Massachusetts Financial Services Company Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures
February 1, 2014 -
Massachusetts Financial Services Company, MFS Institutional Advisors, Inc., MFS International (UK) Limited, MFS Heritage Trust Company, MFS Investment Management (Canada) Limited, MFS Investment Management Company (Lux) S.à r.l., MFS International Singapore Pte. Ltd., and MFS' other subsidiaries that perform discretionary investment management activities (collectively, "MFS") have adopted proxy voting policies and procedures, as set forth below ("MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures"), with respect to securities owned by the clients for which MFS serves as investment adviser and has the power to vote proxies, including the pooled investment vehicles sponsored by MFS (the “MFS Funds”). References to “clients” in these policies and procedures include the MFS Funds and other clients of MFS, such as funds organized offshore, sub-advised funds and separate account clients, to the extent these clients have delegated to MFS the responsibility to vote proxies on their behalf under the MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures.
The MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures include:
A. Voting Guidelines
B. Administrative Procedures
C. Records Retention; and
A. VOTING GUIDELINES
1. General Policy; Potential Conflicts of Interest
MFS' policy is that proxy voting decisions are made in what MFS believes to be the best long-term economic interests of MFS’ clients, and not in the interests of any other party or in MFS' corporate interests, including interests such as the distribution of MFS Fund shares and institutional client relationships.
MFS reviews corporate governance issues and proxy voting matters that are presented for shareholder vote by either management or shareholders of public companies. Based on the overall principle that all votes cast by MFS on behalf of its clients must be in what MFS believes to be the best long-term economic interests of such clients, MFS has adopted proxy voting guidelines, set forth below, that govern how MFS generally will vote on specific matters presented for shareholder vote.
As a general matter, MFS votes consistently on similar proxy proposals across all shareholder meetings. However, some proxy proposals, such as certain excessive executive compensation, environmental, social and governance matters, are analyzed on a case-by-case basis in light of all the relevant facts and circumstances of the proposal. Therefore, MFS may vote similar proposals differently at different shareholder meetings based on the specific facts and circumstances of the issuer or the terms of the proposal. In addition, MFS also reserves the right to override the guidelines with respect to a particular proxy proposal when such an override is, in MFS’ best judgment, consistent with the overall principle of voting proxies in the best long-term economic interests of MFS' clients.
MFS also generally votes consistently on the same matter when securities of an issuer are held by multiple client accounts, unless MFS has received explicit voting instructions to vote differently from a client for its own account. From time to time, MFS may also receive comments on the MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures from its clients. These comments are carefully considered by MFS when it reviews these guidelines and revises them as appropriate.
These policies and procedures are intended to address any potential material conflicts of interest on the part of MFS or its subsidiaries that are likely to arise in connection with the voting of proxies on behalf of MFS’ clients. If such potential material conflicts of interest do arise, MFS will analyze, document and report on such potential material conflicts of interest (see Sections B.2 and D below), and shall ultimately vote the relevant proxies in what MFS believes to be the best long-term economic interests of its clients. The MFS Proxy Voting Committee is responsible for monitoring and reporting with respect to such potential material conflicts of interest.
MFS is also a signatory to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment. In developing these guidelines, MFS considered environmental, social and corporate governance issues in light of MFS' fiduciary obligation to vote proxies in the best long-term economic interest of its clients.
2. MFS' Policy on Specific Issues
Election of Directors
MFS believes that good governance should be based on a board with at least a simple majority of directors who are "independent" of management, and whose key committees (e.g., compensation, nominating, and audit committees) consist entirely of "independent" directors. While MFS generally supports the board's nominees in uncontested or non-contentious elections, we will not support a nominee to a board of a U.S. issuer (or issuer listed on a U.S. exchange) if, as a result of such nominee being elected to the board, the board would consist of a simple majority of members who are not "independent" or, alternatively, the compensation, nominating (including instances in which the full board serves as the compensation or nominating committee) or audit committees would include members who are not "independent."
MFS will also not support a nominee to a board if we can determine that he or she attended less than 75% of the board and/or relevant committee meetings in the previous year without a valid reason stated in the proxy materials or other company communications. In addition, MFS may not support some or all nominees standing for re-election to a board if we can determine: (1) the board or its compensation committee has re-priced or exchanged underwater stock options since the last annual meeting of shareholders and without shareholder approval; (2) the board or relevant committee has not taken adequately responsive action to an issue that received majority support or opposition from shareholders; (3) the board has implemented a poison pill without shareholder approval since the last annual meeting and such poison pill is not on the subsequent shareholder meeting's agenda, (including those related to net-operating loss carryforwards); (4) the board or relevant committee has failed to adequately oversee risk by allowing the hedging and/or significant pledging of company shares by executives; or (5) there are governance concerns with a director or issuer.
MFS may not support certain board nominees of U.S. issuers under certain circumstances where MFS deems compensation to be egregious due to pay-for-performance issues and/or poor pay practices. Please see the section below titled "MFS' Policy on Specific Issues - Advisory Votes on Compensation" for further details.
MFS evaluates a contested or contentious election of directors on a case-by-case basis considering the long-term financial performance of the company relative to its industry, management's track record, the qualifications of all nominees, and an evaluation of what each side is offering shareholders.
Majority Voting and Director Elections
MFS votes for reasonably crafted proposals calling for directors to be elected with an affirmative majority of votes cast and/or the elimination of the plurality standard for electing directors (including binding resolutions requesting that the board amend the company’s bylaws), provided the proposal includes a carve-out for a plurality voting standard when there are more director nominees than board seats (e.g., contested elections) ("Majority Vote Proposals").
MFS generally supports proposals to declassify a board (i.e. a board in which only one-third of board members is elected each year) for all issuers other than for certain closed-end investment companies. MFS generally opposes proposals to classify a board for issuers other than for certain closed-end investment companies.
MFS believes that the ability of qualifying shareholders to nominate a certain number of directors on the company's proxy statement ("Proxy Access") may have corporate governance benefits. However, such potential benefits must be balanced by its potential misuse by shareholders. Therefore, we support Proxy Access proposals at U.S. issuers that establish an ownership criteria of 3% of the company held continuously for a period of 3 years. MFS analyzes all other proposals seeking Proxy Access on a case-by-case basis. In its analysis, MFS will consider the proposed ownership criteria for qualifying shareholders (such as ownership threshold and holding period) as well as the proponent's rationale for seeking Proxy Access.
MFS opposes stock option programs and restricted stock plans that provide unduly generous compensation for officers, directors or employees, or that could result in excessive dilution to other shareholders. As a general guideline, MFS votes against restricted stock, stock option, non-employee director, omnibus stock plans and any other stock plan if all such plans for a particular company involve potential dilution, in the aggregate, of more than 15%. However, MFS will also vote against stock plans that involve potential dilution, in aggregate, of more than 10% at U.S. issuers that are listed in the Standard and Poor’s 100 index as of December 31 of the previous year. In the cases where a stock plan amendment is seeking qualitative changes and not additional shares, MFS will vote its shares on a case-by-case basis.
MFS also opposes stock option programs that allow the board or the compensation committee to re-price underwater options or to automatically replenish shares without shareholder approval. MFS also votes against stock option programs for officers, employees or non-employee directors that do not require an investment by the optionee, that give “free rides” on the stock price, or that permit grants of stock options with an exercise price below fair market value on the date the options are granted. MFS will consider proposals to exchange existing options for newly issued options, restricted stock or cash on a case-by-case basis, taking into account certain factors, including, but not limited to, whether there is a reasonable value-for-value exchange and whether senior executives are excluded from participating in the exchange.
MFS supports the use of a broad-based employee stock purchase plans to increase company stock ownership by employees, provided that shares purchased under the plan are acquired for no less than 85% of their market value and do not result in excessive dilution.
Shareholder Proposals on Executive Compensation
MFS believes that competitive compensation packages are necessary to attract, motivate and retain executives. However, MFS also recognizes that certain executive compensation practices can be "excessive" and not in the best, long-term economic interest of a company's shareholders. We believe that the election of an issuer's board of directors (as outlined above), votes on stock plans (as outlined above) and advisory votes on pay (as outlined below) are typically the most effective mechanisms to express our view on a company’s compensation practices.
MFS generally opposes shareholder proposals that seek to set rigid restrictions on executive compensation as MFS believes that compensation committees should retain some flexibility to determine the appropriate pay package for executives. Although we support linking executive stock option grants to a company's performance, MFS also opposes shareholder proposals that mandate a link of performance-based pay to a specific metric. MFS generally supports reasonably crafted shareholder proposals that (i) require the issuer to adopt a policy to recover the portion of performance-based bonuses and awards paid to senior executives that were not earned based upon a significant negative restatement of earnings unless the company already has adopted a satisfactory policy on the matter, (ii) expressly prohibit the backdating of stock options, and (iii) prohibit the acceleration of vesting of equity awards upon a broad definition of a "change-in-control" (e.g.; single or modified single-trigger).
Advisory Votes on Executive Compensation
MFS will analyze advisory votes on executive compensation on a case-by-case basis. MFS will vote against an advisory vote on executive compensation if MFS determines that the issuer has adopted excessive executive compensation practices and will vote in favor of an advisory vote on executive compensation if MFS has not determined that the issuer has adopted excessive executive compensation practices. Examples of excessive executive compensation practices may include, but are not limited to, a pay-for-performance disconnect, employment contract terms such as guaranteed bonus provisions, unwarranted pension payouts, backdated stock options, overly generous hiring bonuses for chief executive officers, unnecessary perquisites, or the potential reimbursement of excise taxes to an executive in regards to a severance package. In cases where MFS (i) votes against consecutive advisory pay votes, or (ii) determines that a particularly egregious excessive executive compensation practice has occurred, then MFS may also vote against certain or all board nominees. MFS may also vote against certain or all board nominees if an advisory pay vote for a U.S. issuer is not on the agenda, or the company has not implemented the advisory vote frequency supported by a plurality/ majority of shareholders.
MFS generally supports proposals to include an advisory shareholder vote on an issuer's executive compensation practices on an annual basis.
From time to time, MFS may evaluate a separate, advisory vote on severance packages or "golden parachutes" to certain executives at the same time as a vote on a proposed merger or acquisition. MFS will support an advisory vote on a severance package on a on a case-by-case basis, and MFS may vote against the severance package regardless of whether MFS supports the proposed merger or acquisition.
Shareholders of companies may also submit proxy proposals that would require shareholder approval of severance packages for executive officers that exceed certain predetermined thresholds. MFS votes in favor of such shareholder proposals when they would require shareholder approval of any severance package for an executive officer that exceeds a certain multiple of such officer’s annual compensation that is not determined in MFS’ judgment to be excessive.
In general, MFS votes against any measure that inhibits capital appreciation in a stock, including proposals that protect management from action by shareholders. These types of proposals take many forms, ranging from "poison pills" and "shark repellents" to super-majority requirements.
MFS generally votes for proposals to rescind existing "poison pills" and proposals that would require shareholder approval to adopt prospective "poison pills," unless the company already has adopted a clearly satisfactory policy on the matter. MFS may consider the adoption of a prospective "poison pill" or the continuation of an existing "poison pill" if we can determine that the following two conditions are met: (1) the "poison pill" allows MFS clients to hold an aggregate position of up to 15% of a company's total voting securities (and of any class of voting securities); and (2) either (a) the "poison pill" has a term of not longer than five years, provided that MFS will consider voting in favor of the "poison pill" if the term does not exceed seven years and the "poison pill" is linked to a business strategy or purpose that MFS believes is likely to result in greater value for shareholders; or (b) the terms of the "poison pill" allow MFS clients the opportunity to accept a fairly structured and attractively priced tender offer (e.g. a "chewable poison pill" that automatically dissolves in the event of an all cash, all shares tender offer at a premium price). MFS will also consider on a case-by-case basis proposals designed to prevent tenders which are disadvantageous to shareholders such as tenders at below market prices and tenders for substantially less than all shares of an issuer.
MFS will consider any poison pills designed to protect a company's net-operating loss carryforwards on a case-by-case basis, weighing the accounting and tax benefits of such a pill against the risk of deterring future acquisition candidates.
Reincorporation and Reorganization Proposals
When presented with a proposal to reincorporate a company under the laws of a different state, or to effect some other type of corporate reorganization, MFS considers the underlying purpose and ultimate effect of such a proposal in determining whether or not to support such a measure. MFS generally votes with management in regards to these types of proposals, however, if MFS believes the proposal is in the best long-term economic interests of its clients, then MFS may vote against management (e.g. the intent or effect would be to create additional inappropriate impediments to possible acquisitions or takeovers).
Issuance of Stock
There are many legitimate reasons for the issuance of stock. Nevertheless, as noted above under "Non-Salary Compensation Programs," when a stock option plan (either individually or when aggregated with other plans of the same company) would substantially dilute the existing equity (e.g. by approximately 10-15% as described above), MFS generally votes against the plan. In addition, MFS typically votes against proposals where management is asking for authorization to issue common or preferred stock with no reason stated (a "blank check") because the unexplained authorization could work as a potential anti-takeover device. MFS may also vote against the authorization or issuance of common or preferred stock if MFS determines that the requested authorization is excessive or not warranted.
MFS supports proposals to institute share repurchase plans in which all shareholders have the opportunity to participate on an equal basis. Such plans may include a company acquiring its own shares on the open market, or a company making a tender offer to its own shareholders.
MFS opposes proposals that seek to introduce cumulative voting and for proposals that seek to eliminate cumulative voting. In either case, MFS will consider whether cumulative voting is likely to enhance the interests of MFS' clients as minority shareholders.
Written Consent and Special Meetings
The right to call a special meeting or act by written consent can be a powerful tool for shareholders. As such, MFS supports proposals requesting the right for shareholders who hold at least 10% of the issuer's outstanding stock to call a special meeting. MFS also supports proposals requesting the right for shareholders to act by written consent.
MFS believes that the appointment of auditors for U.S. issuers is best left to the board of directors of the company and therefore supports the ratification of the board’s selection of an auditor for the company. Some shareholder groups have submitted proposals to limit the non-audit activities of a company's audit firm or prohibit any non-audit services by a company's auditors to that company. MFS opposes proposals recommending the prohibition or limitation of the performance of non-audit services by an auditor, and proposals recommending the removal of a company's auditor due to the performance of non-audit work for the company by its auditor. MFS believes that the board, or its audit committee, should have the discretion to hire the company’s auditor for specific pieces of non-audit work in the limited situations permitted under current law.
MFS generally votes against "other business" proposals as the content of any such matter is not known at the time of our vote.
Adjourn Shareholder Meeting
MFS generally supports proposals to adjourn a shareholder meeting if we support the other ballot items on the meeting's agenda. MFS generally votes against proposals to adjourn a meeting if we do not support the other ballot items on the meeting's agenda.
Environmental, Social and Governance ("ESG") Issue
MFS believes that a company's ESG practices may have an impact on the company's long-term economic financial performance and will generally support proposals relating to ESG issues that MFS believes are in the best long-term economic interest of the company's shareholders. For those ESG proposals for which a specific policy has not been adopted, MFS considers such ESG proposals on a case-by-case basis. As a result, it may vote similar proposals differently at various shareholder meetings based on the specific facts and circumstances of such proposal.
MFS generally supports proposals that seek to remove governance structures that insulate management from shareholders (i.e., anti-takeover measures) or that seek to enhance shareholder rights. Many of these governance-related issues, including compensation issues, are outlined within the context of the above guidelines. In addition, MFS typically supports proposals that require an issuer to reimburse successful dissident shareholders (who are not seeking control of the company) for reasonable expenses that such dissident incurred in soliciting an alternative slate of director candidates. MFS also generally supports reasonably crafted shareholder proposals requesting increased disclosure around the company’s use of collateral in derivatives trading. MFS typically supports proposals positionsfor an independent board chairperson. However, we may not support such proposals if we determine there to be issueran appropriate and effective counter-balancing leadership structure in place (e.g.; a strong, independent lead director with an appropriate level of powers and duties). For any governance-related proposal for which an explicit guideline is not provided above, MFS will consider such proposals on a case by case basis and will support such proposals if MFS believes that it is in the best long-term economic interest of the company’s shareholders.
MFS generally supports proposals that request disclosure on the impact of environmental issues on the company's operations, sales, and capital investments. However, MFS may not support such proposals based on the facts and circumstances surrounding a specific proposal, including, but not limited to, whether (i) the proposal is unduly costly, restrictive, or burdensome, (ii) the company already provides publicly-available information that is sufficient to enable shareholders to evaluate the potential opportunities and risks that environmental matters pose to the company's operations, sales and capital investments, or (iii) the proposal seeks a level of disclosure that exceeds that provided by the company’s industry peers. MFS will analyze all other environmental proposals on a case-by-case basis and will support such proposals if MFS believes such proposal is in the best long-term economic interest of the company’s shareholders.
MFS will analyze social proposals on a case-by-case basis. MFS will support such proposals if MFS believes that such proposal is in the best long-term economic interest of the company's shareholders. Generally, MFS will support shareholder proposals that (i) seek to amend a company's equal employment opportunity policy to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and (ii) request additional disclosure regarding a company's political contributions (including trade organizations and lobbying activity)(unless the company already provides publicly-available information that is sufficient to enable shareholders to evaluate the potential opportunities and risks that such contributions pose to the company's operations, sales and capital investments).
The laws of various states or countries may regulate how the interests of certain clients subject to those laws (e.g. state pension plans) are voted with respect to social issues. Thus, it may be necessary to cast ballots differently for certain clients than MFS might normally do for other clients.
MFS generally supports the election of a director nominee standing for re-election in uncontested or non-contentious elections unless it can be determined that (1) he or she failed to attend at least 75% of the board and/or relevant committee meetings in the previous year without a valid reason given in the proxy materials; (2) since the last annual meeting of shareholders and without shareholder approval, the board or its compensation committee has re-priced underwater stock options; or (3) since the last annual meeting, the board has either implemented a poison pill without shareholder approval or has not taken responsive action to a majority shareholder approved resolution recommending that the "poison pill" be rescinded. In such circumstances, we will vote against director nominee(s). Also, certain markets outside of the U.S. have adopted best practice guidelines relating to corporate governance matters (e.g. the United Kingdom’s Corporate Governance Code). Many of these guidelines operate on a "comply or explain" basis. As such, MFS will evaluate any explanations by companies relating to their compliance with a particular corporate governance guideline on a case-by-case basis and may vote against the board nominees or other relevant ballot item if such explanation is not satisfactory. In some circumstances, MFS may submit a vote to abstain from certain director nominees or the relevant ballot items if we have concerns with the nominee or ballot item, but do not believe these concerns rise to the level where a vote against is warranted.
MFS generally supports the election of auditors, but may determine to vote against the election of a statutory auditor in certain markets if MFS reasonably believes that the statutory auditor is not truly independent.
Some international markets have also adopted mandatory requirements for all companies to hold shareholder votes on executive compensation. MFS will vote against such proposals if MFS determines that a company’s executive compensation practices are excessive, considering such factors as the specific market’s best practices that seek to maintain appropriate pay-for-performance alignment and to create long-term shareholder value. We may alternatively submit an abstention vote on such proposals in circumstances where our executive compensation concerns are not as severe.
Many other items on foreign proxies involve repetitive, non-controversial matters that are mandated by local law. Accordingly, the items that are generally deemed routine and which do not require the exercise of judgment under these guidelines (and therefore voted with management) for foreign issuers include, but are not limited to, the following: (i) receiving financial statements or other reports from the board; (ii) approval of declarations of dividends; (iii) appointment of shareholders to sign board meeting minutes; (iv) discharge of management and supervisory boards; and (v) approval of share repurchase programs (absent any anti-takeover or other concerns). MFS will evaluate all other items on proxies for foreign companies in the context of the guidelines described above, but will generally vote against an item if there is not sufficient information disclosed in order to make an informed voting decision. For any ballot item where MFS wishes to express a more moderate level of concern than a vote of against, we will cast a vote to abstain.
In accordance with local law or business practices, some foreign companies or custodians prevent the sales of shares that have been voted for a certain period beginning prior to the shareholder meeting and ending on the day following the meeting ("share blocking"). Depending on the country in which a company is domiciled, the blocking period may begin a stated number of days prior or subsequent to the meeting (e.g. one, three or five days) or on a date established by the company. While practices vary, in many countries the block period can be continued for a longer period if the shareholder meeting is adjourned and postponed to a later date. Similarly, practices vary widely as to the ability of a shareholder to have the "block" restriction lifted early (e.g. in some countries shares generally can be "unblocked" up to two days prior to the meeting whereas in other countries the removal of the block appears to be discretionary with the issuer’s transfer agent). Due to these restrictions, MFS must balance the benefits to its clients of voting proxies against the potentially serious portfolio management consequences of a reduced flexibility to sell the underlying shares at the most advantageous time. For companies in countries with share blocking periods or in markets where some custodians may block shares, the disadvantage of being unable to sell the stock regardless of changing conditions generally outweighs the advantages of voting at the shareholder meeting for routine items. Accordingly, MFS will not vote those proxies in the absence of an unusual, significant vote that outweighs the disadvantage of being unable to sell the stock.
In limited circumstances, other market specific impediments to voting shares may limit our ability to cast votes, including, but not limited to, late delivery of proxy materials, untimely vote cut-off dates, power of attorney and share re-registration requirements, or any other unusual voting requirements. In these limited instances, MFS votes securities on a best efforts basis in the context of the guidelines described above.
B. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURES
1. MFS Proxy Voting Committee
The administration of these MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures is overseen by the MFS Proxy Voting Committee, which includes senior personnel from the MFS Legal and Global Investment Support Departments. The Proxy Voting Committee does not include individuals whose primary duties relate to client relationship management, marketing, or sales. The MFS Proxy Voting Committee:
a. Reviews these MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures at least annually and recommends any amendments considered to be necessary or advisable;
b. Determines whether any potential material conflict of interest exists with respect to instances in which MFS (i) seeks to override these MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures; (ii) votes on ballot items not governed by these MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures; (iii) evaluates an excessive executive compensation issue in relation to the election of directors; or (iv) requests a vote recommendation from an MFS portfolio manager or investment analyst (e.g. mergers and acquisitions); and
c. Considers special proxy issues as they may arise from time to time.
2. Potential Conflicts of Interest
The MFS Proxy Voting Committee is responsible for monitoring potential material conflicts of interest on the part of MFS or its subsidiaries that could arise in connection with the voting of proxies on behalf of MFS' clients. Due to the client focus of our investment management business, we believe that the potential for actual material conflict of interest issues is small. Nonetheless, we have developed precautions to assure that all proxy votes are cast in the best long-term economic interest of shareholders1. Other MFS internal policies require all MFS employees to avoid actual and potential conflicts of interests between personal activities and MFS’ client activities. If an employee (including investment professionals) identifies an actual or potential conflict of interest with respect to any voting decision (including the ownership of securities in their individual portfolio), then that employee must recuse himself/herself from participating in the voting process. Any significant attempt by an employee of MFS or its subsidiaries to unduly influence MFS' voting on a particular proxy matter should also be reported to the MFS Proxy Voting Committee.
In cases where proxies are voted in accordance with these MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures, no material conflict of interest will be deemed to exist. In cases where (i) MFS is considering overriding these MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures, (ii) matters presented for vote are not governed by these MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures, (iii) MFS evaluates a potentially excessive executive compensation issue in relation to the election of directors or advisory pay or severance package vote, (iv) a vote recommendation is requested from an MFS portfolio manager or investment analyst (e.g. mergers and acquisitions), or (v) MFS evaluates a director nominee who also serves as a director of the MFS Funds (collectively, "Non-Standard Votes"); the MFS Proxy Voting Committee will follow these procedures:
a. Compare the name of the issuer of such proxy against a list of significant current (i) distributors of MFS Fund shares, and (ii) MFS institutional clients (the "MFS Significant Distributor and Client List");
b. If the name of the issuer does not appear on the MFS Significant Distributor and Client List, then no material conflict of interest will be deemed to exist, and the proxy will be voted as otherwise determined by the MFS Proxy Voting Committee;
c. If the name of the issuer appears on the MFS Significant Distributor and Client List, then the MFS Proxy Voting Committee will be apprised of that fact and each member of the MFS Proxy Voting Committee will carefully evaluate the proposed vote in order to ensure that the proxy ultimately is voted in what MFS believes to be the best long-term economic interests of MFS' clients, and not in MFS' corporate interests; and
d. For all potential material conflicts of interest identified under clause (c) above, the MFS Proxy Voting Committee will document: the name of the issuer, the issuer's relationship to MFS, the analysis of the matters submitted for proxy vote, the votes as to be cast and the reasons why the MFS Proxy Voting Committee determined that the votes were cast in the best long-term economic interests of MFS' clients, and not in MFS' corporate interests. A copy of the foregoing documentation will be provided to MFS' Conflicts Officer.
The members of the MFS Proxy Voting Committee are responsible for creating and maintaining the MFS Significant Distributor and Client List, in consultation with MFS’ distribution and institutional business units. The MFS Significant Distributor and Client List will be reviewed and updated periodically, as appropriate.
If an MFS client has the right to vote on a matter submitted to shareholders by Sun Life Financial, Inc. or any of its affiliates (collectively "Sun Life"), MFS will cast a vote on behalf of such MFS client pursuant to the recommendations of Institutional Shareholder Services, Inc.'s ("ISS") benchmark policy, or as required by law.
Except as described in the MFS Fund's prospectus, from time to time, certain MFS Funds (the "top tier fund") may own shares of other MFS Funds (the "underlying fund"). If an underlying fund submits a matter to a shareholder vote, the top tier fund will generally vote its shares in the same proportion as the other shareholders of the underlying fund. If there are no other shareholders in the underlying fund, the top tier fund will vote in what MFS believes to be in the top tier fund's best long-term economic interest. If an MFS client has the right to vote on a matter submitted to shareholders by a pooled investment vehicle advised by MFS, MFS will cast a vote on behalf of such MFS client in the same proportion as the other shareholders of the pooled investment vehicle.
3. Gathering Proxies
Most proxies received by MFS and its clients originate at Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc. ("Broadridge"). Broadridge and other service providers, on behalf of custodians, send proxy related material to the record holders of the shares beneficially owned by MFS' clients, usually to the client’s proxy voting administrator or, less commonly, to the client itself. This material will include proxy ballots reflecting the shareholdings of Funds and of clients on the record dates for such shareholder meetings, as well as proxy materials with the issuer’s explanation of the items to be voted upon.
MFS, on behalf of itself and certain of its clients (including the MFS Funds) has entered into an agreement with an independent proxy administration firm pursuant to which the proxy administration firm performs various proxy vote related administrative services such as vote processing and recordkeeping functions. Except as noted below, the proxy administration firm for MFS and its clients, including the MFS Funds, is ISS. The proxy administration firm for MFS Development Funds, LLC is Glass, Lewis & Co., Inc. ("Glass Lewis"; Glass Lewis and ISS are each hereinafter referred to as the "Proxy Administrator").
The Proxy Administrator receives proxy statements and proxy ballots directly or indirectly from various custodians, logs these materials into its database and matches upcoming meetings with MFS Fund and client portfolio holdings, which are input into the Proxy Administrator's system by an MFS holdings data-feed. Through the use of the Proxy Administrator system, ballots and proxy material summaries for all upcoming shareholders' meetings are available on-line to certain MFS employees and members of the MFS Proxy Voting Committee.
It is the responsibility of the Proxy Administrator and MFS to monitor the receipt of ballots. When proxy ballots and materials for clients are received by the Proxy Administrator, they are input into the Proxy Administrator’s on-line system. The Proxy Administrator then reconciles a list of all MFS accounts that hold shares of a company’s stock and the number of shares held on the record date by these accounts with the Proxy Administrator’s list of any upcoming shareholder’s meeting of that company. If a proxy ballot has not been received, the Proxy Administrator contacts the custodian requesting the reason as to why a ballot has not been received.
4. Analyzing Proxies
Proxies are voted in accordance with these MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures. The Proxy Administrator, at the prior direction of MFS, automatically votes all proxy matters that do not require the particular exercise of discretion or judgment with respect to these MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures as determined by MFS. With respect to proxy matters that require the particular exercise of discretion or judgment, the MFS Proxy Voting Committee considers and votes on those proxy matters. MFS also receives research and recommendations from the Proxy Administrator which it may take into account in deciding how to vote. MFS uses the research of ISS to identify (i) circumstances in which a board may have approved excessive executive compensation, (ii) environmental and social proposals that warrant further consideration or (iii) circumstances in which a non-U.S. company is not in compliance with local governance or compensation best practices. In those situations where the only MFS fund that is eligible to vote at a shareholder meeting has Glass Lewis as its Proxy Administrator, then we will utilize research from Glass Lewis to identify such issues. MFS analyzes such issues independently and does not necessarily vote with the ISS or Glass Lewis recommendations on these issues. MFS may also use other research tools in order to identify the circumstances described above. Representatives of the MFS Proxy Voting Committee review, as appropriate, votes cast to ensure conformity with these MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures.
As a general matter, portfolio managers and investment analysts have little involvement in most votes taken by MFS. This is designed to promote consistency in the application of MFS’ voting guidelines, to promote consistency in voting on the same or similar issues (for the same or for multiple issuers) across all client accounts, and to minimize the potential that proxy solicitors, issuers, or third parties might attempt to exert inappropriate influence on the vote. In limited types of votes (e.g. mergers and acquisitions, capitalization matters, potentially excessive executive compensation issues, or shareholder proposals relating to environmental and social issues), a representative of MFS Proxy Voting Committee may consult with or seek recommendations from MFS portfolio managers or investment analysts.2 However, the MFS Proxy Voting Committee would ultimately determine the manner in which all proxies are voted.
As noted above, MFS reserves the right to override the guidelines when such an override is, in MFS’ best judgment, consistent with the overall principle of voting proxies in the best long-term economic interests of MFS’ clients. Any such override of the guidelines shall be analyzed, documented and reported in accordance with the procedures set forth in these policies.
5. Voting Proxies
In accordance with its contract with MFS, the Proxy Administrator also generates a variety of reports for the MFS Proxy Voting Committee, and makes available on-line various other types of information so that the MFS Proxy Voting Committee or proxy team may review and monitor the votes cast by the Proxy Administrator on behalf of MFS' clients.
For those markets that utilize a "record date" to determine which shareholders are eligible to vote, MFS generally will vote all eligible shares pursuant to these guidelines regardless of whether all (or a portion of) the shares held by our clients have been sold prior to the meeting date.
6. Securities Lending
From time to time, the MFS Funds or other pooled investment vehicles sponsored by MFS may participate in a securities lending program. In the event MFS or its agent receives timely notice of a shareholder meeting for a U.S. security, MFS and its agent will attempt to recall any securities on loan before the meeting’s record date so that MFS will be entitled to vote these shares. However, there may be instances in which MFS is unable to timely recall securities on loan for a U.S. security, in which cases MFS will not be able to vote these shares. MFS will report to the appropriate board of the MFS Funds those instances in which MFS is not able to timely recall the loaned securities. MFS generally does not recall non-U.S. securities on loan because there may be insufficient advance notice of proxy materials, record dates, or vote cut-off dates to allow MFS to timely recall the shares in certain markets on an automated basis. As a result, non-U.S. securities that are on loan will not generally be voted. If MFS receives timely notice of what MFS determines to be an unusual, significant vote for a non-U.S. security whereas MFS shares are on loan, and determines that voting is in the best long-term economic interest of shareholders, then MFS will attempt to timely recall the loaned shares.
The MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures are available on www.mfs.com and may be accessed by both MFS' clients and the companies in which MFS' clients invest. From time to time, MFS may determine that it is appropriate and beneficial for representatives from the MFS Proxy Voting Committee to engage in a dialogue or written communication with a company or other shareholders regarding certain matters on the company's proxy statement that are of concern to shareholders, including environmental, social and governance matters. A company or shareholder may also seek to engage with representatives of the MFS Proxy Voting Committee in advance of the company’s formal proxy solicitation to review issues more generally or gauge support for certain contemplated proposals.
C. RECORDS RETENTION
MFS will retain copies of these MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures in effect from time to time and will retain all proxy voting reports submitted to the Board of Trustees of the MFS Funds for the period required by applicable law. Proxy solicitation materials, including electronic versions of the proxy ballots completed by representatives of the MFS Proxy Voting Committee, together with their respective notes and comments, are maintained in an electronic format by the Proxy Administrator and are accessible on-line by the MFS Proxy Voting Committee. All proxy voting materials and supporting documentation, including records generated by the Proxy Administrator’s system as to proxies processed, including the dates when proxy ballots were received and submitted, and the votes on each company’s proxy issues, are retained as required by applicable law.
U.S. Registered MFS Funds
MFS publicly discloses the proxy voting records of the U.S. Registered MFS Funds on a quarterly basis. MFS will also report the results of its voting to the Board of Trustees of the U.S. Registered MFS Funds. These reports will include: (i) a summary of how votes were cast (including advisory votes on pay and “golden parachutes”) ; (ii) a summary of votes against management’s recommendation; (iii) a review of situations where MFS did not vote in accordance with the guidelines and the rationale therefore; (iv) a review of the procedures used by MFS to identify material conflicts of interest and any matters identified as a material conflict of interest; (v) a review of these policies and the guidelines; (vi) a review of our proxy engagement activity; (vii) a report and impact assessment of instances in which the recall of loaned securities of a U.S. issuer was unsuccessful; and (viii) as necessary or appropriate, any proposed modifications thereto to reflect new developments in corporate governance and other issues. Based on these reviews, the Trustees of the U.S. Registered MFS Funds will consider possible modifications to these policies to the extent necessary or advisable.
Other MFS Clients
MFS may publicly disclose the proxy voting records of certain other clients (including certain MFS Funds) or the votes it casts with respect to certain matters as required by law. A report can also be printed by MFS for each client who has requested that MFS furnish a record of votes cast. The report specifies the proxy issues which have been voted for the client during the year and the position taken with respect to each issue and, upon request, may identify situations where MFS did not vote in accordance with the MFS Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures.
Except as described above, MFS generally will not divulge actual voting practices to any party other than the client or its representatives because we consider that information to be confidential and proprietary to the client. However, as noted above, MFS may determine that it is appropriate and beneficial to engage in a dialogue with a company regarding certain matters. During such dialogue with the company, MFS may disclose the vote it intends to cast in order to potentially effect positive change at a company in regards to environmental, social or governance issues.
For clarification purposes, note that MFS votes in what we believe to be the best, long-term economic interest of our clients entitled to vote at the shareholder meeting, regardless of whether other MFS clients hold “short” positions in the same issuer.
From time to time, due to travel schedules and other commitments, an appropriate portfolio manager or research analyst may not be available to provide a vote recommendation. If such a recommendation cannot be obtained within a reasonable time prior to the cut-off date of the shareholder meeting, the MFS Proxy Voting Committee may determine to abstain from voting.