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Sybase tops poor performer list

For the second year in a row, the nation's largest public pension fund names Sybase one of the poorest corporate performers.

For the second year in a row, the nation's largest public pension fund has named Sybase one of the poorest corporate performers.

In making the designation, the California Public Employees' Retirement System--also known as CalPERS--cited the corporate governance practices and dropping stock prices of the troubled database maker, as well as other statistics illustrating the company's poor economic performance. Over the last decade, CalPERS has become increasingly vocal about poor management and performance of the public companies in which it invests.

"From a shareholder's point of view, Sybase hasn't done very well over a period of time," said CalPERS spokesman Brad Pacheco. "We're a long-term investor in their company, and we have a responsibility to ensure that their performance gets better."

A spokesman for Sybase declined to comment.

CalPERS--which holds a $128 billion portfolio in more than 1,600 U.S. companies--targeted Sybase in its annual listing of corporate America's poorest performers. Last year Apple Computer accompanied Sybase on the top of the list. This year's ranking also included semiconductor maker Advanced Micro Devices and Electronic Data Systems.

CalPERS, which manages the pensions of 1 million active and retired state employees, called on Sybase and a number of other companies to make changes. Among the suggestions offered is a proposal that Sybase "de-stagger" the elections of its directors so that shareholders have more control over who sits on the company's board.

"Staggered elections shield directors from being accountable to shareholders," Pacheco said. "We have a right to register our vote on these directors."

The CalPERS ranking is only the latest blow for Sybase. Yesterday, the company announced it was laying off 600 of its 5,600 employees as it tries to return to profitability (See related story), and it continues to see its revenues and stock price fall as demand for database products declines. Additionally, there are a number of shareholder lawsuits pending against the company, alleging fraud and related claims.

CalPERS' rankings demonstrate an increasingly activist stance by the public pension fund, and come as investing in public companies continues to move into the mainstream.

"It's only been recently that institutional investors have interjected their voices into how these corporations are run," said Pacheco. "For CalPERS, we realize that we're not just shareholders of these companies, but also owners, and it's important for us to monitor our investments."