Foxtons faces investor backlash over boss's bonus

·3 min read
Foxtons sign
Foxtons sign

Foxtons is facing a backlash from shareholder groups over a decision to pay its chief executive a bonus despite taking £7m in state Covid support.

The estate agency plans to hand Nic Budden a short-term bonus of £389,000.

Shareholder advisory firm ISS is recommending investors vote against Foxtons' remuneration report.

Foxtons said: "We believe it's right to reward hard work and results in a year when the business did well in very tough circumstances."

The short-term bonus is lower than £583,000 that Mr Budden received in the previous year.

Foxtons noted that a separate cash bonus awarded to Mr Budden's has been reduced by more than 50% while his overall cash compensation was down "more than a quarter compared to the year before".

"This is because his basic pay is the same as it was five years ago, whilst his pension and other benefits have reduced," a spokesman for Foxtons said.

'Material disconnect'

However, Mr Budden's total pay package grew to £1.6m compared to £1.25m in the previous year. And this year's pay deal includes a long-term share award totalling £569,000 which can be accessed in five years' time.

Since last year, Foxtons has benefitted from £2.5m in business rates relief as well as £4.4m in furlough payments for staff. It also tapped shareholders for £21m by selling new shares.

ISS said it would recommend that investors vote against the company's remuneration report at its annual general meeting on 22 April, stating: "There is a material disconnect between bonus outcomes and company performance for the year under review."

While it said the board had acted to reduce bonuses, it said it was concerned that this did not "adequately acknowledge the impact of Covid-19, which has caused the company to seek government support and conduct an emergency (dilutive) capital raise during the year".

ISS added: "Some investors may question the appropriateness of awarding bonus payments to the executive directors before paying back the government support received."

'Nil bonus'

The Investment Association, which is a group of 250 fund managers, has issued a "red top" alert on Foxtons' pay via its Institutional Voting Information Service (AVIS). A "red" alert by AVIS represents the highest level of concern over a particular issue.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported that another shareholder advisory group, Glass Lewis, has criticised the bonus payment and said investors should vote against it at the AGM.

"In our view, there is no reason as to why the company should not reduce the bonus to nil, a common practice among FTSE listed peers," it said.

A spokesman for Foxtons said: "Like many businesses, Foxtons was forced to close for months over the past year. We were very grateful for government support which we used for as short a period as possible but entirely as it was intended - to keep people in jobs during a lengthy closure."

He said: "We did trade for a large part of the year, having stopped using the furlough scheme, and worked hard to support home moves and keep our tenants' properties safe and secure."

Last year, Foxtons reported a 12% fall in revenues to £93.5m but its pre-tax loss narrowed from £8.8m to £1.4m.