If you’re a shareholder who’s attended an Annual General Meeting, you’ve probably seen the Food Hoarder and the Door Gift Ninja. The Securities Investors Association of Singapore (Sias) has launched a new initiative to make Annual General Meetings (AGMs) more productive. This is much needed, as at present AGMs are not taken quite as seriously as they should be. It’s hard to, given that many shareholders think it is nothing more than a free buffet.
Wait, What Are AGMs?
If you hold stocks for a particular company, you’re likely to be invited to an AGM. An AGM is an opportunity for shareholders to ask questions of a company’s management. Wise investors use this opportunity to ask how much they are getting paid in dividends, what the company’s prospects are, and whether expansion and profit goals are met. These are important to know, as they help you decide if you want to stay invested in the company. That’s the theory anyway. In reality, the average investor has no idea how any of that works. Many of us have no chance of working through a 300 page Annual Report, and figuring out what to ask. So we just go there for the free buffet. We’re quite thankful that this is set to change. From now, Sias will hire analysts to read the Annual Report for us. They will then ask the questions that highlight key issues, making it easier for us to decide whether we still want their shares. This will make it much easier for Singaporeans new to investing, or who want to get started. We’re also hoping it will change these five types of Singaporeans you always see at AGMs:
1. The Food Hoarder
There’s always one at every AGM. We all like to pack the leftovers from the free buffet, but this person takes it to an extreme. This food hoarder never just has her handbag. Instead, she has or multiple Sheng Siong plastic bags. Each one contains stacks of tupperware containers, into which she will put the leftover rice, bee hoon, sweet and sour chicken, spring rolls, etc. But this is not someone trying to make the best of a tight budget. We’ve seen some of these food hoarders do it while wearing Manolo Blahniks, and later struggling to get the containers the back of their BMW. It’s beyond us why someone who can afford to eat at a Marina Bay Sands restaurant every day feels a need to scavenge S$5-per-head food, but it happens. Maybe it’s that thrifty instinct that made them rich. Should there be no leftovers, the director, CEO, catering staff, you, and half the population of Singapore will hear her complaints. These complaints will be voiced over more trivial things, such as how much money the company is making, or IRAS demanding $12 million in unpaid taxes. What’s really important is that there wasn’t enough fried lemon chicken.
2. The Person Who Is More Qualified Than the Directors
Unless your shares come with a right to vote (not all shares do), you only have three decisions to make regarding the AGM: buy more shares, keep things the same, or sell them off. You can’t march into the company offices and run things as you like. There are, however, people who fail to grasp this concept. These people will interrupt the directors with various suggestions, which range from the occasionally plausible to the borderline insane. Some of their favourite questions include:
• Why don’t you pay yourselves less? (It’s important to look hardcore when you own 0.00001 per cent of the company)
• Why don’t you relocate all manufacturing to a third world country of my choice, because I want everyone to know I support slave labour?
• Why are you not expanding into China, America, Europe, or some other place with an economy I am an expert on, because I watched a YouTube video once?
• Why do you make (insert product), and not (insert irrelevant product)? For example, why does Seagate keeps making hard drives and not reusable diapers?
• Why don’t you put the (number of paperclips owned / average employee shoe size / other pointless piece of information) on your website? It is unprofessional not to do so.
Their questions are a perfect blend of irrelevant and impossible to answer. Any attempt to answer them will result in solutions that make everyone sorry for having heard them (e.g. If fuel costs are too high to ship to China, you should build a giant catapult with
two trees and…) We are thankful that Sias now has people asking questions that have some use. But we wonder if they could also provide cloth gags for this bunch.
3. The Witch Accuser
This person likes to invest in companies they hate, so they can show up at AGMs and insinuate that senior management is up to something. What exactly they don’t know, but their life is dull and needs to be spiced up with a conspiracy or two. These people like to keep asking if there is a side-benefit or commission to everything.
Director: Sorry we started late, I had trouble finding parking. Good thing the valet helped.
Witch Accuser: Do you run the valet parking service here? Are you trying to promote it?
Director: What? No, I…
Witch Accuser: Do you get a commission from them? Is that why you chose this building for the AGM?
And so on. The Witch Accuser is also an expert accountant, who will raise issues such as “Why is the price of each printer cartridge not accounted for?” And then provide his or her answer. That answer will usually be that someone in the company is stealing money, not doing their job, or selling secrets to Russia. The Witch Accuser is the natural enemy of the food hoarder (see point 1), as even one Witch Accuser can delay the buffet by up to an hour.
4. The Door Gift Ninja
You will not see or hear from this person. They are like an empty breeze, arriving like the night to pocket their door gift. If they manage to remain faceless, they will come around for a second door gift. If the door gifts are on the seats, they will stuff two in their bags and take a third when no one is watching. When the door gift happens to actually be practical (e.g. expensive hair care products), they go into overdrive: they may get their spouse, children, relatives, bums hired off the street, and so on to come collect on their behalf. In the rare event they speak to you, they want to know whether you really need your door gift. We suspect they are building a giant pile of door gifts, like the pile of gold that dragon has in that Hobbit movie. The actual use of the door gift is not too important to them – whether it’s book marks, commemorative mugs, water tumblers, it’s all equally precious. These people then mysteriously vanish, often before the directors even start talking.
5. The Guerilla Marketer
This person has a passing interest in the AGM. But what he’s really interested is telling you about an incredible new investment opportunity. You’re an investor, so you must be interested in his new social networking start-up, Bitcoin website, or Multi-Level Marketing scheme. This person arrives with two boxes of name cards, and somehow manages to give them ALL away. Even to the catering staff, a passing German tourist, and the two cleaners who came into the room. This is the worst person to sit next to at the buffet. Every word out of his mouth is an advertisement, and he will physically take your phone and punch in his number, Facebook contact, Linked-In, etc. Once he has latched onto you, he’s like a bulldog with a bone. You can forget about listening to anyone else, because he will talk until his sales pitch is done. Our advice? Watch out for anyone handing out name cards, and sit far away from them. Try sitting next to the Witch Accuser, who will demand to know their ulterior motives and thus disarm them for you.