April 19, 2016 / 4:08 PM / 2 years ago

Shareholders seen backing Barrick's say-on-pay vote this year

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Barrick Gold Corp (ABX.TO) looks set next week to win shareholder approval for its executive compensation, a reversal from last year when angry investors voted against what they said was excessive pay, after the miner’s chairman forfeited his bonus.

Barrick Gold Corp Chairman of the board John Thornton looks on during their annual general meeting for shareholders in Toronto, April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

One of Barrick’s top 10 shareholders, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said his fund would back the “say-on-pay” vote at Barrick’s April 26 annual meeting, as did a U.S.-based institutional shareholder.

Earlier this month, influential proxy advisory firms Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis recommended that shareholders vote for the pay plan at the world’s biggest gold miner.

“I don’t see a reason to go against that recommendation this year,” said Dan Denbow, senior portfolio manager at San Antonio-based USAA Investments, which owns 1.4 million Barrick shares. “(Executive Chairman John) Thornton did not take a bonus this year, which I think is a positive step.”

Thornton’s 2015 pay package fell by 76 percent to $3.1 million, in part because he gave up a $3.4 million bonus to “better reflect the experience” of shareholders, the Toronto-based company said on March 24.

Barrick shares fell by nearly 20 percent last year and, despite a rally this year, are still down 64 percent since 2011, hit by weaker gold prices.

“The reduction in pay overall is a nice thing to see from a long-suffering shareholder’s perspective,” said Chris Mancini, research analyst at the Rye, New York-based Gabelli Gold Fund.

Of the three say-on-pay votes that failed in Canada in 2015, two were in the gold mining industry, where executive pay surged last decade when bullion prices rose fivefold. As gold fell in recent years, pay typically did not follow profits lower.

While non-binding, say-on-pay votes are important measures of shareholders’ attitudes. To appease disgruntled investors, some gold miners stepped up efforts to win their support.

Glass Lewis said in its April 1 recommendation that it would “prefer” if Thornton was paid under Barrick’s pre-established compensation plan rather than the current “unique and less-structured” program. Barrick has said it will announce a new structure for Thornton next year.

Glass Lewis and ISS also recommended last week that shareholders back Yamana Gold Inc’s (YRI.TO) pay plan after the chief executive officer’s package was cut by 57 percent. The Canadian miner also lost its say-on-pay vote last year.

Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn

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