The Motley Fool

Did Vince Cable Sanction This Year’s Shareholder Revolt?

The content of this article was relevant at the time of publishing. Circumstances change continuously and caution should therefore be exercised when relying upon any content contained within this article.

2014’s shareholder spring turned into a shareholder summer. Was it all given carte blanche by business secretary Vince Cable? In a speech in March, he announced that he would introduce tougher measures unless remuneration committee behaviour improved. Then, in a letter in April sent to the remuneration chairmen of the 100 biggest UK-listed companies, he warned about the damage big pay deals can have on their image. “At a time when every part of the economy is striving to get more from less, I hope you find yourselves animated by the same spirit…. Unless business is seen to act responsibly, pressure for further action will inevitably result,” Cable wrote.

It started with Barclays, whose CEO later admitted that “a lot more needs to be done” to rein in bankers’ bonuses. The bank withstood four hours of criticism of its bonuses at its AGM, culminating in a rare institutional shareholder rebuke when a representative of Standard Life stood up to announce that it was voting against the remuneration report because “(w)e are unconvinced that the amount of the 2013 bonus pool was in the best interests of shareholders”. Barclays’ pay plans were eventually approved with a small margin.

5 Stocks For Trying To Build Wealth After 50

Markets around the world are reeling from the coronavirus pandemic… and with so many great companies trading at what look to be ‘discount-bin’ prices, now could be the time for savvy investors to snap up some potential bargains.

But whether you’re a newbie investor or a seasoned pro, deciding which stocks to add to your shopping list can be a daunting prospect during such unprecedented times.

Fortunately, The Motley Fool UK analyst team have short-listed five companies that they believe STILL boast significant long-term growth prospects despite the global upheaval…

We’re sharing the names in a special FREE investing report that you can download today. And if you’re 50 or over, we believe these stocks could be a great fit for any well-diversified portfolio.

Click here to claim your free copy now!

Shareholder rebellions over directors’ pay continued at Pearson, AstraZeneca, National Express, Standard Chartered, Reckitt Benckiser and online grocer Ocado. Nearly one-third of Reckitt’s shareholders opposed its annual pay report. A fifth rejected the separate pay policy vote; a new, second opportunity to vote on pay policy for the next three years. A fifth of Ocado shareholders also voted against the online grocer’s pay report, objecting to a matching share plan that was due to award chief executive Tim Steiner shares worth more than £12m.

Opposition was often due to criticism by the shareholder body the Association of British Insurers, but most often shareholder advisor PIRC was behind the protests. PIRC encouraged protest against M&S, Sainsbury’s and Sports Direct bonuses and pay plans, as well as at oil firm Afren, G4S, WPP and HSBC. Investec’s pay plan was also opposed, by 44% of shareholders, amid criticism that awards were “excessive”. In the end, most of these plans passed. For example, HSBC had only around 20% of investors voting against the directors’ pay report. But it is widely recognised that even if you have a fifth of shareholders disapproving of pay, you had better start talking to them about it. FirstGroup’s pay approval actually went up this year, from 71% to 80%, but the chief executive still promised a “deep review” of pay.

On the other hand, Kentz was the first company to have its pay plan rejected under the revised rules this year. Luckily, the company has since been acquired by SNC-Lavalin, so it doesn’t have to worry about it anymore. Then in August, another company, Burberry, saw 52% vote against its pay report.

As I said here, the key to most of these votes is performance. Shareholders don’t like high pay and low performance. On the other hand, they will accept low pay and low performance, as at Marks & Spencer, where CEO Marc Bolland declined a pay increase for a fourth year running after the company missed sales and profitability targets. No shareholder revolt there.

So, did Vince Cable sanction these revolts? He certainly was responsible for putting the mechanisms in place for protest to happen. But by lining companies up for a warning at the beginning of the AGM season, he gave shareholders a mandate to object if they felt that companies were not heeding prior warnings.

As High Pay Centre director Deborah Hargreaves has said, the new regulations are not enough to bring top pay down. The Centre’s figures show that pay for a FTSE 100 CEO has gone from being 60 times the average UK worker to 160 times over the last 15 years. Where this level of increase is justified, shareholders are quiet; where it is not, they will protest.

Is this little-known company the next ‘Monster’ IPO?

Right now, this ‘screaming BUY’ stock is trading at a steep discount from its IPO price, but it looks like the sky is the limit in the years ahead.

Because this North American company is the clear leader in its field which is estimated to be worth US$261 BILLION by 2025.

The Motley Fool UK analyst team has just published a comprehensive report that shows you exactly why we believe it has so much upside potential.

But I warn you, you’ll need to act quickly, given how fast this ‘Monster IPO’ is already moving.

Click here to see how you can get a copy of this report for yourself today

The Motley Fool has recommended shares in Burberry.

Our 6 'Best Buys Now' Shares

Renowned stock-picker Mark Rogers and his analyst team at The Motley Fool UK have named 6 shares that they believe UK investors should consider buying NOW.

So if you’re looking for more stock ideas to try and best position your portfolio today, then it might be a good day for you. Because we're offering a full 33% off your first year of membership to our flagship share-tipping service, backed by our 'no quibbles' 30-day subscription fee refund guarantee.

Simply click below to discover how you can take advantage of this.