shareholder value. Some of the considerations include the following:
- Offer premium
- Strategic rationale
- Board oversight of the process for the recommended transaction, including director and/or management conflicts of interest
- Offers made at a premium and where there are no other higher bidders
- Offers in which the secondary market price is substantially lower than the net asset value
We may vote against a transaction considering the following:
- Offers with potentially damaging consequences for minority shareholders because of illiquid stock
- Offers where we believe there is a reasonable prospect for an enhanced bid or other bidders
- The current market price of the security exceeds the bid price at the time of voting.
European markets have diverse regulations concerning the use of share issuances as takeover defenses, with legal restrictions lacking in some markets. We support the one-share, one-vote policy. For example, dual-class capital structures entrench certain shareholders and management, insulating them from possible takeovers. We oppose unlimited share issuance authorizations because they can be used as antitakeover devices. They have the potential for substantial voting and earnings dilution. We also monitor the duration of time for authorities to issue shares, as well as whether there are restrictions and caps on multiple issuance authorities during the specified time periods.
We oppose antitakeover defenses such as authorities for the board, when subject to a hostile takeover to issue warrants convertible into shares to existing shareholders.