Luc Renneboog, Peter G. Szilagyi: The Role of Shareholder Proposals in Corporate Governance, July 2010

Luc Renneboog, Peter G. Szilagyi, July 27, 2010

This paper offers evidence on the corporate governance role of shareholder proposals by simultaneously investigating the selection of target firms and the proposal outcomes in terms of voting success, implementation, and stock price effects. Using 2,436 proposals submitted between 1996 and 2005, a sample of 1,961 target and nontarget firms, as well as extensive controls for governance quality, we make several contributions to the literature. First, we find that shareholder proposals tend to be targeted at firms that both underperform and have generally poor governance structures. The results show that regardless of the proposal objectives, submissions are more likely to be made against firms that (i) use antitakeover provisions to entrench management, (ii) have ineffective boards, and (iii) have ill-incentivized CEOs. More detailed analysis reveals that target selection is largely driven by governance concerns irrespective of the sponsor type. Overall, these findings provide very limited basis to the claim that activists such as union pension funds pursue self-serving agendas. . . .

[T]he paper provides clear evidence that the market views shareholder proposals as a relevant device of external control. The stock price effects are most fundamentally driven by the target firm’s prior performance and governance quality. At the same time, they are strongest for proposals that win a majority vote as well as pass, which indicates that the market anticipates voting success reasonably well. Nonetheless, while voting outcomes and implementation rates have improved dramatically over time, the market returns are strongest during stock market peaks when there is a high premium for good governance.

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