Goldman Sees Potential Stock Boost From Company Reform in Asia

  • Japan returns up 76% after governance reforms: Goldman report
  • China, Korea, Japan have most to benefit in Asia from change

Improvements in corporate governance could unlock greater shareholder returns in Asia, with companies in China, Japan and South Korea poised to benefit the most, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Reforming the way companies are run would cut the risk of investing in the world’s fastest-growing region, Goldman analysts led by Gabriel Wilson-Otto said in a report Tuesday. Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc., South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. and Samsung Electronics Co., and Shanghai-based Baoshan Iron & Steel Co. are among companies Goldman says could realize more value from restructuring.

Shares of companies that have been involved in 14 major environmental, social and corporate governance scandals since 2007 have underperformed their sectors by an average of 25 percent in the two weeks following each event, according to Goldman’s calculations. Efforts to address board diversity in Japan and state-owned enterprise reform in China show governance reform is on the radar, but more can be done.

“For investors, the continuation of these trends could potentially lower the risk of value destruction from governance-related ‘tail risk’ events in Asia,” the analysts said. Reform “holds the potential to unlock value through corporate restructuring and more efficient capital structures.”

Japan Moves

In Japan, the Government Pension Investment Fund said last month that it’s seeking to hire new external managers of Japanese stocks and improve the way the fund interacts with the companies it invests in. It was seen as a sign the world’s biggest pension fund is putting weight behind Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s attempts to make Japanese firms more efficient and profitable. 

Japan created a stewardship code in 2014, which enlists institutional investors to press companies to put their excess cash toward growth, or else boost returns to shareholders. The next year they introduced a corporate governance code for companies. These sort of reforms have helped boost shareholder returns by 76 percent, according to Goldman.

China has been restructuring SOEs as part of efforts to re-direct the economy and cut industrial overcapacity. Read more here.

Corruption scandals in South Korea, which have ensnared former President Park Geun-hye and Samsung Group’s heir apparent Jay Y. Lee, provide a good catalyst for corporate governance reform, according to Goldman. The country’s National Pension Service could help drive that change, like the GPIF did.

“Many of these changes remain in their early stages and a significant gap remains in the pace of change and level of development between countries,” the analysts said. Still, “restructuring and reform has the potential to materially improve the performance of listed companies.”

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