AsianInvestor magazine has named the Pension Fund Association (PFA) of Japan as its Institutional Investor of the Year. The award was announced last week at AIÆs annual awards dinner for money managers held at the Conrad Hotel in Hong Kong.

The PFA is the fifth institution to be honoured with the magazineÆs most prestigious award. AsianInvestor also introduced a new marquee award, Global Fund House of the Year, which was given to Pimco.

The other fund manager awards were announced on AsianInvestor.net in April, and write-ups for each will appear in the June edition of the magazine.

Institutional Investor of the Year

The PFA won the award on the basis of its commitment to improving corporate governance in Japan, as well as for its innovative investment strategies. The $110 billion PFA is reviewing guidelines for proxy voting in light of the shift last year by hundreds of Japanese corporations to adopt poison pills against activist investors.

The PFA has been at the forefront of corporate-governance initiatives in Japan. It introduced an innovative equity fund investing in companies with good governance, managed by Nomura Asset Management, which has so far beat indices such as the Nikkei 225.

And last year it introduced standards to guide proxy votes, including a rule to vote against the re-election of board members of companies whose return-on-equity falls under 8% for three consecutive years. By Japanese standards this is bracing stuff: in many cases, as the PFA extends its communication with managers of Japanese listed companies, they are the first domestic institution to ask such questions.

Although these actions proved inadequate in the face of corporate moves detrimental to shareholders, the PFA had hoped its lobbying of managements to put such resolutions to a shareholder vote would nip problems in the bud. On the one hand, this soft approach failed, as most companies still voted for poison pills. On the other hand, thanks to the PFAÆs urging, this was the first time that many companies bothered to put such a matter in the hands of shareholders at all. The PFA is now lobbying the Tokyo Stock Exchange to tighten rules regarding takeovers and has hired an experienced market professional for a new unit dedicated to corporate governance.

While the PFA and other institutional investors in Japan need to do more to improve governance issues and shareholder rights, AsianInvestor wishes to highlight that, in the Japanese context, these moves have been radical. It is our hope that, by giving this award to the PFA, we can encourage it and its peers in Japan to continue to work towards reforming corporate culture and capital market practices, to the benefit of its own stakeholders, and to all investors, both domestic and international.

AsianInvestor will deliver this award to the PFA at a cocktail reception in Tokyo on the evening of Wednesday, June 18. If you would like to attend, please contact Rebekka Kristin, AsianInvestorÆs associate publisher, at [email protected]

Previous winners are, in reverse order, China's National Council for Social Security Fund, Shinkong Life Insurance, National Pension Service of Korea, and the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Global Fund House of the Year

2007 was a year when investors required that their fixed-income allocations play the intended role of fixed income û to act as the anchor to windward or the insurance policy against market turmoil.

Unfortunately many fixed-income managers reached for yield and got caught up in the exuberance that characterised the markets for the period from 2005 to mid-2007.

Pimco views its role as a protector of principal, a provider of a constant stream of income, and as the asset allocation that will offset its clientsÆ risky investments when the markets turn. This is the service it delivered in 2007.

Its sound macroeconomic analysis, its long-term outlook, its ability to identify economic fundamentals, and its focus on taking prudent risks for its clients enabled Pimco to protect its clientsÆ assets during the market crisis of 2007 and outperform most of its peers.

Fund managers shortlisted for our other investment-performance awards were invited to pitch for Global Fund House of the Year. There were no criteria; we left it up to each firm to tell a story and argue its case.