METRICAL: Diversity Has To Be Strong

This month, we will focus on diversity again. This is because I believe that diversity raises the bottom line of a company. Diversity is deeply related to S and G of ESG, and it has a great impact on the transformation of a company’s culture. On the other hand, it seems that many Japanese companies are more keen on “E” than “S” and “G” in their ESG initiatives, because “E” is an area that is relatively easy to tackle for Japanese companies that have a successful experience of setting technical numerical targets such as CO2 emission targets and improving the technical level through bottom-up efforts led by engineers to eventually achieve high targets. Even in the S and G areas, it should be possible to set clear goals and set timeframes for improvement without setting numerical targets. In several articles on diversity, I have mentioned the importance of respect for human rights, or in other words, understanding diversity, in order to build an environment where everyone can live comfortably, whether in a company or a society where various people are involved. On Thursday, August 19, I attended the analyst meeting of Monogatari Corporation (3097), which is engaged in advanced diversity initiatives as mentioned in my previous article, to discuss its financial results for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, and I would like to update you on the company’s diversity initiatives.

Monogatari Corporation is one of the listed companies that is proactively working on diversity. As of June 2021, the company had 126 employees from 13 countries (10% of the total workforce), an increase from 105 employees from 11 countries (9.5% of the total workforce) as of December 2020. In the past six months, the number of store managers with international (foreign) nationality has increased significantly from 4 to 18. In addition, the company is also working to support the activities of LGBTQ employees, with training for all employees starting with basic knowledge and how to respond in the workplace and sharing the idea of understanding and supporting all sexualities. Also, the company has introduced a “Life Partnership System” that allows same-sex partners to receive the same treatment as legal marriages within the company. In Japan, where same-sex marriage is not yet legally recognized, this system allows LGBTQ employees to receive the same treatment as legally married couples in the company.

“Carbonwashing: A New Type of Carbon Data-related ESG Greenwashing” (Young and Schumacher)

“ Despite the increased attention and capital incentives around corporate sustainability, the development of sustainability reporting standards and monitoring systems has been progressing at a slow pace. As a result, companies have misaligned incentives to deliberately or selectively communicate information not matched with actual environmental impacts or make largely unsubstantiated promises around future ambitions. These incidents are broadly called “greenwashing,” but there is no clear consensus on its definition and taxonomy. We pay particular attention to the threat of greenwashing concerning carbon emission reductions by coining a new term, “carbonwashing.” Since carbon mitigation is the universal goal, the corporate carbon performance data supply chain is relatively more advanced than that of the entire sustainability data landscape. Nonetheless, the threat of carbonwashing persists, even far more severe than general greenwashing due to the financial values attached to corporate carbon performance. This paper contextualizes sustainable finance-related carbonwashing via an outline of the communication as well as the measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of carbon emission mitigation performance. Moreover, it proposes several actionable policy recommendations on how industry stakeholders and government regulators can reduce carbonwashing risks.”

Japan’s Corporate Governance Revolution: Halfway Through the Tunnel (Equities First/Nasdaq Report)

Over the past six years Japan has put in place a long list of corporate governance reforms, amounting to a virtual revolution in thinking at corporations, domestic institutional investment firms, and even society. However, because Japan is still only halfway through the “tunnel” of reform and thinking, much of the resulting value creation for investors and other stakeholders is yet to come. Key takeaways from this whitepaper’s data-driven review of Japan’s governance “revolution” include:

Tangible corporate governance reform has come to Japan, in the form of a robust Corporate Governance Code and Stewardship Code.
In tandem with government policy, advocacy by investor groups and pro-governance corporate leaders will continue these positive reforms in the years to come.
Japanese firms have “got the message” that a sea change has occurred: a majority of firms are hiring outside directors, establishing nominations and compensation committees, and reducing takeover defenses such as poison pills.
Japanese boards are starting to embrace global trends for incentive-based compensation, higher levels of diversity, and focus on returns and capital efficiency.
Cross-shareholdings and other “allegiant holdings” are being unwound as foreign and domestic institutions alike have become more proactive in their proxy voting strategies, making the market more attractive in general.
Merger and Acquisitions (M&As) and activism are on the rise, raising capital efficiency or managerial awareness of the need for it.
As a result of many of the above changes, Return on Assets (ROA) values in Japan are trending higher across the board.

The Evolution of ESG Investment

“We are faced with a time of great change, as exemplified by the development of digital transformation (DX), changes in the socioeconomic structure, an increasing sense of crisis regarding global environmental issues, and changes in people’s mindsets. To seize these changes as an opportunity to achieve medium- to longterm economic growth and build a sustainable, human-centered society, the realization of “Society 5.0 for SDGs”—a concept originating in Japan—holds the key. Therefore, we conducted joint research toward the realization of Society 5.0 for SDGs with three parties representing the Japanese business community, academia, and investors, namely Keidanren, the University of Tokyo, and the GPIF. In the joint research, a series of discussions have been held with the shared recognition of the importance of stable medium- to long-term funding for companies, universities, and start-ups promoting problem-solving innovation for the realization of Society 5.0 for SDGs.

Accordingly, we have set an aim of realizing Society 5.0 and achieving SDGs by identifying the trend of now globally expanding ESG investment, further evolving it, and connecting it to the promotion of investment in problemsolving innovation. We then examined measures to achieve the aim. Specifically, we established four themes to promote investment in problem-solving innovation, and conducted research on specific initiatives of each player. At the end, through these discussions, we present a future action plan of the three parties for the realization of “Society 5.0 for SDGs.”

GoToData by BDTI: Japanese Disclosure, by All listed Firms, Now Easily Accessible in English!

Why wade through 100+ pages of unusable PDF-formatted Japanese jungle, when you can jump directly to the parts you want, read them in English, and quickly cut and paste both text and tables you want to analyze and compare? Why not save 70% of your time and conveniently review the official source documents submitted by all 3,600+ Japanese listed companies?  Click on the center of the image below to view in full screen “flipbook” mode, and contact us at info@bdti.or.jp if you are interested to know more. Qualifying parties may receive demonstrations and trial accounts.
Ready or not, Japanese disclosure has now entered the age of machine-readable digital data! The dream that I presented to Japanese lawmakers in February of 2014 [1] can now be realized: a world where a Corporate Governance Code requires detailed disclosure of the inner workings of companies’ governance black boxes, and that information is seamlessly available to all investors, thus making it possible for them to do the analysis they must do to be good “stewards”.  As a result, the Stewardship Code will be able to function in reality, not just in theory.

[1] 2月6日に自民党の日本経済再生本部の金融調査会に呼ばれて、コードの概念、政策としての位置付け、入れるべき内容の例を「日本経済の復活のため、コーポレート・ガバナンス・コードの早期制定を」というプレゼン資料を使って説明した。その後、議員らにさまざまなアドバイスと提供させていただいた。

The New Whistle-blower Protection Bill, from the Perspective of the Olympus Case

The current Whistleblower Protection Act was enacted in 2004 and was enforced in 2006. It was said that the scandals of the recall cover-up by Mitsubishi Motors and the disguised beef origin by Snow Brand Foods brought the new Act. However, from the beginning, it was criticized that the range of target facts was too narrow, prevention measures for retaliation were not effective, etc. Based on the supplementary resolutions of the Diet and the supplementary provisions of the Act, the Consumer Commission Whistleblower Protection Special Research Committee was established, and discussions were underway for revision. However, the speed was very slow. The Committee finally issued the report in December 2018. Public comments were solicited for the new appendix table to the Act regarding the target laws. The amendment bill was approved by the Cabinet on March 9, 2020. It is now planned to submit to the National Assembly.

Why Modern Corporate Structure Results in Large Ethical Lapses

I was recently asked by the Japan Society of Greater Cincinnati to give the keynote speech at their conference event on the theme of “Why Good People Do Bad Things”. I decided to liven things up a bit by attempting to answer the self-posed question: “how might we design corporations if we were inventing them today [not in 1600 -1900]… in an age of huge capital pools, global warming, and an increasing number of other large externalized risks and informational (and other) asymmetries?”

See what you think of my “concept for discussion” on pages 16-19, and my reasons for throwing it out for consideration on the earlier pages. I realize some people will think this concept is a strange and unnecessary, as if the basic legal structure of the corporation is immutable, or hoping ESG integration by itself will solve most of the problems it is concerned with. However, I suspect that in the next few decades corporate law will be evolving much more so as to address the issues and concerns that I raise… even if it addresses them in a different manner. I do not believe that the present legal form of “the corporation” itself is sustainable. Over the past 100 years, too many agency problems, market distortions, asymmetries, and externalities have emerged.

Correlation and Causation: Good Governance Practices and Firm Performance in Japan

On December 11, 2019, I gave a lecture on BDTI’s analysis about corporate governance practices and and firm performance in Japan. Since then we have added indicators of statistical significance to our materials. To view the entire presentation as translated into English, click here: Presentation to Securities Analyst Association 2019.12.11. Those who read Japanese can read the full speech here, and can download the Japanese version of the presentation materials.

Our methodology is shown on page 23 . Our analysis suggests that the adoption of the following practices leads is followed by (appears to cause) improvements in ROA compared to the average for a firm’s industry over the next two years. Please see the charts on the left side of each page:

  • Adding an nomination committee of some sort (p. 27)
  • Appointing an outside director as the chair of that committee (p. 28)
  • The combination of nomination committee with a board composition with >33% independent directors (p. 30)
  • Adopting a performance-linked compensation plan for executives (p. 29)

Various other factors that appear to correlate with superior performance, are shown on page 22, and page 34. We will explore the direction of causation with some of these later.

Great Analysis of the Larry Fink/BlackRock Letter

“Today, after more than a year of increasing pressure from climate activists, investors, legislators, and thought leaders, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, in his highly-anticipated annual letter to CEOs and to clients, announced a sweeping new set of policies which aim to put climate change and sustainability at the center of BlackRock’s business model. BlackRock is the world’s largest asset manager with almost $7 trillion in assets under management as of Q3 2019. …..The announcement is a major shift for BlackRock, which previously had failed to take meaningful action on climate, and is a very important step in the right direction as the world faces increasing risk from climate change. Massive capital shifts away from fossil fuels and deforestation-risk commodities are necessary to mitigate the worst of the climate crisis and set the world on a path toward sustainability.