Voici le document de consultation de l’OCDE sur la révision des principes de gouvernance |2014, présenté à Paris le 17 mars 2014. Ce document est en version anglaise seulement. Après la révision, l’OCDE produira des versions dans toutes les langues !
Celui-ci explicite les objectifs de politiques publiques en gouvernance, explore le nouveau paysage qui commande des changements en gouvernance et suggère sept (7) domaines susceptibles d’engendrer des changements importants au document Principe de gouvernance de 2004 (OECD Principles of Corporate Governance).
Je vous invite à participer à cette consultation si vous croyez utile de le faire. Ci-dessous, une introduction, suivie des 7 développements qui influeront sur la nouvelle version des principes de gouvernance de l’OCDE.
The OECD Principles of Corporate Governance is a public policy instrument intended to assist governments in their efforts to evaluate and improve the legal, regulatory and institutional framework for corporate governance. As formulated in the mandate that was given to the OECD Corporate Governance Committee in 2010, the objective is to contribute to « economic efficiency, sustainable growth and financial stability ». In practice, this objective is achieved by formulating principles for policies that give market participants sound economic incentives to perform their respective roles within a framework of checks and balances where transparency, supervision and effective enforcement provides confidence in market practices and institutions.
While the Principles may inspire voluntary initiatives and influence practices in individual companies, the Principles do not aspire to include a shopping list of what individual market participants, such as shareholders, boards, managers and other stakeholders, from their unique perspectives, may consider good business judgment or sound commercial practices. What works in one company or for one investor may not necessarily be generally applicable as public policy or of systemic economic importance to society.
In order to be relevant and effective, the legal and regulatory framework must be shaped with respect to the economic reality in which it will be implemented. This is true also for the recommendations made in the Principles. And since they were last revised in 2004, the world has experienced a number of important events and structural developments in both the financial and corporate sectors. This obviously includes the financial crisis. But equally important for the review of the Principles are the far reaching changes in corporate ownership and investment practices. In some respects, these changes have come to challenge conventional wisdom and the relevance of current corporate governance standards. Several of these developments have been documented and analysed by the Corporate Governance Committee and the Regional Corporate Governance Roundtables and some of the background reports that have been written to support the review are annexed to this note for reference.
Seven main events and developments of importance to the review of the Principles can be identified:
The financial crisis.
The financial crisis revealed severe shortcomings in corporate governance. When most needed, existing standards failed to provide the checks and balances that companies need in order to cultivate sound business practices. Corporate governance weaknesses in remuneration, risk management, board practices and the exercise of shareholder rights played an important role in the development of the financial crisis and such weaknesses extended not only to the financial sector, but to companies more generally. The lessons from the financial crisis are discussed in the Committee’s report « Corporate Governance and the Financial Crisis: Conclusions and Emerging Good Practices to Enhance Implementation of the Principles » (2010).
Developments in institutional ownership, investment strategies and trading techniques.
Since the Principles were revised in 2004, assets under management by institutional investors have increased considerably. We have also seen a surge in new types of institutional investors, investment vehicles and trading techniques. Taken together, these developments have affected the character and quality of ownership engagement. Many of the largest institutional investors, such as pension funds, insurance companies and mutual funds use indexing as the prime investment strategy. A special, and increasingly popular, version of indexing is the use of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), which increased by more than 1000 percent between 2004 and 2011. A common characteristic of these investment practices is that they motivate investors to pay little or no attention to the fundamentals of individual companies, since the composition of the index is pre-defined and adjustments in the portfolio is not by active choice but rather a result of the index weighting. The same effect results from the surge in so-called high frequency trading where the investment strategy and ultra-short holding periods do not motivate any corporate specific analysis or ownership engagement. A fourth development that has attracted a lot of interest and debate is co-location of brokers, data vendors and other participants’ computer capacity within the stock exchanges’ data centres. This has raised concerns about confidence in a level playing field among different categories of investors with respect to market information. These developments and their implications for the economic incentives for ownership engagement among institutional investors are further discussed in « Institutional Investors as Owners – Who Are They and What Do They Do? » (2013).
Developments in the investment chain and the use of service providers.
The real world of ownership characterised by institutional (or intermediary) investors is a very different reality than the model textbook world of company law and economics, which assumes a strict and uncompromised alignment of interest between the performance of the company and the income of the ultimate shareholder. Instead of a straight line from « from profit to pocket », which is assumed in theory, we have an extended and sometimes very complex investment chain where different actors may have different incentives. The implications for the quality of ownership engagement are discussed in the background report « Institutional Investors as Owners – Who Are They and What Do They Do? » (2013). Among other aspects, the report highlights the possible implications of cross-investments between different institutional investors and the extensive use of proxy advisers, which is sometimes argued to impose a box ticking culture of « one-size-fits-all ». The last couple of decades have also seen an increase in outsourcing of asset management to external asset managers who may also be charged with carrying out the ownership functions. The complexity of the investment chain is also influenced by changes in stock market structures, trading practices and investment strategies. One example is the increased use of dark pools and off-exchange trading platforms that has increased concerns about the quality of the price discovery process and equal access to market information, which is so essential for efficient allocation of capital.
Developments in shareholder rights and participation.
Since the last review of the Principles, shareholder rights in many countries have been strengthened and there is a general trend to empower the shareholder meeting in the corporate decision-making process, particularly with respect to board nomination and remuneration policies. Technological advancements have also contributed to facilitating shareholder participation in the shareholder meetings. As documented in the report « Who Cares? Corporate Governance in Today’s Equity Markets » (2013), several studies illustrate a relatively high level of participation in shareholder meetings in most OECD countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States that have predominantly dispersed ownership at corporate level. Today, the discussion on shareholder participation is mainly focused on the actual quality of shareholder monitoring and engagement, with the exception of issues related to shareholder co-operation. In some countries, particularly in emerging market economies, it is also argued that ownership engagement is impeded by difficulties with respect to placing items on the agenda of the shareholders’ meeting; the rules for convening shareholders’ meetings; limited access to relevant documentation and restrictions on share ownership by institutional investors.
Developments in corporate characteristics and business models.
Investments in fixed assets, such as machinery and buildings, have for decades been seen as the main source of capital formation. A recent OECD study1, however, shows that business investment in intangible assets has been increasing faster than investments in fixed assets for a number of years in many OECD countries and already accounts for more than half of the total business investment in some countries. The result is an increased dependence on human capital and intangible assets for innovation and value creation at firm level. At the same time, there has been significant number of acquisitions by some large established companies in more intangible-asset-intensive industries, partly through their venture units. Together with the decrease in the number of new listings in advanced stock markets, these developments have raised concerns about the ability of growth companies to develop and expand as independent companies. One preliminary indicator is the decrease in the share of young companies as percentage of the total number of companies in the US by 16% over the last decade. Another important development in terms of corporate characteristics and business models is the creation and surge of alternative corporate structures, mainly in the form of partnerships. This includes publicly traded partnerships (PTPs) and master limited partnerships (MSPs) that trade on securities exchanges.
Developments in corporate ownership.
Traditionally, the international corporate governance debate has focused on situations with dispersed ownership where the conflict is a zero sum game between dispersed owners on the one hand and incumbent management on the other hand. This « agency » approach has its merits but it also has important weaknesses. One important weakness is that most listed companies around the world are not characterized by dispersed ownership. Rather, they have a controlling or dominant owner. This is particularly true in emerging markets. But controlling owners are also common in most advanced economies, including the US and continental Europe. It has been argued that the focus on dispersed ownership is of limited help when addressing corporate governance issues in companies that have a controlling owner. The presence of controlling owners is generally assumed to provide strong incentives for informed ownership engagement and to overcome the fundamental agency problem between shareholders and managers. There are also arguments that the incentives for controlling owners to assume the costs for this ownership engagement are weakened by restrictions on the possibilities of controlling owners to exercise their rights and be properly compensated for their efforts to monitor. Some of these are discussed in the background paper « The Law and Economics of Controlling Owners in Corporate Governance » (2013). At the same time, there are concerns that controlling owners in a weak regulatory framework may take advantage of minority shareholders through abusive related party transactions. This is discussed in the report « Related Party Transactions and Minority Shareholder Rights » (2012).
Developments in the functioning of public stock markets.
Corporate governance policies are focused on companies that are traded on the public stock market. To understand the functioning and structure of public stock markets is therefore essential for getting the corporate governance rules right. And today, stock markets look very different from what they did when the OECD Principles were first established. The developments are well documented in the background reports « Who Cares? Corporate Governance in Today’s Equity Markets » (2013) and « Making Stock markets Work to Support Economic Growth » (2013), which address issues such as market fragmentation, increased use of dark pools, changes in « tick-size », high-frequency trading and co-location. The reports also show that during the last decade, some of the leading stock markets in the world have lost as much as half of their listed companies and that the average size of companies that find their way to the stock market has increased. At the same time, stock exchanges in emerging markets, notably in Asia, have increased the number of listed companies significantly. Between 2008 and 2012 a majority of all new listings in the world were in emerging markets. Since the free float (the portion of outstanding shares regularly available for public trading) is relatively small in these markets, one consequence of this development is an increase in the number of publicly traded companies that have a controlling owner. Another important development is the occurrence of cross-listings and secondary listings, which raises issues related to the standards and procedures for recognizing of corporate governance standards in primary listing venues and the allocation of supervisory obligations between listing stock exchanges. We have also seen a development where stock exchanges have demutualised and become listed companies on themselves; so called self-listing. At the same time, there has been a certain degree of consolidation through mergers of regulated exchanges both at national and international level, which was coupled with the emergence of new venues for trading; such as alternative trading venues and dark pools.
First released in May 1999 and last revised in 2004, the OECD Corporate Governance Committee has launched a further review of the OECD Principles of Corporate Governance. The review process starts in 2014 with the objective of conclusion within one year.
The OECD Principles are one of the 12 key standards for international financial stability of the Financial Stability Board (FSB) and form the basis for the corporate governance component of the Report on the Observance of Standards and Codes of the World Bank Group.
The rationale for the review is to ensure the continuing high quality, relevance and usefulness of the Principles taking into account recent developments in the corporate sector and capital markets. The outcome should provide policy makers, regulators and other rule-making bodies with a sound benchmark for establishing an effective corporate governance framework.
The basis for the review will be the 2004 version of the Principles, which embrace the shared understanding that a high level of transparency, accountability, board oversight, and respect for the rights of shareholders and role of key stakeholders is part of the foundation of a well-functioning corporate governance system. These core values should be maintained and, as appropriate, be strengthened to reflect experiences since 2004.
As the Principles are a global standard also adopted by the FSB, all FSB member jurisdictions are invited to participate in the review as Associates and have the same decision-making rights as OECD members.
The review will benefit from consultations with stakeholders, including the business sector, investors, professional groups at national and international levels, trade unions, civil society organisations and other international standard setting bodies.
Peer reviews – In response to the corporate governance challenges that came into focus in the wake of the financial crisis, the Corporate Governance Committee launched a thematic review process designed to facilitate the effective implementation of the OECD Principles and to assist market participants and policy makers to respond to emerging corporate governance risks. These peer reviews will provide valuable background support to the review.