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BBC NEWS: Troubled Shell faces shareholders

BBC NEWS: Troubled Shell faces shareholders

28 June 04

Shell is struggling to regain shareholder confidence

Oil giant Shell is facing shareholders in London and the Hague for the first time since it cut reserves in January.

Monday’s annual meeting was delayed for two months by the crisis which cost three top officials their jobs.

Shell’s complex structure is likely to be a topic, with big investors wanting to see corporate governance improve.

Shareholders in the Hague are expected to try to block a resolution which could clear managers of responsibility for this year’s multiple downgrades.

The resolution is a routine one which agrees that managing directors “be discharged of responsibility in respect of their management for the year 2003”.

But some US shareholders fear backing the language could weaken the chances of suing the firm.

In all, Shell has cut back on its claimed reserves four times since the start of 2004.

Byzantine

Shell’s trouble with overbooked reserves is thought by many shareholders to be the result of the company’s dual nature.

Its full name – Royal Dutch/Shell – reflects the fact that it is the amalgamation of one arm in the Netherlands, holding 60% of the operating company, and another in the UK.

The 170-year-old company has two separate boards, part of a web of governance that critics say hampers management control and was the main reason why bad news about the reserves took months to emerge.

Earlier in June Shell said it would consider “all possible methods” to improve its hierarchies, although a full merger is thought to be unlikely.

“People everywhere ask what is going on at Shell and I agree such a crisis should never have happened,” Jeroen van der Veer, who took the firm’s top job in early March, told shareholders.

“But it has, and I sincerely regret this.”

The apology may not be enough to mollify investors, coming immediately after the firm last week agreed a £1m ($1.83m) payoff to former chairman Sir Philip Watts, the highest-ranking casualty of the downgrades.

“We regret that you are not going to present today a view on the changes to the corporate structure,” said a representative of the Dutch pension fund ABP to directors at the AGM in the Hague.

“You are asking for more patience than the market

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