Boards braced for more trouble from investors

After last year's 'shareholder spring' directors are again under scrutiny
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The Independent Online

City investors are gearing up for the 2013 annual meeting season with Prudential and National Express likely to be in the line of fire over the next few weeks.

Although a repeat of last year's bloody "shareholder spring" seems unlikely, experts have warned that excessive remuneration packages and "golden hellos" will still not be tolerated.

Pirc, the shareholder advisory group, told The Independent on Sunday: "It's early in the season, but so far we haven't seen the same kind of opposition we saw at last year's AGMs. However shareholders need to keep up the pressure. It would be wrong for boardrooms to get the impression that everything has been fixed after one slightly tumultuous year."

So far, AstraZeneca, Barclays and Thomas Cook have been among the companies to hold annual meetings, although the schedule will intensify through May.

Industry sources say that the Pru is likely to suffer some form of revolt over its pay, having handed its chief executive, Tidjane Thiam a near £8m package just days after he received an embarrassing censure from the City regulator.

Fellow insurer RSA is also likely to feel the backlash having cut its dividend earlier this year, while National Express faces a revolt over staff rights.

Robert Hingley, the director of investment affairs at the Association of British Insurers, which represents shareholders holding about 20 per cent of the UK stock market, said he hoped that companies had learnt lessons from 2012.

He added: "We are hoping for a relatively quiet pay season and, genuinely, that seems to be happening. So far the indications are that most companies are exercising restraint."

Last year saw a number of high-profile departures after shareholders finally bared their teeth. Trinity Mirror's chief executive Sly Bailey quit in May after ongoing disquiet over a remuneration package that saw her take home £14m in a decade. A 40 per cent fall in pre-tax profit last year only intensified shareholder anger.

Aviva's chief executive Andrew Moss and AstraZeneca's head David Brennan also went in an unprecedented few months of corporate carnage.

Sir Martin Sorrell, who turned WPP into an advertising empire, did survive, but not without investors voting down a £13m pay package in June.

Dr Bang Dang Nguyen, a finance lecturer at Cambridge University's Judge Business School, has argued that the spring was successful in terms of press attention but not "if you look at how effective it is as a movement".