Sunday, January 13, 2013

On Shareholders

I've been thinking a bit about the fallacy of shareholder "ownership" in the context of stock ownership.  My thoughts on the matter increasingly have me thinking many (most?) companies are run for the benefit of the managers and that aligning incentives w/ those of managers is key.  Some of this stems from a book by Jack Bogle discussing how capitalism doesn't work without effective owners - sorry can't remember which book - but also stems from observations that most corporate execs make out pretty well whether the company does well or not (unlike shareholders).

Now granted, stockholders aren't really "all that."   In reality stockholders are largely a diluted group often without any long-term stake and without any real say in anything that goes on in the company.  There's this idea that decisions in the company should be made with consideration of interests of shareholders, but in reality it's fair to question how high on the list shareholders are. I mean really, what more have most shareholders done than provide liquidity in capital markets?  To make shareholders paramount greatly overstates their importance in the scheme of things.

Right now I'm reading a book by Lynn Stout called The Shareholder Value Myth that says we'd probably be better off being honest with ourselves and stop trying to say we run companies for the benefit of shareholders, because even though it's a nice idea - we don't (although sometimes short term shareholders can gain sway at expense of longer term holders).  Often the only say shareholders get in anything is either to buy or sell stock.  

I found this link on the web that has a good article arguing a similar point called "What do shareholders own?"

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