So far, the 2012 AGM season has given us some interesting insights, probably the most important of which is the significant increase in average voting levels. For meetings up until the end of May, this figure stands at 71% in the FTSE100. In the same period in 2011 it was 67% in the FTSE100 and 46% in the FTSE250.
It could be argued that this elevated figure is, to some extent, related to a wider sample of meetings. But with the highest scoring company reporting 96%, and 10 others in the FTSE100 getting more than 80% capital voting at their AGM, it does seem to be the case that voting levels are steadily rising – and that must be a good thing.
Another hot topic has been shareholders’ questions at general meetings – unsurprisingly, they tend to turn the spotlight on remuneration. These questions can be particularly testing if a company has either reduced or failed to pay dividends whilst at the same time making significant increases in director’s remuneration. Share buy-backs and allotment of shares also gather a lot of attention
Diversity was also a big source of discussion. With the response from the Commission to their recent consultation still pending, we looked at the number of women on boards. Overall, 13% of directors who were up for election were females – 15% in the FTSE100 and 11% in the FTSE250. But in that group, there were seven FTSE100 and 22 FTSE250 companies with no female directors at all. This is something to think about.
The Commission is busy looking at a number of other issues, and we are expecting an action plan around October. They are currently discussing board structures, shareholder identification, stewardship, company communications and reporting and, of course, executive remuneration. We don’t know what this will involve yet, but you should be aware that this is coming.
With the current emphasis on the Commission, you might think that the UK Government has been keeping a low profile – far from it. Up for debate closer to home is executive remuneration, narrative reporting, the Kay Review and board diversity.
There are also a number of people looking at trying to harmonise market standards and using Europe as a benchmark in their planning. Considering other models is a good thing, but in complying with Europe’s way of doing things, are we benefiting or just compromising? Dividends in CREST, interim securities and vote confirmation are issues that various parts of the industry are now asking registrars to address. Ultimately, we can do these things, but we have to question whether, from a client’s perspective, these initiatives have a positive impact or are the best use of funds ? I’ll leave you to decide.
If you require more information on this topic please contact Peter Swabey at Peter.Swabey@Equiniti.com or your Relationship Manager.