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Spanish revealed as greatest shareholder voters

EUROPE - Companies in Spain see a higher level of shareholder voting than those in other European countries, reveals a report on proxy voting patterns across Europe.

The measure was taken for companies in Spain's Ibex 35 index in 2007, and was an average of all shareholder meetings, however, Spain was found to have higher voting activity than the rest of the continent as the average turnout for listed company voting is found to be 68.5%.

Among European countries, Switzerland experienced the lowest levels of shareholder turnout, at just 43.5% for the SMI index, according to the 10th annual proxy voting report undertaken by UK proxy-voting agency Manifest.

In the UK, the FTSE100 had an average voting turnout of 60.1%, whereas the broader-based FTSE250 achieved 61%. The lowest turnout at a UK meeting was just 3.5%, and the highest was 90.6%, it said.

Highest voter turnout at any individual company meeting - and the only one to achieve 100% - was seen at Dutch ING Groep NV's AGM.

But the reports authors noted this exceptionally high turnout was because the ING Trust Office exercised voting rights for which it had not received voting instructions from depository receipt holders, "which represents a rather unfortunate common practice in the Dutch market" they commented.

Had those votes been ignored, the participation level would be 42% of the total voting capital, it said.

Turning to the subject of voter dissent, the report revealed in Europe, the biggest category of proposals that attracted opposition was those dealing with directors' elections; 27.7% of highly-contested proposals fell within this group.

Resolutions dealing with employee incentive schemes accounted for 13.6% of highly-contested proposals, it continued.

Manifest said a 2006-2007 investigation showed there were still significant practical barriers to cross-border voting, largely as a result of the practices of intermediary agents in the process and the architecture of the process itself.

"First and foremost is the final ability of shareholders to have sufficient time for decision marking," it said. In order to vote in five out of the 18 markets surveyed, investors may not have enough time to make informed decisions before being required to send voting instructions, it said.

At the same time, one of the biggest impediments to using the time available was the inefficiency of the chain of intermediaries, the Manifest report noted.

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