The practice of shareholder communications, which is an important part of the board secretary function, has been evolving rapidly in recent years. Li Zhidong FCIS FCS, Company Secretary of CSSC Offshore & Marine Engineering (Group) Company Ltd, shares some best practice recommendations based on his experience working for a dual-listed A+H share company.

There have been many recent developments with significant implications for the strategy and practice of shareholder communications. With the continuous development of corporate governance practice globally, increasing numbers of shareholders are asking for extraordinary general meetings to be held. They consider that annual general meetings do not allow enough time for them to express their concerns. Moreover, the latest studies on shareholder engagement show that about 87% of securities issuers, 70% of asset managers and 62% of asset owners attend at least one shareholder communication activity every year.

The legislative and regulatory environment relating to shareholder communications has also been evolving rapidly in recent years. The Dodd-Frank Act, promulgated in the US in 2010, the Guidance on the Strategic Report, published in the UK in 2014, and the Principles of Responsible Ownership, issued in Hong Kong in 2016, all aim to enhance transparency and strengthen investor protection and shareholder communications. There have also been new provisions related to shareholder communications in the Hong Kong Corporate Governance Code (the Code). These include requirements for the chairman to ensure that “appropriate steps are taken to provide effective communication with shareholders” and for the board to be responsible for maintaining an ongoing dialogue with shareholders, and in particular to use general meetings to communicate with them and encourage their participation. The Code also requires the board to establish a shareholders’ communication policy and review it on a regular basis to ensure its effectiveness.

As a company listed for over 20 years, CSSC Offshore & Marine Engineering (Group) Company Ltd (COMEC) has practical experience in shareholder communications. COMEC – previously known as Guangzhou Shipyard International Company Ltd (GSI) – was listed in 1993 on the Shanghai Stock Exchange and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and was the first shipbuilding company in China to go public. It is an A+H military concept stock. In 2014 and 2015, GSI acquired CSSC Guangzhou Longxue Shipbuilding Company Ltd, CSSC Huangpu Wenchong Shipbuilding Company Ltd and Yangzhou Kejin Shipyard Co Ltd, and completed the integration of the core shipbuilding resources of its controlling shareholder, China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC), in South China. It was renamed COMEC in May 2015.

Over the years COMEC has won many awards for its corporate governance and investor relations performance. This article shares some best practice recommendations based on the author’s experiences of working for COMEC.

Have a proactive shareholder communication strategy

Listed companies need to proactively engage and communicate with shareholders and investors. Disclosure of corporate information should be equitable, fair and open, complemented by the confidentiality system of the company. This approach has helped COMEC to raise the market value of the company, maintaining and enhancing the value of the assets of all shareholders, including the state-owned shareholder.

In practice, the positive attitude of management and the company spokesperson and the importance they attach to shareholders are of the utmost importance. No matter whether the company is making or losing money, the attitude of management determines the overall level of trust of shareholders in the company.

Hence the management team of the company, including the directors, general manager, chief accountant, company secretary and securities affairs representative, should attach great importance to shareholder affairs. They should personally participate in the various shareholder communication activities, answering questions patiently, and shareholders should be able to direct their enquiries to the appropriate person at any time.

Know your shareholders

1. Maintaining separate shareholder registers in Mainland China and Hong Kong. As an A+H share listed company, COMEC has to maintain separate registers of shareholders in Shanghai and Hong Kong for the purpose of monitoring the shareholder structure. Shanghai adopts a real name registration system, which means that the company can get information on its shareholders directly. In Hong Kong, some shares are held by nominees such as Hong Kong Securities Clearing Company Ltd. The company therefore has to contact nominee companies from time to time to obtain accurate information on beneficial shareholders for the purpose of distributing annual reports, circulars and dividends.

2. Daily administration of shareholder registers. COMEC engages dedicated personnel to attend to the administration of its shareholder registers and filing-related matters, including the maintenance and updating of the shareholder registers. Upon listing in 1993, the company maintained a register in hard copy format. With the development of new storage media, magnetic disks, compact disks and hard disks have been used to maintain the shareholder registers to facilitate shareholders’ enquiries on their own shareholding. COMEC takes care to protect the personal data of shareholders and prevent any negative impact of information leakage on shareholders.

3. Half-monthly analysis of shareholder registers. COMEC has put in place a mechanism for analysing the shareholder registers every half month. Data on the top 10 shareholders, changes in shareholding and recent changes in share prices are analysed, so that changes in shareholding structure are closely monitored and relevant information is reported to the board of directors and the management in a timely manner.

Maintain channels of communication

1. Daily communication. COMEC communicates with shareholders through results press conferences, letters, reception of investors, sharing sessions, and participation in strategy seminars of securities dealers, etc. Depending on circumstances, COMEC also communicates with shareholders and potential shareholders through telephone conferences, online Q&As and email communications in order to spread timely messages on the operations and developments of the company and build a positive image of the company in the capital market.

2. Communication in respect of capital operations. In 2015, COMEC completed a major restructuring of its assets and acquired CSSC Huangpu Wenchong Shipbuilding Company Ltd through the issue of shares and payment of cash. During the capital operation, COMEC communicated with shareholders through roadshows and reverse roadshows; press conferences for financial reporters; active participation in analyst forums; one-on-one or one-on-many sessions with institutional investors; and Q&As on online platforms. COMEC secured the positive support of Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), and the capital operation was completed smoothly.

ISS works in the interest of minority shareholders, including institutional and individual investors. Transactions connected with majority shareholders, deposits with finance companies and dilution of shareholders’ rights are of particular concern to ISS. Through targeted briefing sessions, COMEC convinced ISS that the capital operation would enhance the interests of minority shareholders, securing positive reports by ISS on the transactions.

The difference in the preferences of holders of A+H shares adds to the difficulties in shareholder communications. For example, holders of A shares tend to look for generous bonus shares and share placements and frequent capital operations, while holders of H shares are more concerned with dividend payments and whether capital operations would enhance earnings. In view of these differences, COMEC has to adopt different strategies. For example, COMEC has to hold more frequent results press conferences in Hong Kong.

Balance communication and confidentiality

In preparing materials for shareholder communications, COMEC emphasises the proactive sharing of information while strictly adhering to the requirements of the state regarding confidentiality. COMEC produces a corporate video to promote investors’ understanding of the company; publishes regular reports to disseminate timely information on the operations and developments of the company; issues circulars on general meetings to invite shareholders to participate in important decisions; and regularly updates investor Q&As and actively analyses issues of concern to shareholders, passing on important information on industry background and outlook, cost structure of products, dividend policy, development strategy and future trends in capital operation.

Conclusion

As a large manufacturer of military products with operations worldwide, COMEC attaches great importance to shareholder communications. All relevant parties in the company, from the chairman of the board to staff responsible for shareholder matters, are involved in shareholder communications, as this is a crucial factor for the long-term success of a listed company. Effective practices of shareholder communications are an important component of good corporate governance. Shareholder engagement and shareholder suggestions are positive factors that can improve the governance and the management of the company. Proper handling of shareholder communications by the management of a listed company adds to the market value of the company.

For listed companies, shareholder communications is both a science and an art. To evolve from one-way communication to two-way communication, the concerted efforts of the listed company, its shareholders and the regulators are necessary. Promoting shareholder communications is not only a compliance matter but also a commitment and duty to the market.

Li Zhidong FCIS FCS, Company Secretary
CSSC Offshore & Marine Engineering (Group) Company Ltd

 

股东沟通策略与实践

股东沟通是董事会秘书的重要职能,近年股东沟通的实践不断演变。中船海洋与防务装备股份有限公司公司秘书李志东FCIS FCS以在两地上市的A+H股公司的工作经验,与读者分享一些股东沟通的最佳做法。

近年的一些发展,对股东沟通的策略与实践有重要影响。随着全球公司治理实践的不断发展,越来越多的股东要求董事会召开特别会议(EGM),他们认为年度会议不能提供足够的时间来倾听他们关注的问题。而最新股东参与研究表明,约87%的证券发行者、70%的资产管理经理及62%的资产所有者每年至少出席一次股东沟通活动。

关于股东沟通的法规,近年也有急速发展。美国在2010年颁布了《多德-弗兰克法案》,英国在2014年颁布了《战略报告指引》,香港在2016年颁布了《负责任的拥有权原则指引》,旨在提高公众透明度,强化投资者保护及股东沟通工作。在香港《企业管治守则》中,也有股东沟通的新条文,包括主席应该确保与股东进行有效的沟通、董事会负责与股东持续对话,特别是通过会议进行沟通并鼓励股东的参与、董事会应当建立股东沟通政策并定期检讨,以确保其有效性等。

中船海洋与防务装备股份有限公司(简称中船防务)作为一个上市20多年的公司,在日常的或者资本运作中的股东沟通方面有一些细致的实操经验。中船防务(原广州广船国际股份有限公司)于1993年分别在上海证券交易所和香港联合证券交易所上市,是中国第一家造船上市公司,A+H军工概念股。2014年、2015年,中船防务先后收购了中船龙穴造船有限公司、中船黄埔文冲船舶有限公司及扬州科进船业有限公司,完成对控股股东中国船舶工业集团公司(以下简称中船集团)华南地区核心造船资产的整合,并于2015年5月更名为中船海洋与防务装备股份有限公司。

公司多年来获得大量公司治理及投资者关系的荣誉。作者根据在COMEC工作的经验,与读者分享一些最佳实践。

积极主动的股东沟通策略

上市公司有需要积极主动与股东和投资者进行联系、沟通,公司信息披露应做到公平、公正、公开,且与公司保密制度相结合。这策略让中船防务提升公司市值,实现全体股东包括国有股东的资产保值增值。

实务中,管理层和发言人对股东的重视程度及正面积极的态度十分重要,无论是公司处于利润增长或亏损等何种状态,管理层态度决定了股东对公司的整体信任度。

因此,公司管理层董事长、总经理、总会计师、公司秘书和证代从上至下都应把股东事务放在十分重要的位置,亲自参与各种股东沟通活动,耐心回答问题,股东也应可以随时找到适当的人士进行询问。

掌握股东信息

1. 分别管理中港两地股东名册。作为A+H上市公司,中船防务需要在上海与香港分别申请股东名册以进行股东结构的监察。上海实行实名登记,公司可直接获得股东信息;香港部分股份以托管人名义登记,例如香港中央结算有限公司,公司需不时与登记公司联系以获得准确的实益股东信息,从而进行派发年报、通函、股息等相关事宜。

2. 日常管理股东名册。中船防务设置专人负责股东名册管理及存档相关事宜,包括股东名册的保管及更新。本公司从1993年上市采用纸质、然后不断随新的存储介质的进步而采用磁盘、光碟、硬盘等一直延续地保留股东名册,为股东查询自身持股情况提供便利。同时,中船防务还注重保护股东的个人信息,防止信息泄露对股东带来的负面影响。

3. 每半个月进行股东名册分析。中船防务建立了一套股东名册分析机制,每半个月进行股东名册分析,对前10大股东构成、股东持股变动以及近期公司股价变化等情况进行数据分析,实时监察公司股东结构的变化情况,及时向董事会和管理层反馈股东变动的相关信息。

维持股东沟通途径

1. 日常沟通形式。中船防务通过举办业绩发布会、邮件函件往来、积极接待投资者、组织交流会、参与券商策略研讨会等形式开展股东沟通业务,按新形势的要求也通过电话会议、网上问答和电邮等与股东及潜在股东进行沟通,及时向公众传递公司的经营发展情况,提升公司在资本市场的正面形象。

2. 资本运作时期沟通形式。中船防务2015年完成重大资产重组,以发行股票及支付现金的形式收购了中船黄埔文冲船舶有限公司。资本运作期间,公司通过多次路演及反向路演、召开财经记者招待会、积极参与分析员会议、开展机构投资者一对一或一对多、组织网上平台交流问答等形式进行股东沟通,同时争取到了Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS)的正面支持,使公司资本运作顺利完成。

ISS主要维护少数股东包括投资机构和小股东的权益,尤其关注大股东关联交易、财务公司存款和权益摊薄等事项。公司有针对性的进行多次说明和阐述,使ISS理解我们的资本运作有利于提高少数股东的权益,从而得到ISS正面支持的报告。

此外,A、、H股股东偏好的差异也增加A+H股公司股东沟通的难度,如A股股东注重公司有良好的高送配、资本运作的频度,而H股股东更关注派息、资本运作是否会带来利润的增加。针对这些差异,公司需采取不同的策略,比如公司在香港举行业绩发布会的频度会高一些。

沟通与保密并重

中船防务在编制股东沟通材料的过程中,采取积极主动、信息共享但又严格遵循国家保密法相关要求的策略。制作公司宣传片,让投资者更直观认识公司;编制公司定期报告,及时向市场传达公司经营发展情况;寄发股东大会通函,邀请股东参与公司重大决策;定期更新投资者问答材料,主动分析股东关心的事项,向股东传递了公司所处行业背景、业务前景、产品成本构成、分红政策、发展战略以及未来资本运作方向等重要信息。

结语

中船防务作为业务遍布全球的大型军工制造企业,从董事长到股东事务管理人员都非常重视股东沟通业务,以正面积极的态度进行股东沟通,因为这是影响上市公司取得长期成功的关键因素。有效的股东沟通实践是良好企业管治的重要组成部分,股东参与和股东诉求或建议对公司治理和管理改善有十分积极的影响。上市公司管理层善待股东沟通事宜,有利于上市公司提升市值。

股东沟通对于上市公司而言既是一门科学,更是一门艺术。打破独白,进行对话,这需要上市公司、股东以及监管机构的共同努力。推动股东沟通不只是一项合规性工作,更是对市场的一份承担和责任。

李志东FCIS FCS
中船海洋与防务装备股份有限公司公司秘书

 

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