Got a woman on your board? You're one in a few

Women remain under-represented in the FA100 index while Li Ka-shing controlled Hutchison Whampoa has the oldest board.

The glass ceiling for women is alive and kicking. Female presence on boards remains woefully low as revealed in the FA100 index (FinanceAsia's list of top 100 companies screened by profitability based on Bloomberg data), with scores of companies that had little or no female representation. 

Taiwanese company Chunghwa Telecom had the highest percentage of female board members. Still, with 38% of the board represented by women, it is hardly a hefty number.

Many companies, including China's state-owned giants such as Agricultural Bank of China, Cnooc and PetroChina, have zero female representation on their boards. Plenty of noise has been made about reform at Chinese state-owned enterprises but there is clearly room for “reform” on their boards.

Still, the Chinese state-owned giants are not alone. Other companies with no female board members included Hyundai Motors, India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp, Tencent, AIA, Posco, PTT and Singapore lender UOB.

Our data show that conglomerates have the oldest boards, with an average age of 62.4, which suggests perhaps the need for succession planning as many conglomerates tend to be family run. Among them, Li Ka-shing controlled Hutchison Whampoa has the oldest board, with an average age of 69.

Li, chairman, is 86 years old and the oldest member of the board but, despite his age, he shows no signs of slowing down, with the company he helms eyeing its largest acquisition overseas, British mobile operator O2.

Li is revamping his flagship companies Hutchison Whampoa and Cheung Kong Holdings, a move that some bankers have suggested has been prompted by succession planning.

The revamp will remove the holding company structure, which many family-run companies have long employed to fortify control over sprawling enterprises. It will also split the businesses into two parts: one that will hold all the property businesses and another that will be a multi-national conglomerate with assets ranging from telecom to port assets. "I think Li is setting the stage for different people to have different roles," said one banker, commenting on the reorganisation.

The tech sector has a reputation for being run by hoodie clad executives and, perhaps unsurprisingily, it has the youngest boards, with an average of 55.9. Baidu, China’s dominant search engine, has the youngest board on our FA 100 index, with an average age of 46.

However, valuations for the technology sector are the most expensive, with stocks trading at an average of 22 times price-to-earnings. Tencent is the most expensive stock, with a price-to-earnings ratio of 45.6. 

This contrasts with the property sector, which has the cheapest valuations with an average price-to-earnings ratio of 7.2 times. Chinese developer Evergrande Real Estate was the cheapest company on the list with a price-to-earnings ratio of just 2.9. All share price calculations were based on their prices on January 15.

Those investors tempted to dip in beware. Despite its apparent cheapness, the Chinese property sector is not out of the woods.

“The correction of Chinese property prices hasn’t come to an end yet," said Chris Yip, an analyst covering real estate at Standard & Poor’s. "Over supply is still an issue and we expect property prices to continue to fall up to 5% this year though they will vary depending on the city.”

Among the companies that posted the worst profit growth within the FA100 index was Korean steel maker Posco. In contrast, South Korean semiconductor company SK Hynix posted the biggest improvement in earnings, turning in a W2.8 trillion ($2.6 billion) profit in 2013 compared with a loss of W159 billion ($150 million) in the previous financial year.

¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.

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