January 18, 2018

Activism: Glass Lewis Says, “Hey, Don’t Blame Us!”

Many companies have grumbled that proxy advisors like ISS and Glass Lewis are fueling activism by generally supporting insurgent nominees in activist campaigns.  This Glass Lewis blog pleads “not guilty”:

This perception isn’t borne out by the overall numbers. We’d caution against reading too much into the data, since the yearly sample of contested meetings is both too small to be free of significant variance, and too big to reflect the particular combination of parties and moving parts that makes each contest unique. That said, Glass Lewis’ support for contests dropped from 40% in 2016 to 32% in 2017, and has historically stayed within that range. Nor has Glass Lewis’ approach to contested meetings changed in a way that would result in increased activist support; our methodologies, our case-by-case approach and our team have remained consistent.

Glass Lewis suggests that the perception that proxy advisors are all-in for activists is fueled by the changing nature of the activism. Larger activists have a lot of capital, sophisticated strategies & a long-term approach, and that’s allowed them to hunt larger game & win proxy advisor support in some cases:

This combination of long-term goals, sophisticated tactics and significant investment has allowed activists to pursue larger, more established companies that perhaps were not previously at risk of a shareholder campaign. As well known companies are targeted, the contests themselves are generating more headlines; and with campaign strategies getting more and more refined, Glass Lewis supported some, but not all, of the highest profile dissidents in 2017 — for example at Arconic, Cypress Semiconductor and P&G.

There were also a number of large contests where we supported management (General Motors, Buffalo Wild Wings and Ardent Leisure), and as noted above Glass Lewis’ overall support for 2017 contests was at the lower end of the historical range; nonetheless, the combination of high profile contests, and sophisticated campaigns, may explain a perception of increased overall dissident support.

John Jenkins