The march of gender equality in the boardroom took a detour last year.
The share of women among newly-appointed members to the boards of Fortune 500 companies fell for the first time in seven years, according to a new report from consultancy Heidrick and Struggles. Women accounted for only 27.8% of all new board members last year, down by two percentage points from 2015. One crumb of comfort is that the tech sector appears to have taken past criticism on board, raising the share of female appointees to 40% from 26.5% in a single year.
As Fortune’s Claire Zillman points out in this post, the setback for women wasn’t caused by lack of opportunity. There were 421 seats vacated or created last year, more than at any time since Board Monitor started keeping score in 2009. That number is steadily increasing over time, according to Heidrick’s Bonnie Gwin, creating plenty of opportunity to make the board look more like the population at large.
Heidrick didn’t speculate on the reasons for this development, and we’d be interested to hear your feedback on why this might be the case. Is there really a shortage of qualified female candidates? Is it tied somehow to the growing influence of activist investors (the evidence suggests that they disproportionately target companies led by female CEOs, but how do their own board nominees look?)?
Or is it somehow that companies think it’s enough to pay more attention to other parts of the diversity and inclusion matrix? The advance of ethnic minorities in the boardroom hasn’t been as constant as that of women, but it rose sharply to 22.1% of all appointments from 18.1% in 2015. Among the more encouraging data points is one showing that 6.4% of new directors appointed were Hispanic—the highest ever recorded, even if it’s still some way short of the actual share of Hispanics in the American population. African-Americans and Asian-American, at 9.3% and 6.4% of appointees, are likewise still under-represented.
Finally, I mis-spelled Safra Catz’s name yesterday. Apologies to her and to you for that. My record with such typos allows me to refute all suggestions of gender bias categorically.
(Alan Murray is taking a hard-earned break and will return on Monday.)
• Supreme Court to Hear Gerrymandering Case
The Supreme Court said it will consider whether partisan gerrymandering—the manipulative redrawing of electoral districts—violates the Constitution. While the Court has struck down gerrymandering aimed at excluding voters of particular races (specifically, African-Americans), it has never done the same just on party political grounds. The lawsuit in question relates to a redrawing of the map for Wisconsin’s State Assembly. The practice of gerrymandering has tended to make most electoral districts uncompetitive, something that encourages candidates to appeal more to the (generally more ideological) party base than to average voters. As such, it has often been blamed for the polarization of American politics over recent years.
• Surge Pricing a la UPS
UPS said it will put a 27% surcharge on deliveries this holiday season. It’s a rare example of a company actually being able to raise its prices, but not surprising in view of the estimated 16% rise in e-commerce sales this year. The move comes at a time when retailers are trying to get customers to pick up more of their online orders in stores. That helps retailers’ already pressured margins but also gives them a chance to pick up more business from in-store shoppers. UPS typically delivers 30 million packages a day around Christmas, over 50% more than on a normal day.
• North Korea, Russia Challenges Mount
Otto Warmbier, the U.S. student imprisoned for over a year in North Korea, died from injuries sustained during his internment. President Donald Trump decried the country’s “brutal regime”, but gave no indication of any intended reprisals beyond a—by his standards—conventional and muted official statement of condemnation. The administration’s other big foreign policy challenge of the day—Syria—also lurched into more dangerous territory as Russia threatened to shoot down any U.S. planes that try to stop Syria’s air force and army going about their business.
• EQT Energy / Rice
With oil prices at an eight-month low and seemingly preparing a run at $40/barrel, it’s an odd time to be announcing the biggest U.S. upstream M&A deal in three years. Still, that’s what EQT Energy’s $6.7 billion move on Rice Energy is. The value comes from combining two of the biggest players in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale to make the largest natural gas producer in the country. The fact that they are close together allows EQT to drill longer horizontal wells, getting more gas for every dollar spent drilling. They’ll also get more value out of midstream operations. The market liked the idea of the deal but not the price. EQT’s shares fell 9% to an 18-month low, while Rice’s rose 25% to a six-month high.
Around the Water Cooler
• Asia’s Warren Buffett Calls it a Day
Li Ka-Shing, the face of Hong Kong capitalism for over 30 years, is to step down as chairman of his global conglomerate CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd by the end of the year. Li, who will be 89 next month, is likely to be succeeded by his son Victor, according to The Wall Street Journal’s sources. In recent years, Li has diversified his holdings away from Asia towards Europe, notably the U.K., trying to mitigate the risk from competing directly with mainland Chinese companies in his traditional Asian strongholds.
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• Your Share Certificates Will Be With You Momentarily
The IPO market is starting to behave like the textbook says it should. Higher valuations are encouraging cashouts by founders and early-stage backers. Meal kit service Blue Apron yesterday set a pricing range for its IPO that would value it at up to $3.18 billion, while on the other side of the Atlantic, German-owned Delivery Hero, the biggest holding in venture capital group Rocket Internet’s portfolio, announced plans to float $1 billion worth of stock in Frankfurt. It’s trying to emulate the success of meal delivery companies such as GrubHub and Just Eat, but the sector is maturing and now faces increased competition from the likes of Uber and, almost inevitably, Amazon.
• Vice Gets $450 Million From TPG
Just as the retail sector bifurcates between those who can serve the next generation successfully and those who can’t, so it goes with the media industry. Vice Media, known for its edgy video news clips aimed at millennials, raised $450 million from private equity group TPG. It’ll use the money to build out its subscription streaming service and fund a push into scripted programming. Elsewhere, one of Vice’s existing media partners, Snapchat, agreed to pay Time Warner a reported $100 million for original content to be distributed via its messaging service over the next two years.
• Barclays Bosses Charged for Qatar-Led Rescue
Nearly a decade after the fact, the U.K. charged four ex-managers of Barclays with fraud in relation to the $10 billion capital raising that saved it from disaster in 2008. Former CEO John Varley is one of the four, as are the then-heads of Investment Banking and Wealth Management, Robert Jenkins and Thomas Kalaris. The bank effectively lent Qatar $3 billion with which to buy the new shares it was creating. By contrast, none of the executives at RBS and Lloyds Banking Group, which received 53 billion pounds in public bailouts, has ever faced charges.