The mini AGM season for companies with December 31 balance dates officially finishes on Monday and there was a flurry of activity in Sydney yesterday.
Westfield’s 50th AGM started at 10am at Darling Harbour and after an excellent tribute video and Frank Lowy’s speech I was first to the microphone at about 10.50am.
Given board tilt commitments at MAP Group across town it was a case of hit and run with an omnibus question about Frank’s $15 million pay packet being particularly excessive now he’d finally topped the Rich List, along with concerns about paid parking at Westfield Doncaster and the 10 storey apartment tower at the back of the centre which the world’s biggest shopping centre company has rammed through despite strong council and community objections.
Westfield put on arguably the highest quality AGM webcast we’ve ever come across and the full nine-minute exchange is available here. Most of the media lapped up Frank’s defence of his pay packet, but with the remuneration report protest vote doubling to 17%, the signs are looking ominous.
Proxy voting powerhouse RiskMetrics dogged it again this year and apparently reluctantly recommended in favour of the report which sees the four Lowy family members on the board paid an excessive $30 million.
Having slayed the likes of Telstra, Qantas, Wesfarmers, Boral, Transurban, Toll, Macquarie Group and United Group over the years, it is strange that Risk Metrics and the broader institutional investor club can condone Westfield effectively having three CEOs.
If RiskMetrics finally develops some spine next year it will coincide with new laws that will prevent the Lowy family from voting their 7% stake in favour of these excessive pay deals and the remuneration report could well go down.
With about $170 million in annual distributions and a net worth of $5 billion, Frank just doesn’t need the salary and given the amount of time he’s now spending on soccer, why should shareholders continue to pay him $40,000 a day.
The tribute video talked about Frank stepping back from executive responsibilities and with Westfield’s remarkable co-founder now approaching 80, surely after last night’s star-studded 50th AGM dinner for 460 people at the Sydney Town Hall it is time to step back to a non-executive role with a more appropriate salary.
Once the Lowy’s had answered the questions, it was over to the Austar AGM at The Mint. The regional pay-TV monopoly provider started proceedings at 11am but it was all done and dusted by 11.15am with no questions and sparse presentations by the board which suffered the ignominy of another 80% protest vote against the remuneration report by its independent shareholders, once again courtesy of RiskMetrics.
After that, it was straight over to the Sheraton on the Park for what turned into a very interesting MAP Group AGM with about a dozen different shareholders stringing out proceedings for two hours.
The audio highlights are here and the results showed the serial candidate wallowing with barely 5% support, although it was noteworthy that Macquarie veteran John Roberts copped a big protest vote, once again at the hands of RiskMetrics.
Chairman Max Moore-Wilton, John Howard’s departmental chief who sold Sydney Airport to Macquarie for $5.6 billion and then went to run the facility, denied he’d been paid more than $10 million by Macquarie over the years and defended his ongoing role despite his lack of independence and Macquarie supposedly having been sent packing with a $345 million divorce payment last year.
Macquarie clearly still controls MAPGroup through its 23% stake which, unless the Future Fund finally agrees to stump up the $1 billion-plus Macquarie has been asking, won’t be sold until Canberra changes the ridiculous foreign ownership restrictions which requires 60% Australian ownership of the listed MAP when the requirement for the actual airports is only 50.1%.
MAP has recently breached the 40% cap and is forcibly requiring the latest foreign shareholders to sell down, which is not exactly the best environment for Macquarie to sell into.
Despite having former Keating Communications Minister Michael Lee on the MAP board, I suggested legislative favours were unlikely to come from the Rudd Government as long as Max Moore-Wilton is in charge and the vehicle is registered in the tax haven of Bermuda.
After all, MAP only paid $12 million in Australian tax last year when it reckons Sydney Airport has almost doubled in value to $11 billion. Listen to this audio of the potential political risks of a super profits tax slug on Bermuda-based MAP being explained yesterday.