August 23, 2018 / 3:47 PM / 4 months ago

Fidelity fund votes backed Tesla, potential sign of more support

BOSTON (Reuters) - Funds run by Fidelity Investments sided with Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) management on director votes and other controversial items this spring, filings showed on Thursday, and experts said that could indicate further support for Tesla CEO Elon Musk as he looks to take the company private.

FILE PHOTO: Tesla Motors Inc Chief Executive Elon Musk pauses during a news conference in Tokyo September 8, 2014. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

Fidelity funds that are top Tesla holders, including Blue Chip Growth Fund,(FBGKX.O) Growth Company Fund (FDGRX.O) and Contrafund (FCNTX.O), all voted as Tesla recommended at two shareholder meetings held in March and June, the filings showed.

At both Tesla meetings top proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services recommended critical votes, citing concerns about Musk’s pay and board independence, among other things. Fidelity’s votes marked the second set of supportive ballots disclosed by a top investor in the carmaker so far this year.

A Fidelity spokeswoman said the Boston-based firm would not comment on what the votes might suggest about the go-private deal Musk is seeking. How much backing funds offer will determine how much money Musk will need to raise in his unprecedented bid to take the company private.

Asked about the votes, Tesla spokesman Dave Arnold noted comments Musk made in a blog post that he would sound out some top investors about going private and that “Our largest investors have been extremely supportive of Tesla over the years.”

The positive votes by the Fidelity funds on the controversial election items could suggest their managers will be more likely to support Musk going forward, said Francis Byrd, a corporate governance consultant.

“You could presume they are sort of locked in,” Byrd said, though he cautioned that the funds would ultimately want to see the financials of any deal Musk puts forward.

A July 24 filing by Scotland’s Baillie Gifford, Tesla’s largest owner after Musk himself, also showed it backing Tesla across the board at both meetings. A Baillie Gifford representative declined to comment.

The special meeting in March was held to approve a new compensation package potentially worth $2.6 billion for Musk. A filing showed the plan won support from about 81 percent of votes cast.

Proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services had recommended voting against the award as too rich. ISS also recommended votes against two of three Tesla directors who stood for election at its regular meeting in June, citing concerns about their independence and seats on other boards.

ISS also recommended investors back shareholder proposals including one that would require an independent chairman. The directors each won at least 89 percent support, a filing showed, and the proposal for an independent chair was backed by only about 16 percent of votes present.

Thursday’s filings offered a rare look at thousands of influential votes Fidelity cast at shareholder meetings this year.

Also noteworthy was that Contrafund, a top shareholder in Facebook Inc (FB.O), backed one of two proposals at its May 31 meeting calling for the world’s largest social media company to revamp its voting structure.

While neither measure passed, strong support they received from outside investors was seen as a rebuke to leaders, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, over their slow response to data privacy concerns.

The filing also showed Contrafund supported all eight Facebook directors up for election including Zuckerberg.

Spokespeople for Fidelity and Facebook did not immediately comment.

Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Frances Kerry and Dan Grebler

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