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At a stroke, Shell opens new chapter

Financial Times: At a stroke, Shell opens new chapter

“The oblique stroke will not disappear from Royal Dutch/Shell until next month, when the High Court is due to approve the scheme of arrangement that unifies the two groups.”

Wednesday 29 June 2005

By Clay Harris

Published: June 29 2005

Shareholders in Shell Transport and Trading and their counterparts at Royal Dutch yesterday voted to remove the slash their fathers wore. The oblique stroke will not disappear from Royal Dutch/Shell until next month, when the High Court is due to approve the scheme of arrangement that unifies the two groups. But the annual meeting at the ExCel centre in London’s Docklands marked the end of a very long era.

For one thing, unless the new company’s board decides otherwise, it will be the last annual meeting in the UK. Although a UK plc, Royal Dutch Shell will hold its annual meetings in the Netherlands, with a video link back to Britain.

This, along with the capital gains tax liability faced by UK holders of Royal Dutch shares, appeared to be the most perturbing aspect of the deal to private shareholders. Concern about dividends being declared in euros was voiced by, among others, a shareholder whose T-shirt proclaimed “Toulon”.

One investor offered, as a possible model, Eurotunnel’s former practice of alternating annual meetings between France and the UK and holding shareholder information sessions in the other country. Support for UK annual meetings did not reflect any love for ExCel, where the loud rumble of air conditioning was punctuated by aircraft noise from London City Airport.

Even Lord Kerr, senior independent director, called the venue “ghastly”.

After all the questions, and near the end of the 3½-hour session, one shareholder asked about the unification: “Why has it taken you so long?”

Lord Oxburgh, chairing his last meeting, replied: “I’m afraid the only answer to that is that it’s a very good question.”

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