Proxy Voting Policies
American Century Investment Management, Inc. (the "Advisor") is the investment manager for a variety of advisory clients, including the American Century Investments® family of mutual funds. In such capacity, the Advisor has been delegated the authority to vote proxies with respect to investments held in the accounts it manages. The following is a statement of the proxy voting policies that have been adopted by the Advisor. In the exercise of proxy voting authority which has been delegated to it by particular clients, the Advisor will apply the following policies in accordance with, and subject to, any specific policies that have been adopted by the client and communicated to and accepted by the Advisor in writing.
- General Principles
- Specific Proxy Matters
- Use of Proxy Advisory Services
- Monitoring Potential Conflicts of Interest
In providing the service of voting client proxies, the Advisor is guided by general fiduciary principles, must act prudently, solely in the interest of its clients, and must not subordinate client interests to unrelated objectives. Except as otherwise indicated in these Policies, the Advisor will vote all proxies with respect to investments held in the client accounts it manages. The Advisor will attempt to consider all factors of its vote that could affect the value of the investment. Although in most instances the Advisor will vote proxies consistently across all client accounts, the votes will be based on the best interests of each client. As a result, accounts managed by the Advisor may at times vote differently on the same proposals. Examples of when an account’s vote might differ from other accounts managed by the Advisor include, but are not limited to, proxy contests and proposed mergers. In short, the Advisor will vote proxies in the manner that it believes will do the most to maximize shareholder value.
- Routine Matters
- Election Of Directors
- Generally. The Advisor will generally support the election of directors that result in a board made up of a majority of independent directors. In general, the Advisor will vote in favor of management's director nominees if they are running unopposed. The Advisor believes that management is in the best possible position to evaluate the qualifications of directors and the needs and dynamics of a particular board. The Advisor of course maintains the ability to vote against any candidate whom it feels is not qualified or if there are specific concerns about the individual, such as allegations of criminal wrongdoing or breach of fiduciary responsibilities. Additional information the Advisor may consider concerning director nominees include, but is not limited to, whether (1) there is an adequate explanation for repeated absences at board meetings, (2) the nominee receives non-board fee compensation, or (3) there is a family relationship between the nominee and the company’s chief executive officer or controlling shareholder. When management's nominees are opposed in a proxy contest, the Advisor will evaluate which nominees' publicly-announced management policies and goals are most likely to maximize shareholder value, as well as the past performance of the incumbents.
- Committee Service. The Advisor will withhold votes for non-independent directors who serve on the audit, compensation, and/or nominating committees of the board.
- Classification of Boards. The Advisor will support proposals that seek to declassify boards. Conversely, the Advisor will oppose efforts to adopt classified board structures.
- Majority Independent Board. The Advisor will support proposals calling for a majority of independent directors on a board. The Advisor believes that a majority of independent directors can help to facilitate objective decision making and enhances accountability to shareholders.
- Majority Vote Standard for Director Elections. The Advisor will vote in favor of proposals calling for directors to be elected by an affirmative majority of the votes cast in a board election, provided that the proposal allows for a plurality voting standard in the case of contested elections. The Advisor may consider voting against such shareholder proposals where a company’s board has adopted an alternative measure, such as a director resignation policy, that provides a meaningful alternative to the majority voting standard and appropriately addresses situations where an incumbent director fails to receive the support of the majority of the votes cast in an uncontested election.
- Withholding Campaigns. The Advisor will support proposals calling for shareholders to withhold votes for directors where such actions will advance the principles set forth in paragraphs (1) through (5) above.
- Ratification of Selection of Auditors
The Advisor will generally rely on the judgment of the issuer’s audit committee in selecting the independent auditors who will provide the best service to the company. The Advisor believes that independence of the auditors is paramount and will vote against auditors whose independence appears to be impaired. The Advisor will vote against proposed auditors in those circumstances where (1) an auditor has a financial interest in or association with the company, and is therefore not independent; (2) non-audit fees comprise more than 50% of the total fees paid by the company to the audit firm; or (3) there is reason to believe that the independent auditor has previously rendered an opinion to the issuer that is either inaccurate or not indicative of the company's financial position.
- Election Of Directors
- Compensation Matters
- Executive Compensation
- Advisory Vote on Compensation. The Advisor believes there are more effective ways to convey concerns about compensation than through an advisory vote on compensation (such as voting against specific excessive incentive plans or withholding votes from compensation committee members). The Advisor will consider and vote on a case-by-case basis on say-on-pay proposals and will generally support management proposals unless specific concerns exist, including if the Advisor concludes that executive compensation is (i) misaligned with shareholder interests, (ii) unreasonable in amount, or (iii) not in the aggregate meaningfully tied to the company’s performance.
- Frequency of Advisory Votes on Compensation. The Advisor generally supports the triennial option for the frequency of say-on-pay proposals, but will consider management recommendations for an alternative approach.
- Equity Based Compensation Plans
The Advisor believes that equity-based incentive plans are economically significant issues upon which shareholders are entitled to vote. The Advisor recognizes that equity-based compensation plans can be useful in attracting and maintaining desirable employees. The cost associated with such plans must be measured if plans are to be used appropriately to maximize shareholder value. The Advisor will conduct a case-by-case analysis of each stock option, stock bonus or similar plan or amendment, and generally approve management's recommendations with respect to adoption of or amendments to a company's equity-based compensation plans, provided that the total number of shares reserved under all of a company's plans is reasonable and not excessively dilutive.
The Advisor will review equity-based compensation plans or amendments thereto on a case-by-case basis. Factors that will be considered in the determination include the company's overall capitalization, the performance of the company relative to its peers, and the maturity of the company and its industry; for example, technology companies often use options broadly throughout its employee base which may justify somewhat greater dilution.
Amendments which are proposed in order to bring a company's plan within applicable legal requirements will be reviewed by the Advisor's legal counsel; amendments to executive bonus plans to comply with IRS Section 162(m) disclosure requirements, for example, are generally approved.
The Advisor will generally vote against the adoption of plans or plan amendments that:
- Provide for immediate vesting of all stock options in the event of a change of control of the company without reasonable safeguards against abuse (see "Anti-Takeover Proposals" below);
- Reset outstanding stock options at a lower strike price unless accompanied by a corresponding and proportionate reduction in the number of shares designated. The Advisor will generally oppose adoption of stock option plans that explicitly or historically permit repricing of stock options, regardless of the number of shares reserved for issuance, since their effect is impossible to evaluate;
- Establish restriction periods shorter than three years for restricted stock grants;
- Do not reasonably associate awards to performance of the company; or
- Are excessively dilutive to the company.
- Executive Compensation
- Anti-Takeover Proposals
In general, the Advisor will vote against any proposal, whether made by management or shareholders, which the Advisor believes would materially discourage a potential acquisition or takeover. In most cases an acquisition or takeover of a particular company will increase share value. The adoption of anti-takeover measures may prevent or frustrate a bid from being made, may prevent consummation of the acquisition, and may have a negative effect on share price when no acquisition proposal is pending. The items below discuss specific anti-takeover proposals.
- Cumulative Voting
The Advisor will vote in favor of any proposal to adopt cumulative voting and will vote against any proposal to eliminate cumulative voting that is already in place, except in cases where a company has a staggered board. Cumulative voting gives minority shareholders a stronger voice in the company and a greater chance for representation on the board. The Advisor believes that the elimination of cumulative voting constitutes an anti-takeover measure.
- Staggered Board
If a company has a "staggered board," its directors are elected for terms of more than one year and only a segment of the board stands for election in any year. Therefore, a potential acquiror cannot replace the entire board in one year even if it controls a majority of the votes. Although staggered boards may provide some degree of continuity and stability of leadership and direction to the board of directors, the Advisor believes that staggered boards are primarily an anti-takeover device and will vote against establishing them and for eliminating them. However, the Advisor does not necessarily vote against the re-election of directors serving on staggered boards.
- "Blank Check" Preferred Stock
Blank check preferred stock gives the board of directors the ability to issue preferred stock, without further shareholder approval, with such rights, preferences, privileges and restrictions as may be set by the board. In response to a hostile takeover attempt, the board could issue such stock to a friendly party or "white knight" or could establish conversion or other rights in the preferred stock which would dilute the common stock and make an acquisition impossible or less attractive. The argument in favor of blank check preferred stock is that it gives the board flexibility in pursuing financing, acquisitions or other proper corporate purposes without incurring the time or expense of a shareholder vote. Generally, the Advisor will vote against blank check preferred stock. However, the Advisor may vote in favor of blank check preferred if the proxy statement discloses that such stock is limited to use for a specific, proper corporate objective as a financing instrument.
- Elimination of Preemptive Rights
When a company grants preemptive rights, existing shareholders are given an opportunity to maintain their proportional ownership when new shares are issued. A proposal to eliminate preemptive rights is a request from management to revoke that right.
While preemptive rights will protect the shareholder from having its equity diluted, it may also decrease a company's ability to raise capital through stock offerings or use stock for acquisitions or other proper corporate purposes. Preemptive rights may therefore result in a lower market value for the company's stock. In the long term, shareholders could be adversely affected by preemptive rights. The Advisor generally votes against proposals to grant preemptive rights, and for proposals to eliminate preemptive rights.
- Non-targeted Share Repurchase
A non-targeted share repurchase is generally used by company management to prevent the value of stock held by existing shareholders from deteriorating. A non-targeted share repurchase may reflect management's belief in the favorable business prospects of the company. The Advisor finds no disadvantageous effects of a non-targeted share repurchase and will generally vote for the approval of a non-targeted share repurchase subject to analysis of the company’s financial condition.
- Increase in Authorized Common Stock
The issuance of new common stock can also be viewed as an anti-takeover measure, although its effect on shareholder value would appear to be less significant than the adoption of blank check preferred. The Advisor will evaluate the amount of the proposed increase and the purpose or purposes for which the increase is sought. If the increase is not excessive and is sought for proper corporate purposes, the increase will be approved. Proper corporate purposes might include, for example, the creation of additional stock to accommodate a stock split or stock dividend, additional stock required for a proposed acquisition, or additional stock required to be reserved upon exercise of employee stock option plans or employee stock purchase plans. Generally, the Advisor will vote in favor of an increase in authorized common stock of up to 100%; increases in excess of 100% are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and will be voted affirmatively if management has provided sound justification for the increase.
- "Supermajority" Voting Provisions or Super Voting Share Classes
A "supermajority" voting provision is a provision placed in a company's charter documents which would require a "supermajority" (ranging from 66 to 90%) of shareholders and shareholder votes to approve any type of acquisition of the company. A super voting share class grants one class of shareholders a greater per-share vote than those of shareholders of other voting classes. The Advisor believes that these are standard anti-takeover measures and will generally vote against them. The supermajority provision makes an acquisition more time-consuming and expensive for the acquiror. A super voting share class favors one group of shareholders disproportionately to economic interest. Both are often proposed in conjunction with other anti-takeover measures.
- "Fair Price" Amendments
This is another type of charter amendment that would require an offeror to pay a "fair" and uniform price to all shareholders in an acquisition. In general, fair price amendments are designed to protect shareholders from coercive, two-tier tender offers in which some shareholders may be merged out on disadvantageous terms. Fair price amendments also have an anti-takeover impact, although their adoption is generally believed to have less of a negative effect on stock price than other anti-takeover measures. The Advisor will carefully examine all fair price proposals. In general, the Advisor will vote against fair price proposals unless the Advisor concludes that it is likely that the share price will not be negatively affected and the proposal will not have the effect of discouraging acquisition proposals.
- Limiting the Right to Call Special Shareholder Meetings
The corporation statutes of many states allow minority shareholders at a certain threshold level of ownership (frequently 10%) to call a special meeting of shareholders. This right can be eliminated (or the threshold increased) by amendment to the company's charter documents. The Advisor believes that the right to call a special shareholder meeting is significant for minority shareholders; the elimination of such right will be viewed as an anti-takeover measure and the Advisor will generally vote against proposals attempting to eliminate this right and for proposals attempting to restore it.
- Poison Pills or Shareholder Rights Plans
Many companies have now adopted some version of a poison pill plan (also known as a shareholder rights plan). Poison pill plans generally provide for the issuance of additional equity securities or rights to purchase equity securities upon the occurrence of certain hostile events, such as the acquisition of a large block of stock.
The basic argument against poison pills is that they depress share value, discourage offers for the company and serve to "entrench" management. The basic argument in favor of poison pills is that they give management more time and leverage to deal with a takeover bid and, as a result, shareholders may receive a better price. The Advisor believes that the potential benefits of a poison pill plan are outweighed by the potential detriments. The Advisor will generally vote against all forms of poison pills.
The Advisor will, however, consider on a case-by-case basis poison pills that are very limited in time and preclusive effect. The Advisor will generally vote in favor of such a poison pill if it is linked to a business strategy that will – in our view – likely result in greater value for shareholders, if the term is less than three years, and if shareholder approval is required to reinstate the expired plan or adopt a new plan at the end of this term.
- Golden Parachutes
Golden parachute arrangements provide substantial compensation to executives who are terminated as a result of a takeover or change in control of their company. The existence of such plans in reasonable amounts probably has only a slight anti-takeover effect. In voting, the Advisor will evaluate the specifics of the plan presented.
Reincorporation in a new state is often proposed as one part of a package of anti-takeover measures. Several states (such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana) now provide some type of legislation that greatly discourages takeovers. Management believes that Delaware in particular is beneficial as a corporate domicile because of the well-developed body of statutes and case law dealing with corporate acquisitions.
The Advisor will examine reincorporation proposals on a case-by-case basis. Generally, if the Advisor believes that the reincorporation will result in greater protection from takeovers, the reincorporation proposal will be opposed. The Advisor will also oppose reincorporation proposals involving jurisdictions that specify that directors can recognize non-shareholder interests over those of shareholders. When reincorporation is proposed for a legitimate business purpose and without the negative effects identified above, the Advisor will generally vote affirmatively.
- Confidential Voting
Companies that have not previously adopted a "confidential voting" policy allow management to view the results of shareholder votes. This gives management the opportunity to contact those shareholders voting against management in an effort to change their votes.
Proponents of secret ballots argue that confidential voting enables shareholders to vote on all issues on the basis of merit without pressure from management to influence their decision. Opponents argue that confidential voting is more expensive and unnecessary; also, holding shares in a nominee name maintains shareholders' confidentiality. The Advisor believes that the only way to insure anonymity of votes is through confidential voting, and that the benefits of confidential voting outweigh the incremental additional cost of administering a confidential voting system. Therefore, the Advisor will generally vote in favor of any proposal to adopt confidential voting.
- Opting In or Out of State Takeover Laws
State takeover laws typically are designed to make it more difficult to acquire a corporation organized in that state. The Advisor believes that the decision of whether or not to accept or reject offers of merger or acquisition should be made by the shareholders, without unreasonably restrictive state laws that may impose ownership thresholds or waiting periods on potential acquirors. Therefore, the Advisor will generally vote in favor of opting out of restrictive state takeover laws.
- Cumulative Voting
- Transaction Related Proposals
The Advisor will review transaction related proposals, such as mergers, acquisitions, and corporate reorganizations, on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the impact of the transaction on each client account. In some instances, such as the approval of a proposed merger, a transaction may have a differential impact on client accounts depending on the securities held in each account. For example, whether a merger is in the best interest of a client account may be influenced by whether an account holds, and in what proportion, the stock of both the acquirer and the acquiror. In these circumstances, the Advisor may determine that it is in the best interests of the accounts to vote the accounts’ shares differently on proposals related to the same transaction.
- Other Matters
- Shareholder Proposals Involving Social, Moral or Ethical Matters
The Advisor will generally vote in accordance with management’s recommendation on issues that primarily involve social, moral or ethical matters, such as the MacBride Principles pertaining to operations in Northern Ireland. While the resolution of such issues may have an effect on shareholder value, the precise economic effect of such proposals, and individual shareholder’s preferences regarding such issues, is often unclear. Where this is the case, the Advisor believes it is generally impossible to know how to vote in a manner that would accurately reflect the views of the Advisor’s clients, and therefore will review management’s assessment of the economic effect of such proposals and rely upon it if the Advisor believes its assessment is not unreasonable.
Shareholders may also introduce social, moral or ethical proposals which are the subject of existing law or regulation. Examples of such proposals would include a proposal to require disclosure of a company's contributions to political action committees or a proposal to require a company to adopt a non-smoking workplace policy. The Advisor believes that such proposals are better addressed outside the corporate arena, and will generally vote with management’s recommendation; in addition, the Advisor will generally vote against any proposal which would require a company to adopt practices or procedures which go beyond the requirements of existing, directly applicable law.
- Anti-Greenmail Proposals
"Anti-greenmail" proposals generally limit the right of a corporation, without a shareholder vote, to pay a premium or buy out a 5% or greater shareholder. Management often argues that they should not be restricted from negotiating a deal to buy out a significant shareholder at a premium if they believe it is in the best interest of the company. Institutional shareholders generally believe that all shareholders should be able to vote on such a significant use of corporate assets. The Advisor believes that any repurchase by the company at a premium price of a large block of stock should be subject to a shareholder vote. Accordingly, it will generally vote in favor of anti-greenmail proposals.
The Advisor will generally vote in favor of a corporation's proposal to indemnify its officers and directors in accordance with applicable state law. Indemnification arrangements are often necessary in order to attract and retain qualified directors. The adoption of such proposals appears to have little effect on share value.
- Non-Stock Incentive Plans
Management may propose a variety of cash-based incentive or bonus plans to stimulate employee performance. In general, the cash or other corporate assets required for most incentive plans is not material, and the Advisor will vote in favor of such proposals, particularly when the proposal is recommended in order to comply with IRC Section 162(m) regarding salary disclosure requirements. Case-by-case determinations will be made of the appropriateness of the amount of shareholder value transferred by proposed plans.
- Director Tenure
These proposals ask that age and term restrictions be placed on the board of directors. The Advisor believes that these types of blanket restrictions are not necessarily in the best interests of shareholders and therefore will vote against such proposals, unless they have been recommended by management.
- Directors' Stock Options Plans
The Advisor believes that stock options are an appropriate form of compensation for directors, and the Advisor will generally vote for director stock option plans which are reasonable and do not result in excessive shareholder dilution. Analysis of such proposals will be made on a case-by-case basis, and will take into account total board compensation and the company’s total exposure to stock option plan dilution.
- Director Share Ownership
The Advisor will generally vote against shareholder proposals which would require directors to hold a minimum number of the company's shares to serve on the Board of Directors, in the belief that such ownership should be at the discretion of Board members.
- Non-U.S. Proxies
The Advisor will generally evaluate non-U.S. proxies in the context of the voting policies expressed herein but will also, where feasible, take into consideration differing laws, regulations, and practices in the relevant foreign market in determining if and how to vote. There may also be circumstances when practicalities and costs involved with non-U.S. investing make it disadvantageous to vote shares. For instance, the Advisor generally does not vote proxies in circumstances where share blocking restrictions apply, when meeting attendance is required in person, or when current share ownership disclosure is required.
- Shareholder Proposals Involving Social, Moral or Ethical Matters
The Advisor takes into account information from many different sources, including independent proxy advisory services. However, the decision on how to vote proxies will be made by the Advisor in accordance with these policies and will not be delegated to a proxy advisory service.
Corporate management has a strong interest in the outcome of proposals submitted to shareholders. As a consequence, management often seeks to influence large shareholders to vote with their recommendations on particularly controversial matters. In the vast majority of cases, these communications with large shareholders amount to little more than advocacy for management’s positions and give the Advisor’s staff the opportunity to ask additional questions about the matter being presented. Companies with which the Advisor has direct business relationships could theoretically use these relationships to attempt to unduly influence the manner in which the Advisor votes on matters for its clients. To ensure that such a conflict of interest does not affect proxy votes cast for the Advisor’s clients, our proxy voting personnel regularly catalog companies with whom the Advisor has significant business relationships; all discretionary (including case-by-case) voting for these companies will be voted by the client or an appropriate fiduciary responsible for the client (e.g., a committee of the independent directors of a fund or the trustee of a retirement plan).
In addition, to avoid any potential conflict of interest that may arise when one American Century Investments' mutual fund owns shares of another American Century Investments' mutual fund, the Advisor will "echo vote" such shares, if possible. Echo voting means the Advisor will vote the shares in the same proportion as the vote of all of the other holders of the fund’s shares. So, for example, if shareholders of a fund cast 80% of their votes in favor of a proposal and 20% against the proposal, any American Century Investments' fund that owns shares of such fund will cast 80% of its shares in favor of the proposal and 20% against. When this is not possible (as in the case of the "NT" funds, where the One Choice Target Date funds are the sole shareholder), the shares of the underlying fund (e.g. the "NT" fund) will be voted in the same proportion as the vote of the shareholders of the corresponding American Century Investments' policy portfolio for proposals common to both funds. For example, NT Growth Fund shares will be echo voted in accordance with the votes of the Growth Fund shareholders. In the case where the policy portfolio does not have a common proposal, shares will be voted in consultation with a committee of the independent directors.
The voting policies expressed above are of course subject to modification in certain circumstances and will be reexamined from time to time. With respect to matters that do not fit in the categories stated above, the Advisor will exercise its best judgment as a fiduciary to vote in the manner which will most enhance shareholder value.
Case-by-case determinations will be made by the Advisor’s staff, which is overseen by the General Counsel of the Advisor, in consultation with equity managers. Electronic records will be kept of all votes made.