Monday, 27 April 2009

Voting disclosure - one more time, with feeling

I blogged previously that it had been difficult to find fund manager voting data in respect of bank AGMs in recent years.

It struck me today that we may have (probably have?) now missed the opportunity to ever carry out any comprehensive analysis of fund managers' 'ownership activity' in respect of the banks in the run-up to the financial crisis. I hope the Government will execrise its reserve power and mandate full disclosure of voting records, though I'm not confident that it will. But even if it did so, the likelihood is that this would be a forward-looking measure. I just don't think retrospective action is likely (actually it may not even be possible under the reserve power?).

That means that, unless non-disclosing fund managers voluntarily play ball and publish past decisions, which all recent experience should lead us to expect to be unlikely, that information is out of the public domain for good. This is a major financial crisis, the failure of 'ownership' may, or may not be, a contributory factor, but it's not possible for an independent third party to carry out any comprehensive analysis one way or the other.

As I've said before, maybe voting isn't that important, and maybe more engagement by shareholders wouldn't have made much of a difference. But what is absolutely crystal clear is that the industry's successful campaign to prevent full disclosure across the industry as a whole means that a key part of the story of the crisis - which all parties could probably learn something from - probably won't ever be told. And even now the industry is trying to push the line that voluntary disclosure is some sort of success.

Being a moderate kind of lefty I'm not usually the type to get angry, but this makes me genuinely furious.

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