Hauptversammlung der anderen Art

Eine große bör­sen­no­tierte Akti­en­ge­sell­schaft, im Bau­markt­sek­tor tätig, hat jüngst ihre Haupt­ver­samm­lung abge­hal­ten. Sie dau­erte nicht ein­mal eine Stunde, der Auf­sichts­rat war abwe­send, nur des­sen Vor­sit­zen­der erschien, der gleich­zei­tig auch Vor­stands­chef ist. Für Fra­gen war nur ein Zeit­fens­ter von 1 Minute vor­ge­se­hen, sie wur­den nicht oder nur knapp beant­wor­tet.

Wo gibt es denn so eine miese Cor­po­rate Gover­nance”? Siehe hier oder hier oder hier.

Ausländisches Gesellschaftsrecht Hauptversammlung

The VW meeting and shareholder democracy

On May 8, 2006, Mr. Plen­der published the fol­lo­wing arti­cle in the Finan­cial Times:
The voting at last week’s annual mee­ting of Volks­wa­gen was faintly redo­lent of demo­cra­tic pro­cess in Sad­dam Hussein’s Iraq. Despite vocal cri­ti­cism of Fer­di­nand Piëch, the Ger­man carmaker’s chair­man, he was sup­por­ted by a vote of 98.2 per cent. Chief among his detrac­tors were fund mana­gers DWS, Deka and Her­mes, who toge­ther had about 5m sha­res. Yet only 2.9m out of 163.3m sha­res were voted against him.
The issues were not tri­vial. Mr Piëch upset many share­hol­ders by voting with the uni­ons to appoint a new per­son­nel direc­tor against the wis­hes of Bernd Pische­ts­rie­der, chief exe­cu­tive, who is try­ing to imple­ment a tough cost-cut­ting pro­gramme. He also publicly under­mi­ned Mr Pische­ts­rie­der by ques­tio­n­ing whe­ther his con­tract should be rene­wed.”

In the fol­lo­wing, Mr. Plen­der gues­sed that this bizarre out­come” — the clear majo­rity for Mr. Piech – and the thin voting tur­nout at the VW mee­ting was due to the fol­lo­wing rea­sons:
a) the com­ple­xity of the chains of inter­me­dia­ries that sepa­rate the com­pany from the ulti­mate bene­fi­cial owners;
b) fund mana­gers’ inst­ruc­tions to inter­me­dia­ries such as cus­to­di­ans are often not pro­perly ful­fil­led;
c) many inves­tors are reluc­tant to vote where there are share blocking requi­re­ments pre­ven­ting sha­res being tra­ded for a period before the annual mee­ting;
d) cross-bor­der voting is dif­fi­cult;
e) there is a mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of votes by vir­tue of a defi­ci­ent admi­nis­tra­tion of votes by the banks.

Mr. Plen­der may think about clear majo­ri­ties what he wants; in non-con­tested situa­ti­ons at cor­po­rate mee­tings, they are com­mon. Howe­ver, with all due respect, Mr. Plender’s gues­ses are not accu­rate. While, gene­rally speaking, there are pro­blems with lost votes in the chain of inter­me­dia­ries, in par­ti­cu­lar in the UK (see the Myners report of 2004), the issue with Volks­wa­gen is a dif­fe­rent one.

ad a) Volks­wa­gen is an issuer of bea­rer sha­res. The pro­blem that Mr. Plen­der obser­ved with the regis­te­red sha­res in the UK and else­where, which is that the inter­me­di­ary is regis­te­red as a share­hol­der while the bene­fi­cial owner ist not, does not apply to bea­rer share issu­ers. This is due to the fact that under a bea­rer share regime the hol­der of a bank account in which s/​he holds
sha­res of a com­pany is deemed the share­hol­der. Under a bea­rer share regime, a share­hol­der is ent­it­led to vote if his/​her bank cer­ti­fies his share­hol­ding. In theory, no for­war­ding wit­hin a chain of inter­me­dia­ries is necessary. Every share­hol­der may send / hand over the bank cer­ti­fi­cate to
the com­pany with his/​her proxy and direc­tions of how to exer­cise his voting rights.

ad b) Mr. Plen­der men­tio­ned three funds (DWS, DEKA, Her­mes) which were appar­ently cri­ti­ci­zing Mr. Piech. As these three fund com­pa­nies admi­nis­ter a bundle of funds, it is not ent­i­rely cer­tain that all fund mana­gers of these fund fami­lies voted against Mr. Piech. Fur­t­her, often, a fund mana­ger men­ti­ons his disap­pro­val but absta­ins from voting, in order to avoid a nega­tive impact on the stock quote. Alter­na­tively, the fund’s own proxy voting admi­nis­tra­tion may have been defi­ci­ent. While Ger­man law stron­gly encou­ra­ges funds to vote, fund com­pa­nies are reluc­tant to spend money on the voting pro­cess.

ad c) Ger­man law does not require share­blocking.

ad d) I agree.

ad e) Having been invol­ved with app. 150 share­hol­der mee­tings mys­elf, I have not obser­ved the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of votes wit­hin the natio­nal sys­tem in Ger­many. Fur­t­her, this phe­no­me­non is highly unli­kely given that banks are lia­ble to the com­pany for the issu­ance of wrong cer­ti­fi­ca­tes (see above). Finally, the pecu­lia­ri­ties of Ger­man com­pany law and the low thres­hold pur­suant to which Ger­man share­hol­ders can con­test a meeting’s deci­sion prompt the banks to act extre­mely dili­gently and care­fully when issuing cer­ti­fi­ca­tes.

I believe, Mr. Plen­der obser­ved a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors.

1st: Pur­suant to the proxy voting policy of most Ame­ri­can and some Bri­tish funds, there is dis­cre­tion vested into fund mana­gers whe­ther to exer­cise voting rights in com­pa­nies which are incorpo­ra­ted abroad. The Ger­man rules for funds do not apply to these inves­tors.

Con­se­quently, as voting is expen­sive, most for­eign fund mana­gers refrain from voting. Given that the share of Anglo-Ame­ri­can invest­ment in most DAX30-com­pa­nies is high (and still increa­sing), the pas­si­vity of insti­tu­tio­nal inves­tors results in signi­fi­cantly lower tur­nouts.

2nd: Spe­ci­fi­cally in the case of Volks­wa­gen AG, there is an ana­chro­nistic law in place, dating back to the 1960s, when Volks­wa­gen was a state-owned com­pany. Pur­suant to this law, the proxy must be issued in wri­ting. While DAX-100 com­pa­nies gene­relly rely on inter­net voting, in the case of Volks­wa­gen, a fund mana­ger must sign a proxy in wri­ting and send this proxy to the com­pany. This is a bur­den­some pro­cess, but uni­que for Volks­wa­gen AG. The law its­elf is cur­r­ently being chal­len­ged by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. It may be that some of the pro­xies issued by the three funds in ques­tion did not ful­fill these bur­den­some for­mal requi­re­ments.

3rd: The use of the words high tur­nout” and low tur­nout” requi­res recon­s­i­de­ra­tion. I have ana­ly­zed the turn-outs at US share­hol­der mee­tings which is regu­larly at app. 80 – 90%. Howe­ver, in many cases so cal­led bro­ker non-votes” influ­ence the turn-out by 10 – 20%. These are pro­xies voted by bro­kers without any per­mis­sion or direc­tion by the share­hol­der and these votes are typi­cally voted in favor of manage­ment when deci­ding upon day-to-day-issues. Subs­trac­ting these votes from the over­all tur­nout reveals that, in many cases, the real” tur­nout at US mee­tings is more some­thing like 60 – 70%, bes­i­des par­ti­ci­pa­tion of inter­na­tio­nal inves­tors in the voting pro­cess (which hardly takes place in con­ti­nen­tal Europe).

Having said this, I never­theless stron­gly sup­port the smoot­hing of the chain of inter­me­dia­ries in Europe (for dif­fe­rent rea­sons than expres­sed in Mr. Plender’s arti­cle).

For fur­t­her infor­ma­tion, see here.

Aktiengesellschaft Ausländisches Gesellschaftsrecht Hauptversammlung

Air Berlin: Börsengang als PLC.

Die im Dezem­ber 2005 errich­tete Air Ber­lin p.l.c. ist die zweit­größte Flug­ge­sell­schaft in Deutsch­land; das Vor­gän­ger­un­ter­neh­men wurde 1978 gegrün­det. Air Ber­lin beschäf­tigt mehr als 2.650 Mit­ar­bei­ter. Der Bör­sen­gang könnte bis zu 800 Mio. Euro ein­brin­gen (FAZ v. 21.4.2006). Wenn am 5. Mai 2006 der Han­del im amt­li­chen Markt der Fran­fur­ter Wert­pa­pier­börse beginnt, so gehen dort nicht Aktien (§ 1 Abs. 2 AktG) der Air Ber­lin um, son­dern sha­res” wer­den gehan­delt — kein Fall von Bör­sia­nerd­eng­lisch, der die Gesell­schaft für deut­sche Spra­che auf den Plan rufen müsste. Viel­mehr sollte sich die gesell­schafts­recht­li­che Szene für den Vor­gang inter­es­sie­ren. Nach­dem im Mit­tel­stand die bri­ti­sche Pri­vate Com­pany Limi­ted by Sha­res der deut­schen GmbH Kon­kur­renz macht, ent­deckt erst­mals ein deut­sches bör­sen­rei­fes Unter­neh­men die Public Com­pany Limi­ted by Sha­res.

Vor­stand Hunold in der heu­ti­gen FAS:

FRAGE: Air Ber­lin ist keine Akti­en­ge­sell­schaft, son­dern eine Gesell­schaft bri­ti­schen Rechts. Was bringt die Rechts­form der Plc?

ANT­WORT: Wir haben kei­nen Betriebs­rat, keine Gewerk­schaft, keine Mit­be­stim­mung. So kön­nen wir fle­xi­bler und ehr­li­cher mit­ein­an­der arbei­ten.” 

Die betrieb­li­che Mit­be­stim­mung nach dem BetrVG (Betriebs­rat!) knüpft nicht an die Rechts­form an, sie könnte auch bei in Deutsch­land ansäs­si­gen Betrie­ben eines aus­län­di­schen Rechts­trä­gers ein­ge­führt wer­den. Die unter­neh­me­ri­sche Mit­be­stim­mung nach dem Mit­bestG (Auf­sichts­rat!) greift bei einer PLC in der Tat nicht ein. Daher könnte die Umwand­lung in eine sol­che Rechts­form auch für andere Groß­un­ter­neh­men attrak­tiv wer­den, die als Akti­en­ge­sell­schaft deut­schen Rechts bis­lang zwin­gend dem Mit­be­stim­mungs­re­gime unter­lie­gen. Die (wirt­schaft­lich gese­hen) deut­sche Flug­ge­sell­schaft Air Ber­lin in eng­li­scher Rechs­form am hie­si­gen Kapi­tal­markt als Vor­f­lie­ger!

Eine wei­tere span­nende Frage ist, ob das unter­schied­li­che Gesell­schafts­recht die Anle­ger zögern lässt — oder ob ihnen das gerade egal ist. So ist zB bei einem Gene­ral Mee­ting der PLC kein indi­vi­du­el­les (per Aus­kunfts– und Anfech­tungs­klage bewehr­tes) Fra­ge­recht der share­hol­der gesetz­lich vor­ge­se­hen (wohl aber rich­ter­recht­lich), wäh­rend gerade darum in Deutsch­land ein dich­tes Nor­men­ge­webe gespon­nen ist (§§ 131, 132, 243 AktG).

Aktiengesellschaft Ausländisches Gesellschaftsrecht Limited

Das Reich des Bösen (italienische Variante)

Am 12.1.2006 trat in Ita­lien eine Gesell­schafts- und Kapi­tal­markt­rechts­re­form in Kraft. Die inter­na­tio­nale Kanz­lei Clea­ry­Gott­lieb infor­miert dar­über in einem Rund­brief. Unter ande­rem wird über eine Rege­lung berich­tet, wonach bör­sen­no­tierte Gesell­schaf­ten ver­schärf­ten Offen­le­gungs- und Kon­troll­pflich­ten unter­lie­gen, wenn sie Toch­ter­ge­sell­schaf­ten in Län­dern haben, die auf der schwar­zen Liste ste­hen (black-listed juris­dic­tions).

These juris­dic­tions will be iden­ti­fied by the Minis­try of Jus­tice based on the ade­quacy of their cor­po­rate law pro­vi­si­ons rela­ting to, among other things, (a) the public avai­la­bi­lity of com­pa­nies’ orga­ni­za­tio­nal docu­ments, (b) any mini­mum levels of capi­tal stock, © the pro­tec­tion of sta­ted capi­tal stock, inclu­ding by inde­pen­dent app­rai­sal of the value of non-cash equity con­tri­bu­ti­ons, (d) the esta­blish­ment of super­vi­sory cor­po­rate bodies sepa­rate from those ent­rusted with the manage­ment of the com­pany, (e) the pre­pa­ra­tion and publi­ca­tion of peri­o­dic finan­cial state­ments, and (f) the liqui­da­tion of insol­vent com­pa­nies lacking pro­s­pects for reco­very.”

Ausländisches Gesellschaftsrecht