Are loyalty voting rights efficient?

Some reflections on the Belgian proposals

Especially after the financial crisis, many people have drawn attention to the problem of short-termism. There are many possible strategies to address this problem, including awarding additional voting rights to loyal shareholders (“loyalty voting rights”). Both France and Italy have introduced loyalty voting rights, and now the Belgian proposal for a new Companies and Associations Code also contains the possibility of loyalty voting rights in listed companies (discussed in previous blog posts here and here).

Of course, this raises the question how effective loyalty voting rights, as proposed in the Belgian Company Law Reform, are in addressing the short-termism problem. In this blog post, I argue that loyalty voting rights are unlikely to increase the holding periods of investors, as the evidence suggests that they are only used by the controlling shareholders. However, loyalty voting rights will allow a controlling shareholder to insulate itself from short-term market pressures. On the other hand, insulation also comes with the disadvantage of higher agency costs.

Therefore, I argue that loyalty voting shares are in fact nothing else than a type of control-enhancing mechanism. This implies that shareholders should be protected against midstream introductions of loyalty voting rights. On this ground, I question the wisdom of lowering the threshold to introduce loyalty voting rights, as the Belgian legislator is proposing, inspired by the French and Italian examples. In addition, I propose an additional majority for the introduction of loyalty voting rights, inspired by the idea of “majority of the minority” approval.

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