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 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.

Nicholas Benes: Public Comment on Revision of the Stewardship Code

1) Pension Funds
2) Other Types of Investors
3) “ESG Factors”
4) Debt Instruments

1) Pension Funds

The proposed revisions to the Stewardship Code do not make it clear enough exactly how corporate pension funds, or smaller pension funds of any type, can sign the Code and comply with it without bearing excessive cost, work, or confusion.  Because this is not sufficiently clear at present, to date only an extremely small number of the defined-benefit pension funds at listed non-financial companies in Japan have signed the Code (only about 10, out of a total of 700 or more such funds). As a result, a rather odd situation exists in that most Japanese companies claim to care for their employees deeply, but judging from their actions, do not seem to care much about employees’ investments or post-retirement quality of life – or even, to care about preserving shareholder value by reducing the cash infusions needed to keep their pension plan fully funded. This makes a mockery of the language in the Corporate Governance Code about stewardship (Principle 2.6 企業年金のアセットオーナーとしての機能発揮), and of the Stewardship Code itself.

Glass Lewis:” Proxy Guidelines for 2020″

“….As announced in our policy guidelines last year, beginning in 2019, for companies listed on the first and second sections of the TSE, we will begin making recommendations against members of a board that does not have any incumbent or proposed female members. In such instances, we will generally recommend voting against the chair of the company (or the most senior executive in the absence of a company chair) under the two-tier board or one-tier with one committee structures, or against the nominating committee chair under a one-tier with three committees structure. In the case of a two-tier board structure, we will examine the board of directors and board of statutory auditors as a whole, and in the cases of one-tier with three- committee structures, we will consider whether the company has any female executive officers as well as female directors.