One Share, one Vote.

According to Professor Colleen Dunlavy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, corporations were not governed by this principle during the first 19th century decades, so that big shareholders did not hold as much power as they did afterwards. Shareholders were more equally treated than their investments would have suggested. By the middle of the century, democratic norms were pushed and the huge power concentration so  normal at the end of the century started. The change was presumably led by wealthy lobbies, which were able to make legislation passed through.

Anthony Kammer thus argues it is not so rare to propose a different system.

Some realities in the capital markets today lead to rethink the principle. Firstly, decoupling, that is, the split of voting and economic rights, (through derivative markets, share lending activities, and so on), forces to reconsider the principle as “empty voters” have a different interest than “full owners”, the last ones still holding an economic interest and risk, so that the two groups would vote differently. Secondly, a difference might be done between long-term shareholders and short-term ones, so as to avoid the kind of bad behaviors and performance deeply responsible for part of the damages generated by the 2008 financial crisis. Regulation is being pushed in that sense, in the EU and beyond.

In fact several endogenous mechanisms allow some shareholders to hold higher voting rights that those corresponding to their investment and risk exposure: dual-class share systems, pyramidal structures, cross-holdings and so on.

Since the 1990`s, the principle has been dominant, and separation from it has been narrowed, even in those countries where a dual class share system was possible, (Sweden in 2004). But their presence gives room to some empirical studies.

First, what are the reasons for that separation from the principle? Some ideas follow:

–         Shares with higher voting rights usually extract a higher premium in acquisitions.

–         Founders launching an IPO usually want  higher proportion of voting rights than cash-flow risk, having cashed-in for the free-float.

–         Some control of private benefits for controlling shareholders might be guaranteed.

–         The cost of capital tends to be higher in dual-class firms, so a reduced need of funds might be present.

A critical point in assessing this kind of proposal, concerns the effects of the disproportionate allocation of voting rights to some shares. Does it affect shareholder value? Although not empirically irrefutable, it is widely accepted that outside equity loses value, because there is a tendency towards private benefits being extracted by controlling shareholders, and because of a higher cost of capital in these economies/firms.

In terms of social welfare, disproportionate control seems to have certain effects, basically connected to the underdevelopment of the financial markets, (the current political trend is probably populist, or led by recent financial events, so that this fact will probably be disregarded). We also refered to the increase in the cost of capital, so these economies would eventually face a certain underinvestment.

A factor worth being considered is the extent to which the level of disproportion in the allocation of voting rights affects the results, and it appears to be relevant, so that a reduced disproportion could have little shareholder value and welfare effects, and so allow for the current regulatory proposals to have some acceptance.

Consequently, the case for extraordinary allocation of voting rights to long-term shareholders can be made. The aim of enhancing long-term shareholding and behavior is laudable, and the effects could to some extent be disregarded. It exists in some countries and companies, (in Sweden, France, Germany), with a degree of success, (as in the case of LVMH, Volkswagen, L`Oreal, and so on). Some unwanted effects can follow if also extraordinary dividend rights are granted, -as proposed in the EU-, (think of the difficulty to calculate the dividend cost and adequate policy).

But the main discussion concerns whether the measure is the best to guarantee the desired result: a cost and benefit analysis should be done to compare it versus other tools to that purpose.

This post follows several articles or comments in HBR, FT, Anthony Kammer, Adams and Ferreira, and others.

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  1. jb
    April 23, 2013 at 12:11 am

    Some new suggestions for regulators in favor of long-term shareholders, (from a post by June Rhee in Harvard`s blog):
    1.- Those extra rights should not be mainly given to founders
    2.- Number of additional votes should be capped to avoid a single shareholder be too powerful
    3.- Certain Sectors (needing more stability), and shareholders, (more likely to use the votes) should be more considered.
    4.- All shareholders should keep a clear voice.
    5.- Criteria and administrative procedures should be analysed and optimized.

    Like

  2. February 24, 2014 at 11:57 am

    A new post on the same topic, leaving nothing really new, but signaling its relevance, by Simon C.Y. Wong, a partner at the investment firm Governance for Owners, an adjunct professor of law at Northwestern University and a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science

    http://businessdayonline.com/2014/02/rethinking-one-share-one-vote-2/

    Like

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