Mainland firms lag behind in corporate governance poll

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 September, 2010, 12:00am

Mainland companies are thinly represented in a new survey on corporate governance in Asia, with only one firm making it into the Asian 20 in the category focusing on firms of more than US$10 billion in market capitalisation.

And only one Chinese company makes it into the category focusing on companies with less than US$10 billion in market capitalisation.

The mainland ranked 7th overall in the survey with a score of 49 per cent, which was four marks better than its performance in the last survey in 2007. India also scored 49 per cent, down from 56 per cent in 2007.

The survey was produced by CLSA Asia Pacific Markets and the Asian Corporate Governance Association (ACGA).

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world's biggest bank in terms of market capitalisation, ranked 18th out of the top 20 companies in the above US$10 billion category. Hong Kong had six companies in the list, making it the region's best performer in terms of numbers, with Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing topping the list.

Mainland paper maker Nine Dragons was ranked 20th on the list of companies with less than US$10 billion in market capitalisation.

The report judged 580 Asian-listed companies in 11 Asian markets by five criteria: rules, enforcement, accounting, governance culture and political environment.

The final ranking was based on the aggregate scores. It said 91 per cent of companies responded to the survey this year, compared with 58 per cent in 2007.

It found that Chinese companies had room to improve their corporate governance, given their size and growing influence.

China had only been implementing corporate governance practice for a relatively short time, said Jamie Allen, the secretary general of ACGA.

Allen urged mainland companies to show more transparency and to merge further into the global standard.

'Chinese companies are adopting international standards but there are still many things unique to China,' he said, citing as an example the so-called party committee, which sits above company boards but does not keep investors informed of its actions.

The study also found that rival Singapore has replaced Hong Kong as the region's corporate governance leader.

It said Hong Kong, which topped the last survey in 2007, has been static since then, and was outstripped by Singapore.

Singapore scored 67 per cent, up from 65 per cent in 2007, while Hong Kong scored 65 per cent, down from 67 per cent three years earlier. The Philippines came in last with 37 per cent, down from 41 per cent in 2007. The study said scores below 70 indicate room to improve.

'Hong Kong suffered something of a regulatory breakdown in early 2009 following an attack by local tycoons on a proposal to extend the blackout period for director share trading,' the report said.

'Since then, little meaningful corporate governance policy or regulatory reform has taken place.'

It said Thailand and Japan were the biggest improvers, but South Korea had regressed.

The report said fewer than half of listed companies in all the markets surveyed had independent chairmen, with less than 10 per cent of chairmen independent in India, Hong Kong and China.

The report said corporate governance in Asia remains well below global standards and efforts to improve it have been muted since the financial crisis.

'Reform fatigue has descended on many regulators in Asia partly because the region emerged from the global financial crisis relatively unscathed,' Allen said. 'Asia may well pay for this complacency in future.'

Top-ranked Asian markets - Singapore and Hong Kong - lag behind the United States and Europe. The US and Britain would probably score between 75 and 80 marks, Allen said.