Interactive Investor

Have your say: possible AGM flashpoints this week

These are the big Annual General Meetings that could see major shareholder revolts in the days ahead.

2nd February 2021 09:28

Graeme Evans from interactive investor

These are the big Annual General Meetings that could see major shareholder revolts in the days ahead.

Being part of the Reddit crowd isn't the only way that retail investors can harness their collective muscle in order to make waves in the corporate arena.

Every shareholder has the right to attend and vote at company meetings, which if done in unison holds significant sway on topics as diverse as company pay and climate change.

It's free to do and a lot less risky than jumping aboard the latest stock market bandwagon, and yet too few investors bother to do so. Admittedly, the big institutions hold the power and most of the AGM votes, but that's still no excuse for not utilising the channels of shareholder democracy in an effort to make a difference on how a company is run.

Just as social media has led to remarkable share price movements on Wall Street and London in recent days, it could also help DIY investors find their collective as well as individual voice. 

This ‘stakeholder voice’ is growing in scope and has already forced companies to move beyond the traditional metric of just maximising shareholder value, including in relation to diversity on boards and long-term economic sustainability.

The onus is now on shareholders of all sizes to be aware of the social impact of their investments. And for retail shareholders, the annual general meeting is the only live opportunity to be able to benchmark their portfolios.

To do so requires a little forward planning in terms of knowing when company meetings are taking place and, in these times of Covid-19 disruption, whether there are any deadlines for submitting questions to the board.

Compass, Imperial Brands, Sage, Brewin Dolphin

In the case of FTSE 100-listed catering giant Compass Group (LSE:CPG), its AGM at 10am on Thursday includes a facility for shareholders to put questions during the meeting. To participate in the live webcast, they need to download the LUMI AGM app and register with their Investor Code, which can be obtained prior to the meeting if held in a nominee account (deadline for requests set by Compass’s registrar, Link Asset Services, is 10am today).

It's a similar arrangement for the Imperial Brands (LSE:IMB) AGM on Wednesday, which will be a virtual webcast event, with shareholders able to ask questions through the LUMI website or by emailing the company in advance of the 2.30pm meeting.

Blue-chip accounting software group Sage Group (LSE:SGE) has a different approach for its annual meeting on Thursday. It requested questions by 19 January and pledged to post the answers on its website by 26 January so that shareholders have the facts to hand before voting on AGM resolutions.

At investment management firm Brewin Dolphin (LSE:BRW), where 10% of shareholders opposed last year's triennial vote on the directors' remuneration policy, the deadline for questions is two days before this Friday's meeting.

One of the most closely watched resolutions at any AGM tends to be the remuneration report, which in the case of Compass and Imperial Brands last year saw 6% and 13% of shareholders respectively vote against.

Shareholder backlash at two popular companies

JD Sports Fashion (LSE:JD.) has already received a bloody nose from shareholders at its AGM last week, after more than 30% of votes were against the company's pay report. JD Sports noted the concern about the "all cash" nature of directors' remuneration and said it would work to incorporate an equity-based incentive scheme as soon as possible.

A significant number of votes at last week's Cineworld (LSE:CINE) AGM also went against a long-term incentive plan that could trigger a £200 million-plus shares windfall for senior management if the stock hits the upper threshold of 380p. It is currently 79p, but chief executive Mooky Greidinger and other bosses are also rewarded if 190p is reached within three years.

About 30% of votes were against the scheme, prompting Cineworld to continue consultations with shareholders in light of their feedback.

Stock Spirits: Thursday, 4th February

One of this week's biggest AGM flashpoints is likely to be on Thursday at Wooburn Green, Buckinghamshire, from where Stock Spirits (LSE:STCK) will hold its virtual annual meeting. Last year, 21% of votes went against the vodka maker's remuneration report, and there’s the prospect of more shareholder discontent at this year's meeting.

Western Gate Investments, which holds a 10% stake in the central and Eastern European spirits producer, is reportedly calling for chairman David Maloney and senior independent director John Nicolson to be replaced, having been with the company for eight years.

Stock Spirits delivered a special dividend in December and has seen its share price double since the start of April, but Western Gate believes a fresh set of eyes would be beneficial.

Countryside Properties: Friday, 5th February

The AGM of Countryside Properties (LSE:CSP) on Friday may also be interesting, given that the housebuilding and Partnerships business has been under pressure in recent months from Los Angeles-based activist investor Browning West. 

The FTSE 250 index company has since said that it will split itself in two and that chairman David Howell is to stand down after five years at the helm.  More than 20% of the votes at last year's AGM were also against the company's remuneration report.

Countryside has asked for questions from shareholders to be submitted by noon on Thursday, adding that the answers may be published on its website after the meeting.

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