The United States Treasury is Citigroup’s largest common shareholder, owning 7.7 billion shares, or about 27% of the company. Which raised an interesting issue at today’s annual meeting: how should the Treasury vote its shares?
Treasury answered as follows:
As we have previously stated, Treasury is a reluctant shareholder in private companies and intends to dispose of its TARP investments as quickly as practicable. When it acquired the Citigroup common shares, Treasury announced that it would retain the discretion to vote only on core shareholder issues, including the election of directors; amendments to corporate charters or bylaws; mergers, liquidations and substantial asset sales; and significant common stock issuances. At the time of the exchange, Treasury agreed with Citigroup that it would vote on all other matters proportionately–that is, in the same proportion (for, against or abstain) as all other shares of the company’s stock are voted with respect to each such matter. Treasury is abiding by the same principles in the few other companies in which it owns common shares, which are very few, as most TARP investments were in the form of nonvoting preferred stock.
Those sound like good principles. So how did Treasury actually vote?
Treasury voted FOR three ballot proposals:
- 15 Nominees to the Board of Directors
- To issue $1.7 billion of “common stock equivalents” to workers in lieu of cash incentive compensation (a way to conserve cash that Citi agreed to in a deal to repay some TARP money)
- Reverse stock split
Treasury voted PROPORTIONALLY on the remaining proposals:
- Ratify KPMG as the firm’s accountant
- An increase in shares for a stock incentive plan
- Executive compensation (nonbinding “say on pay”)
- A “Tax Benefits Protection Plan” which discourages ownership changes that would reduce the value of Citi’s $46 billion in deferred tax assets
- Six shareholder proposals covering such issues as corporate governance and political activity.
Treasury emphasizes that its proportional votes don’t mean it lacks an opinion on these proposals. Referring to two corporate governance proposals, for example, Treasury noted that it may have a policy preference but:
Treasury believes that it would be inappropriate to use its power as a shareholder to advance a position on matters of public policy and believes such issues should be decided by Congress, the SEC or through other proper governmental forums in a manner that applies generally to companies. For this reason, and because voting on such matters was not necessary in order to fulfill its EESA responsibilities, Treasury refrained from exercising a discretionary vote.
Although Treasury expressed that view with respect to the corporate governance provisions, I can’t help but wonder what it felt about the “Tax Benefits Preservation Plan.”
You can see all the proposals in Citigroup’s proxy statement.
Disclosure: I own no Citigroup securities of any kind (see this post for a summary of my previous thoughts about Citi securities).