Bigger Paychecks Expected for American Workers

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American workers may be justified in expecting bigger paychecks in 2011.

A combination of booming exports and growing corporate profits is providing momentum to the national economic recovery, with U.S. workers poised to reap the benefits in the form of wage increases.

While companies have single-mindedly focused on cutting costs in recent years, the latest Duke University/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook Survey found that chief financial officers expect wage increases of 2.5% for 2011, up from the 1.9% they predicted for 2010.

In addition, a recent Wall Street Journal survey found economists are expecting 2011 to see the creation of 180,000 jobs a month. The National Association of Corporate Directors’ (NACD) latest Board Confidence Index (BCI) concurs with this optimistic outlook. A majority of U.S. corporate directors predict that their companies will either retain or expand their workforce, according to data from the NACD BCI for Q4 2010.

While it isn’t clear how widespread the increase in wages might be, some industries, such as manufacturing (which added 136,000 jobs over the past year), may have to actually compete to attract and maintain employees. That is a dramatic shift from today’s job market, providing much-needed relief to individuals who have been worried about finding jobs or keeping the ones they have.

With the official end of the recession having occurred in 2009, the prospect of higher wages and an increase in employment is long-overdue good news for the U.S. workforce. It also means that boards of directors can focus on longer-term goals for their companies, and not worry about simply keeping their companies afloat.

NACD Insight and Analysis: Communicating for Long-Term Value

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This week, NACD bridged the gap between corporate directors and the investors they represent. In conjunction with Broadridge Financial Solutions, NACD hosted a Virtual Roundtable at the Newseum in Washington, DC, bringing together leaders from the investment community with directors to discuss the disclosures and communication strategies.

Hosted by NACD President and CEO Ken Daly, the Roundtable featured investment community representatives from T. Rowe Price, CalSTRS, and Vanguard Group, Inc. They engaged in dialogue with board members from Forrester Research, Broadridge Financial Solutions, Kimberly-Clark, Legg Mason, SmartPros Ltd., and Assure Holding Corporation. With the intent to inform directors on what investors are looking for in the proxy in the upcoming year, the Roundtable discussion covered compensation, committee reports, and director qualification disclosures.

The investment managers represented at the Roundtable do not take a “check-the-box” approach based on guidance from proxy advisory firms; instead, they choose to complete their own analysis. Notably, these active shareholders emphasized quality over quantity with respect to disclosures in the proxy statement. Simply an increase in the amount of disclosures from companies only makes it more difficult for investors to uncover the valuable information in the proxy. The participating investors further suggested companies should make an effort to provide quality disclosures regarding how executive compensation matches performance, and how incentives are linked to the business strategy, for example.

The participating investors also stressed the improvements that need to be made regarding the new director qualification disclosures resulting from the SEC Proxy Disclosure Enhancement rules. They felt many companies did not fully explain how each director’s skill sets contributed to the company’s business strategy.

Lastly, the investors offered advice to the boardroom on director succession. After directors have analyzed their board’s composition in light of the company’s strategy, they find a larger challenge in recruiting directors to fill the gaps in skill sets. As a solution, Anne Sheehan of CalSTRS suggested that directors should “think of their shareholders as stakeholders.” Long-term investors have the same interests as directors and might be able to offer potential candidates whose skills complement the company’s business strategy and build its long-term value.

Obama Urges Businesses to “Get in the Game”

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President Obama recently implored American business leaders to “get in the game” by spending trillions of dollars in corporate cash reserves on investments that would spur the economy. But he may have been preaching to the proverbial choir.

After years of stockpiling cash in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, American businesses appear poised to do just what the President requested: invest and create jobs. Consider the latest NACD Board Confidence Index (BCI), in which a majority of directors forecast that their companies will expand their current workforce in 2011. This is a significant development in what has been, in many key respects, a lethargic economic recovery.

Even after the economy began emerging from the depths of the recession in 2009, American corporate leaders remained fearful of another downturn, prompting companies to safeguard their cash reserves, now estimated to be about $2 trillion. That, of course, has contributed to a mixed economic picture today: many companies, while profitable, are unwilling to make the kind of large-scale investments that would put millions of unemployed Americans back on the payroll.

But as the NACD BCI for Q4 2010 suggests, the widespread fear of a double-digit recession appears to be over, with many corporate directors saying that they see the prospect of continued economic growth over the next year.

Now is the time for directors to begin looking at what best practices their companies should be putting in place to help position them for growth in the year ahead—whether those policies focus on compensation, ethics, accountability or competence.