RI Governance & Engagement, Jan. 5: Funds take legal action over failed brokerage MF Global

The $49.6bn (€38.6bn) Virginia Retirement System and the C$71bn (€54bn) Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCO) are seeking to become lead plaintiffs in investor class actions against defunct derivatives broker MF Global, according to reports. There are at least eight related lawsuits being brought by various groups against MF Global – but the VRS and Alberta argue they are the “most adequate plaintiff” as they incurred total losses of more than $19m.

Jaap Winter, Professor of Corporate Governance at the Duisenberg School of finance in Amsterdam, has argued that many of the governance problems at financial institutions in the financial crisis are “difficult if not impossible to remedy through regulation”. The analysis comes in research called “The Financial Crisis: Does Good Corporate Governance Matter and How to Achieve it?” and which is available here

Shareholder pressure could be prompting Blackberry maker Research in Motion to appoint a separate chairman, according to a report in the Financial Post. It said Barbara Stymiest is likely to replace co-chairmen Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie. A report on Ontario-based RIM’s governance structure by independent directors is expected by the end of the month.

Trillium Asset Management, the US sustainable funds firm, has confronted Lowe’s Companies over the retailer’s decision to pull advertising from the ‘All-American Muslim’ reality TV show after the Florida Family Association complained about the content of the show. “We find the action and the company’s later handling of the controversy to be extremely poor business decisions and completely inconsistent with the values of equality and religious tolerance that are a foundation of a just society,” Trillium said in a letter to Lowe’s CEO Robert Niblock.

The UK government is planning to “clamp down” on excessive bonuses for investment bankers, according to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. “We must be just as tough this year in the bonus season that is coming up as we were last year, if not more so,” Clegg told BBC radio in an interview.The Council of Institutional Investors, the US shareholder group whose members have over $3trn in assets, has written to News Corp.’s Lead Director Sir Rod Eddington urging the board to abolish the company’s dual-class stock structure and adopt a single class of shareowners with one vote each. CII Executive Director Ann Yerger said investors are “disenfranchised” by the structure. Link

The £2.5bn Avon Pension Fund in the UK has appointed Manifest to analyse how the fund’s asset managers are executing voting rights. “The voting activity will be reported [to an internal committee] quarterly and an annual report will be published,” the fund said in its recent annual report, adding it would boost its compliance with the Stewardship Code. Link

New York City Comptroller John Liu and the New York City Pension Funds have hailed the success of their shareholder resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity at US defence contractor KBR. The funds’ proposal received 61.7% backing at KBR’s annual meeting on May 19 – and the company’s board adopted it in November.

The Illinois-based $16.7bn General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church has adopted a policy barring investment in private prison companies, according to Pensions & Investments. It quoted a spokeswoman as saying the investments were not in alignment with the church’s social principles. The church has divested its stakes in Corrections Corp. of America and GEO Group, P&I added.

BNY Mellon, the banking group, has completed the previously announced sale of its Shareowner Services business to Computershare, the global provider of transfer agency, share registration, proxy solicitation and stakeholder communications. The deal resulted in an undisclosed “modest after-tax loss” for BNY Mellon.

An account of the eighth annual Transatlantic Corporate Governance Dialogue event has been posted to the ISS governance blog. The conference was on the topic: “Shareholder Engagement: What is ‘Appropriate’?” It included policymakers, academics, consultants, investors, auditors, and other governance professionals from both sides of the Atlantic.