Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Yahoo Shareholder Vote Number-Crunching–Whither Cap Re's No Vote?

There is a mini-tempest brewing over how shares were tallied in the Yahoo annual meeting last Friday, specifically around whether a group of votes withheld by one of Yahoo’s major shareholders was not counted, counted incorrectly or even voted incorrectly by the investor.

According to sources close to the thinking at Capital Research & Management, the proxy committees for its two large funds that hold a significant stake in Yahoo (YHOO) recommended last week that they withhold votes specifically from CEO Jerry Yang and from various board members, such as Chairman Roy Bostock, to register disappointment with their performance.

Thus, the investment fund confirmed it had approached outside vote tabulator Broadridge Financial Solutions, a Lake Success, N.Y.-based financial services company that does securities clearing and processing, to investigate whether those votes were correctly counted on behalf of its Capital Research Global Investors fund.

Capital Research Global Investors–one of two funds separately managed at Capital Research & Management–owns 6.5 percent of Yahoo, according to recent filings, and Capital World Investors owns 9.8 percent.

Capital Research Global Investors’ investor Gordon Crawford has been vocal about his disappointment with Yang and the board at Yahoo.

And sources close to the fund’s thinking said Crawford recommended that it withhold votes from Yang and some other board members.

Capital World Investors has been less critical of Yahoo, but sources said it was also leaning toward voting at least some of its stake against the company’s leadership.

But Yang, for example, only had 14.6 percent withheld, with 85.4 percent voting for him. Bostock fared worse, grabbing only 79.5 percent of the yes vote, with 20.5 percent withheld.

That would mean, assuming a large part of Capital Research’s votes to withhold were counted, that only a few other investors voted against Yahoo.

This is highly unusual in a year when many shareholders have been deeply unhappy with its management.

But, in fact, overall results for both Yang and Bostock were actually better than last year.

I called Broadridge for comment and am awaiting a response.

Yahoo does not do its own tabulation, which must be done by a third party, although it has hired MacKenzie Partners as a proxy solicitor to manage the process.

Said a spokesman in response to my inquiry about the situation:

“The independent inspector of elections certified the results of the election and Yahoo! accurately announced those results. Yahoo! did not participate in the execution of the votes and was not a party to any errors which may have been made either by a voting institution or a proxy processing intermediary acting on behalf of banks, brokers and institutions.”

While the recommendations of the proxy committees at Capital Research are apparently not binding on some individual directors of smaller funds that make up the larger ones, they typically follow along with the overall decision from the top.

They might not have in this case, of course, or they might not have voted the shares at all, although it is also possible they could have voted incorrectly or that the votes were not tallied properly.

This is better than a hanging chad!

Another unusual issue around the voting: The amazing drop in the number of shares that were voted at all.

In 2008’s shareholder tally (see below for individual director numbers), only 75.8 percent, or 1,046,095,584 out of 1,381,008,701 possible share votes, were cast.

There were 1,205,435,371 votes cast in 2007 and 1,276,175,601 in 2006, a much higher percentage of overall votes.

Sources at Yahoo speculated that this could be due to the fact that most investors vote automatically in an uncontested election and were waiting for an outcome in the proxy fight between activist investor Carl Icahn and Yahoo.

After that issue was settled right before the annual meeting, though, some investors might not have even bothered to vote.

More to come, but here are the pertinent stats on the Yahoo vote as of Friday:

Roy J. Bostock (Shares for: 832,023,657/79.5 %; Shares Withheld: 214,071,927/20.5%)

Ronald W. Burkle (849,373,291/81.2%; 196,722,293/18.8%)

Eric Hippeau (948,862,579/90.7%; 97,233,005/9.3%)

Vyomesh Joshi (971,594,650/92.9%; 74,500,934/7.1%)

Arthur H. Kern (814,871,925/77.9%; 231,223,659 /22.1%)

Robert A. Kotick (967,044,818; 92.4%; 79,050,766/7.6%)

Mary Agnes Wilderotter (964,939,727/92.2%; 81,155,857/7.8%)

Gary L. Wilson (856,006,576/81.8%; 190,089,008/18.2%)

Jerry Yang (893,055,602/85.4%; 153,039,982/14.6%)

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work