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The Independent: Private Investor: Why do institutional shareholders get special treatment?

The Independent: Private Investor: Why do institutional shareholders get special treatment? “the same disinformation for all”

By Sean O’Grady

03 July 2004

I regret to say that I did not turn up at the Shell annual general meeting on Monday. I do wish I had. It sounds like some of my fellow small shareholders made a spirited attempt to make the board explain what has been going on at the company lately. A Mr John Kennedy seems to have been a particularly impressive have-a-go hero. According to reports, he put this question to the board of directors: “I am quite sure you were in consultation with institutional shareholders, so why were private shareholders left out? I had to rely on the press!”.

Oh dear. What has the world come to when we have to rely on the press? I’m being facetious. Mr Kennedy made a valid point.

I don’t suppose there is a way that the body of private investors as a whole can be allowed the sort of briefings that the big pension funds receive as a matter of course, but then again perhaps that is an argument for these large institutions not being offered privileged information ahead of other investors. After all, one of the basic principles of a fair market is that the same information should be provided to all.

Shell only seemed to honour this ideal while it was providing the same disinformation to all, a slightly different idea. OK, that’s a cheap crack, but when you’re having to pay for former chief executive Philip Watt’s leaving present of £1m, as we, the owners of Shell are, then you have to make some economies. Shell shares are back from the brink, at 410p, but have yielded shareholders miserable returns over the past five years, although they no longer seem to be underperforming BP (more to do with the latter’s recent relative weakness than anything else).

s.o’[email protected]

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