Vanguard's proxy voting guidelines
The Board of Trustees (the Board) of each Vanguard fund has adopted proxy voting procedures and guidelines to govern proxy voting by the fund. The Board has delegated oversight of proxy voting to the Proxy Oversight Committee (the Committee), made up of senior officers of Vanguard and subject to the procedures and guidelines described below. The Committee reports directly to the Board. Vanguard is subject to these procedures and guidelines to the extent that they call for Vanguard to administer the voting process and implement the resulting voting decisions, and for these purposes the guidelines have also been approved by the Board of Directors of Vanguard.
The overarching objective in voting is simple: to support proposals and director nominees that maximize the value of a fund’s investments—and those of fund shareholders—over the long term. Although the goal is simple, the proposals the funds receive are varied and frequently complex. As such, the guidelines adopted by the Board provide a rigorous framework for assessing each proposal. Under the guidelines, each proposal must be evaluated on its merits, based on the particular facts and circumstances as presented.
For ease of reference, the procedures and guidelines often refer to all funds. However, our processes and practices seek to ensure that proxy voting decisions are suitable for individual funds. For most proxy proposals, particularly those involving corporate governance, the evaluation will result in the same position being taken across all of the funds and the funds voting as a block. In some cases, however, a fund may vote differently, depending upon the nature and objective of the fund, the composition of its portfolio, and other factors.
The guidelines do not permit the Board to delegate voting responsibility to a third party that does not serve as a fiduciary for the funds. Because many factors bear on each decision, the guidelines incorporate factors the Committee should consider in each voting decision. A fund may refrain from voting some or all of its shares if doing so would be in the fund's and its shareholders’ best interests. These circumstances may arise, for example, if the expected cost of voting exceeds the expected benefits of voting, if exercising the vote would result in the imposition of trading or other restrictions, or if a fund (or all Vanguard-advised funds in the aggregate) were to own more than a maximum percentage of a company's stock (as determined by the company's governing documents).
In evaluating proxy proposals, we consider information from many sources, including but not limited to, the investment advisor for the fund, the management or shareholders of a company presenting a proposal, and independent proxy research services. We will give substantial weight to the recommendations of the company’s board, absent guidelines or other specific facts that would support a vote against management. In all cases, however, the ultimate decision rests with the members of the Committee, who are accountable to the fund’s Board.
While serving as a framework, the following guidelines cannot contemplate all possible proposals with which a fund may be presented. In the absence of a specific guideline for a particular proposal (e.g., in the case of a transactional issue or contested proxy), the Committee will evaluate the issue and cast the fund’s vote in a manner that, in the Committee’s view, will maximize the value of the fund's investment, subject to the individual circumstances of the fund.
I. The Board of Directors
A. Election of directors
Good governance starts with a majority-independent board, whose key committees are composed entirely of independent directors. As such, companies should attest to the independence of directors who serve on the Compensation, Nominating, and Audit committees. In any instance in which a director is not categorically independent, the basis for the independence determination should be clearly explained in the proxy statement.
While the funds will generally support the board's nominees, the following factors will be taken into account in determining each fund's vote:
- Nominated slate results in board composed of a majority of independent directors.
- All members of Audit, Nominating, and Compensation committees are independent of management.
- Nominated slate results in board composed of a majority of nonindependent directors.
- Audit, Nominating, and/or Compensation committees include nonindependent members.
- Incumbent board member failed to attend at least 75% of meetings in the previous year.
- Actions of committee(s) on which nominee serves are inconsistent with other guidelines (e.g., excessive equity grants, substantial nonaudit fees, lack of board independence).
- Actions of committee(s) on which nominee serves demonstrate serious failures of governance (e.g., unilaterally acting to significantly reduce shareholder rights, failure to respond to previous vote results for directors and shareholder proposals).
B. Contested director elections
In the case of contested board elections, we will evaluate the nominees’ qualifications, the performance of the incumbent board, and the rationale behind the dissidents’ campaign, to determine the outcome that we believe will maximize shareholder value.
C. Classified boards
The funds will generally support proposals to declassify existing boards (whether proposed by management or shareholders), and will block efforts by companies to adopt classified board structures in which only part of the board is elected each year.
D. Proxy access
We believe that long-term investors may benefit from having proxy access, or the opportunity to place director nominees on a company's proxy ballot. In our view, this improves shareholders' ability to participate in director elections while potentially enhancing boards' accountability and responsiveness to shareholders.
That said, we also believe that proxy access provisions should be appropriately limited to avoid abuse by investors who lack a meaningful long-term interest in the company. As such, we generally believe that a shareholder or group of shareholders representing 5% of a company's outstanding shares held for at least three years should be able to nominate directors for up to 20% of the seats on the board.
We will review proposals regarding proxy access case by case. The funds will be most likely to support access provisions with the terms described above, but they may support different thresholds based on a company's other governance provisions, as well as other relevant factors.
II. Approval of independent auditors
The relationship between the company and its auditors should be limited primarily to the audit, although it may include certain closely related activities that do not, in the aggregate, raise any appearance of impaired independence. The funds will generally support management's recommendation for the ratification of the auditor, except in instances where audit and audit-related fees make up less than 50% of the total fees paid by the company to the audit firm. We will evaluate on a case-by-case basis instances in which the audit firm has a substantial nonaudit relationship with the company (regardless of its size relative to the audit fee) to determine whether independence has been compromised.
III. Compensation issues
A. Stock-based compensation plans
Appropriately designed stock-based compensation plans, administered by an independent committee of the board and approved by shareholders, can be an effective way to align the interests of long-term shareholders with the interests of management, employees, and directors. The funds oppose plans that substantially dilute their ownership interest in the company, provide participants with excessive awards, or have inherently objectionable structural features.
An independent compensation committee should have significant latitude to deliver varied compensation to motivate the company’s employees. However, we will evaluate compensation proposals in the context of several factors (a company’s industry, market capitalization, competitors for talent, etc.) to determine whether a particular plan or proposal balances the perspectives of employees and the company’s other shareholders. We will evaluate each proposal on a case-by-case basis, taking all material facts and circumstances into account.
The following factors will be among those considered in evaluating these proposals:
- Company requires senior executives to hold a minimum amount of company stock (frequently expressed as a multiple of salary).
- Company requires stock acquired through equity awards to be held for a certain period of time.
- Compensation program includes performance-vesting awards, indexed options, or other performance-linked grants.
- Concentration of equity grants to senior executives is limited (indicating that the plan is very broad-based).
- Stock-based compensation is clearly used as a substitute for cash in delivering market-competitive total pay.
- Total potential dilution (including all stock-based plans) exceeds 15% of shares outstanding.
- Annual equity grants have exceeded 2% of shares outstanding.
- Plan permits repricing or replacement of options without shareholder approval.
- Plan provides for the issuance of reload options.
- Plan contains automatic share replenishment (“evergreen”) feature.
B. Bonus plans
Bonus plans, which must be periodically submitted for shareholder approval to qualify for deductibility under Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code, should have clearly defined performance criteria and maximum awards expressed in dollars. Bonus plans with awards that are excessive in both absolute terms and relative to a comparative group generally will not be supported.
C. Employee stock purchase plans
The funds will generally support the use of employee stock purchase plans to increase company stock ownership by employees, provided that shares purchased under the plan are acquired for no less than 85% of their market value and that shares reserved under the plan constitute less than 5% of the outstanding shares.
D. Advisory votes on executive compensation (Say on Pay)
In addition to proposals on specific equity or bonus plans, the funds are required to cast advisory votes approving many companies’ overall executive compensation plans (so-called Say on Pay votes). In evaluating these proposals, we consider a number of factors, including the amount of compensation that is at risk, the amount of equity-based compensation that is linked to the company’s performance, and the level of compensation as compared to industry peers. The funds will generally support pay programs that demonstrate effective linkage between pay and performance over time and that provide compensation opportunities that are competitive relative to industry peers. On the other hand, pay programs in which significant compensation is guaranteed or insufficiently linked to performance will be less likely to earn our support.
E. Executive severance agreements (“golden parachutes”)
Although executives’ incentives for continued employment should be more significant than severance benefits, there are instances, particularly in the event of a change in control, in which severance arrangements may be appropriate. Severance benefits payable upon a change of control AND an executive’s termination (so-called double-trigger plans) are generally acceptable to the extent that benefits paid do not exceed three times salary and bonus. Arrangements in which the benefits exceed three times salary and bonus should be justified and submitted for shareholder approval. We do not generally support guaranteed severance absent a change in control or arrangements that do not require the termination of the executive (so-called single-trigger plans).
IV. Corporate structure and shareholder rights
The exercise of shareholder rights, in proportion to economic ownership, is a fundamental privilege of stock ownership that should not be unnecessarily limited. Such limits may be placed on shareholders’ ability to act by corporate charter or bylaw provisions, or by the adoption of certain takeover provisions. In general, the market for corporate control should be allowed to function without undue interference from these artificial barriers.
The funds’ positions on a number of the most commonly presented issues in this area are as follows:
A. Shareholder rights plans (“poison pills”)
A company’s adoption of a so-called poison pill effectively limits a potential acquirer’s ability to buy a controlling interest without the approval of the target’s board of directors. Such a plan, in conjunction with other takeover defenses, may serve to entrench incumbent management and directors. However, in other cases, a poison pill may force a suitor to negotiate with the board and result in the payment of a higher acquisition premium.
In general, shareholders should be afforded the opportunity to approve shareholder rights plans within a year of their adoption. This provides the board with the ability to put a poison pill in place for legitimate defensive purposes, subject to subsequent approval by shareholders. In evaluating the approval of proposed shareholder rights plans, we will consider the following factors:
- Plan is relatively short-term (3–5 years).
- Plan requires shareholder approval for renewal.
- Plan incorporates review by a committee of independent directors at least every three years (so-called TIDE provisions).
- Plan includes permitted bid/qualified offer feature (“chewable pill”) that mandates shareholder vote in certain situations.
- Ownership trigger is reasonable (15–20%).
- Highly independent, nonclassified board.
- Plan is long-term (>5 years).
- Renewal of plan is automatic or does not require shareholder approval.
- Ownership trigger is less than 15%.
- Classified board.
- Board with limited independence.
B. Increase in authorized shares
The funds are supportive of companies seeking to increase authorized share amounts that do not potentially expose shareholders to excessive dilution. We will generally approve increases of up to 50% of the current share authorization, but will also consider a company's specific circumstances and market practices.
C. Cumulative voting
The funds are generally opposed to cumulative voting under the premise that it allows shareholders a voice in director elections that is disproportionate to their economic investment in the corporation.
D. Supermajority vote requirements
The funds support shareholders’ ability to approve or reject matters presented for a vote based on a simple majority. Accordingly, the funds will support proposals to remove supermajority requirements and oppose proposals to impose them.
E. Right to call meetings and act by written consent
The funds support shareholders’ right to call special meetings of the board (for good cause and with ample representation) and to act by written consent. The funds will generally vote for proposals to grant these rights to shareholders and against proposals to abridge them.
F. Confidential voting
The integrity of the voting process is enhanced substantially when shareholders (both institutions and individuals) can vote without fear of coercion or retribution based on their votes. As such, the funds support proposals to provide confidential voting.
G. Dual classes of stock
We are opposed to dual-class capitalization structures that provide disparate voting rights to different groups of shareholders with similar economic investments. We will oppose the creation of separate classes with different voting rights and will support the dissolution of such classes.
V. Corporate and social policy issues
Proposals in this category, initiated primarily by shareholders, typically request that the company disclose or amend certain business practices. The Board generally believes that these are “ordinary business matters” that are primarily the responsibility of management and should be evaluated and approved solely by the corporation’s board of directors. Often, proposals may address concerns with which the Board philosophically agrees, but absent a compelling economic impact on shareholder value (e.g., proposals to require expensing of stock options), the funds will typically abstain from voting on these proposals. This reflects the belief that regardless of our philosophical perspective on the issue, these decisions should be the province of company management unless they have a significant, tangible impact on the value of a fund's investment and management is not responsive to the matter. For more information, please see Vanguard's view: Social concerns and investing.
VI. Voting in foreign markets
Corporate governance standards, disclosure requirements, and voting mechanics vary greatly among the markets outside the United States in which the funds may invest. Each fund's votes will be used, where applicable, to advocate for improvements in governance and disclosure by each fund's portfolio companies. We will evaluate issues presented to shareholders for each fund's foreign holdings in context with the guidelines described above, as well as local market standards and best practices. The funds will cast their votes in a manner believed to be philosophically consistent with these guidelines, while taking into account differing practices by market. In addition, there may be instances in which the funds elect not to vote, as described below.
Many foreign markets require that securities be “blocked” or reregistered to vote at a company's meeting. Absent an issue of compelling economic importance, we will generally not subject the fund to the loss of liquidity imposed by these requirements.
The costs of voting (e.g., custodian fees, vote agency fees) in foreign markets may be substantially higher than for U.S. holdings. As such, the fund may limit its voting on foreign holdings in instances where the issues presented are unlikely to have a material impact on shareholder value.
VII. Voting shares of a company that has an ownership limitation
Certain companies have provisions in their governing documents that restrict stock ownership in excess of a specified limit. The ownership limit may be applied at the individual fund level or across all Vanguard-advised funds. Typically, these ownership restrictions are included in the governing documents of real estate investment trusts, but may be included in other companies' governing documents.
A company’s governing documents normally allow the company to grant a waiver of these ownership limits, which allows a fund (or all Vanguard-advised funds) to exceed the stated ownership limit. Sometimes the company will grant a waiver without restriction. From time to time, a company may grant a waiver only if a fund (or funds) agrees to not vote the company's shares in excess of the normal specified limit. In such a circumstance, a fund may refrain from voting shares if owning the shares beyond the company's specified limit is in the best interests of the fund and its shareholders.
VIII. Voting on a fund's holdings of other Vanguard funds
Certain Vanguard funds (“owner funds”) may, from time to time, own shares of other Vanguard funds (“underlying funds”). If an underlying fund submits a matter to a vote of its shareholders, votes for and against such matters on behalf of the owner funds will be cast in the same proportion as the votes of the other shareholders in the underlying fund.
IX. The Proxy Voting Group
The Board has delegated the day-to-day operations of the funds' proxy voting process to the Proxy Voting Group, which the Committee oversees. Although most votes will be determined subject to the individual circumstances of each fund and by reference to the guidelines as separately adopted by each of the funds, there may be circumstances when the Proxy Voting Group will refer proxy issues to the Committee for consideration. In addition, the Board has the authority to vote proxies only when, in the Board's or the Committee's discretion, such action is warranted.
The Proxy Voting Group performs the following functions: (1) managing proxy voting vendors; (2) reconciling share positions; (3) analyzing proxy proposals using factors described in the guidelines; (4) determining and addressing potential or actual conflicts of interest that may be presented by a particular proxy; and (5) voting proxies. The Proxy Voting Group also prepares periodic and special reports to the Board and any proposed amendments to the procedures and guidelines.
X. The Proxy Oversight Committee
The Board, including a majority of the independent trustees, appoints the members of the Committee who are senior officers of Vanguard.
The Committee does not include anyone whose primary duties include external client relationship management or sales. This clear separation between the proxy voting and client relationship functions is intended to eliminate any potential conflict of interest in the proxy voting process. In the unlikely event that a member of the Committee believes he or she might have a conflict of interest regarding a proxy vote, that member must recuse himself or herself from the committee meeting at which the matter is addressed and not participate in the voting decision.
The Committee works with the Proxy Voting Group to provide reports and other guidance to the Board regarding proxy voting by the funds. The Committee has an obligation to conduct its meetings and exercise its decision-making authority subject to the fiduciary standards of good faith, fairness, and Vanguard’s Code of Ethics. The Committee shall authorize proxy votes that the Committee determines, at its sole discretion, to be in the best interests of each fund's shareholders. In determining how to apply the guidelines to a particular factual situation, the Committee may not take into account any interest that would conflict with the interest of fund shareholders in maximizing the value of their investments.
The Board may review these procedures and guidelines and modify them from time to time.
To obtain a free copy of a report that details how the funds voted the proxies relating to portfolio securities held by the funds for the prior 12-month period ended June 30, log on to vanguard.com or visit the SEC's website at sec.gov.