Fight Against Short-termism Is Misdirected [Financial Times]

What do the Prince of Wales, the chief executive of BlackRock and the Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court have in common? All have spoken out against short-termism in business.

In their eyes, corporate executives are putting too much emphasis on profits over the next three to six months, and not enough on making investments that could produce sustainable growth over the next decade.

While there are legitimate concerns about short-termism, many of its critics misunderstand both its causes and effects. Many of their proposed remedies would undermine the legitimate rights of corporate shareholders.

Instead, to combat short-termism, corporate boards should lengthen the time horizon for determining executive pay and stop their executives from publicly predicting the next quarter’s earnings…

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Curbing Short-Termism in Corporate America: Focus on Executive Compensation [Harvard Law School]

The protest against short termism in corporate America is rising. Business and political leaders are decrying the emphasis on quarterly results—which they claim is preventing corporations from making long-term investments needed for sustainable growth.

However, these critics of short termism have a skewed view of the facts and there are logical flaws in their arguments. Moreover, their proposals would dramatically cut back on shareholder rights to hold companies accountable.

The critics of short termism stress how much the average daily share volume has increased over the last few decades. Although this is factually correct, this sharp average increase is caused primarily by a tremendous rise in intraday trading.

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Curbing Short-Termism in Corporate America [Brookings]

In “Curbing Short-Termism in Corporate America: Focus on Executive Compensation,” Robert Pozen, nonresident fellow with the Brookings Institution, lecturer at Harvard Business School, and former vice chairman of Fidelity Investments, evaluates numerous policy approaches to reduce short-termism including: (1) altering the compensation arrangements of asset managers and corporate executives; (2) constraining the rapid trading of stocks by public investors; and (3) limiting the influence of institutional shareholders on corporate governance.

After examining such solutions, Pozen arrives at the following conclusions:

  • The most effective way to curb short-termism would be to lengthen the time horizons in the compensation packages of asset managers and corporate executives;
  • Other effective measures to curb short-termism would be to limit “empty voting” by investors not owning shares and to discourage companies from publically projecting their quarterly earnings;
  • The proposals to constrain rapid trading, even if they reduced trading volume, would not significantly change the business plans of most corporations; and
  • The benefits from most proposals to reduce the governance influence of institutional investors would be outweighed by the costs of undermining corporate accountability.

There have recently been a number of prominent voices in the financial sector speaking out against short- termism. These individuals believe that short-term trading is driving bad corporate investment decisions and that directors should have longer terms and that activist hedge funds are bad. Pozen’s paper, however, raises serious factual questions about the link between short-term trading and corporate decisions, and criticizes restrictions on hedge funds and longer terms for directors as inappropriate solutions to whatever the problems are. None of these critics suggest, as Pozen does, that the key solution is redesigning executive compensation – he suggests moving to a 3-year measurement period for bonuses or force executives to hold on to half of their shares from options or stock grants.

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Pfizer’s bid for AstraZeneca: It’s time to reform the U.S. corporate tax system [Fortune]

FORTUNE – The debate over Pfizer’s bid to buy U.K. drugmaker AstraZeneca is intensifying. Last week, AstraZeneca rejected Pfizer’s offer of $106 billion, even though it was about 7% higher than its previous bid.

As negotiations escalate, it’s worth taking a close look at Pfizer’s proposed merger into AstraZeneca (AZN) — with its tremendous implications for U.S. tax collections and tax policies. Pfizer’s (PFE) determination underscores how driven U.S. multinational corporations are to shift their domicile outside the U.S. Why? Unless they keep foreign profits abroad, the U.S. subjects them to a corporate tax of 35%.

As a result, more than $2 trillion in foreign profits held by multinationals are “locked out” of the U.S. These funds could otherwise be spent making critical investments in the U.S. economy, such as building manufacturing facilities, buying U.S. companies, or even paying dividends to shareholders. For instance, Apple (AAPL) recently borrowed $17 billion to pay dividends, despite holding more than $130 billion abroad.

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Newest MIT Course for Professionals [Sloan Review]

How many hours do you work a week?

If you’re like a lot of managers, including many who attended the recent “Maximizing Your Personal Productivity” program at MIT Sloan Executive Education, your estimate might be between 49 hours and 58 hours.

Robert Pozen, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and leader of the session, said when he speaks to groups, there’s usually a large cluster of people who say their work hours fall in this span. Some outliers claim as few as 80 hours a week for sleep and personal time, meaning they work 88 hours.

“People say they’re working so many hours because they have ‘so many things to do’ or they’re not productive enough,” said Pozen.

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Surge in China internet money funds is risky [Financial Times]

Co-Authored with Theresa Hamacher

The money market fund offered by Alibaba, China’s leading ecommerce company, has gathered the equivalent of $65bn in less than one year. During that period, the assets of all money funds sponsored by internet companies have soared to the equivalent of more than $100bn.

In response, the governor of the Bank of China recently suggested that this new online product needs to be supervised closely. What are the benefits and risks of these internet money market funds, and how should they be regulated?

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If Facebook Overpaid For WhatsApp, It Did So With ‘Cheap Stock’ []

It’s easy enough to conclude that Facebook overpaid for WhatsApp –the Internet texting service with a subscription fee of $1 per year (after an initial free year). The $19 billion purchase price paid by Facebook seems extravagant for a company with no profits, modest revenues and only 55 employees.

But Facebook paid this price mainly in its own “cheap” stock, and the price per user for WhatsApp is lower than the implied valuation of users in other social media companies. In the final analysis, whether this acquisition makes economic sense for Facebook will depend on how effectively it can monetize the rapidly growing user base of WhatsApp.

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Why myRa Is Not The Way To Save For Retirement [Fortune/CNN Money]

President Obama’s proposal is well intentioned but may not get workers to save more. A better plan: Automatically enroll workers to an IRA.

President Obama recently proposed to help more workers save for retirement through an executive order creating the myRA. The plan is being billed as the ROTH IRA for every man or woman with neither access to a 401(k) plan at their workplace nor the lump-sum deposit to open an IRA on their own.

Though well-intentioned, this isn’t the best way to encourage workers to save more – it’s just a politically easier route.  A better way is to automatically enroll workers with a retirement plan through payroll deductions and give them the option to opt out. Congress has considered such a plan for years, but it has never gone anywhere and it’s tough to see how things could turn around given the partisan bikering we’ve seen in Washington.

Nonetheless, an automatic Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is worth re-evaluating as the president makes his pitch for myRa. Half of America’s full-time employees, about 75 million, are not offered any type of retirement plan at work (except for Social Security).  Although many work at small firms with fewer than 10 employees, some work at larger firms. Over 20% of American employers with 100 or more employees — mainly in agricultural, construction and retail sectors –do not offer any type of retirement plan at work…

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