Here Comes the Slow-Stock Movement; Global investors will meet to discuss whether companies should offer special shares to reward long-term holders in a short-term world

March 22, 2013, 6:00 p.m. ET

Here Comes the Slow-Stock Movement

By JASON ZWEIG

When you are loyal to a drugstore, airline or credit card, you get points, miles, cash back and other rewards. Should investors also get a bonus for being loyal to a stock?

Next week in London, two dozen global investors will meet to discuss whether companies should offer special shares to reward long-term holders in a short-term world.

Investors who hold a stock continuously for years might earn a higher dividend or receive “warrants” entitling them to purchase more shares.

“It’s a way of rewarding long-term behavior and taxing short-term behavior,” says Patrick Bolton, an economist at Columbia Business School who has spent several years developing the idea.

Patience is a rare virtue in today’s high-speed markets. The average diversified U.S. stock mutual fund holds its typical position for just 15 months, according to investment researcher Morningstar MORN +1.04% . This past week, Oracle‘s ORCL -0.99% stock lost 10% in a day after the company fell short of quarterly earnings expectations by one penny per share, and shares in FedEx FDX +2.05% dropped by 9% in two days after a sharp decline in quarterly profits.

Investors with such itchy trigger fingers make corporate managers gun-shy—and that, in turn, might hurt profits in the long run. A survey of more than 400 senior corporate executives in 2003 found that 59% wouldn’t invest in a project that would generate significantly higher long-term profits if it reduced earnings in the short run.

“The assets and employees and customers and suppliers of companies are there for years,” says David Herro, manager of the $14.3 billion Oakmark International Fund . “But shareholders are often there and gone in a week, a day, an hour, a minute. So you have this mismatch, and it’s a bit of an imperfection in the way capitalism works.”

The London meetings follow one in Toronto and two in New York; at least 75 corporate issuers, investors and other financial firms have weighed in.

“We want to see what the market thinks and create enough awareness about the idea that it will either get used or else get modified into something else that’s usable,” says Jane Ambachtsheer, global head of responsible investment at Mercer, the consulting firm, who is helping to organize the debate.

“It’s going to be very difficult to get anything done” in the U.S., warns John Bogle, founder of Vanguard Group, who has long advocated that companies should pay dividends 5% to 10% higher to long-term investors. The response to his proposal, he says, has always been the same: “silence.”

Hayne Leland, a finance professor at the University of California, Berkeley, points out that rewarding long-term investors could drive away short-term traders, perhaps making it more expensive to buy and sell stocks that carry loyalty rewards.

Christian DiorCDI.FR +0.31% Publicis Groupe PUBGY +0.18% and SodexoSDXAY +0.90% have conferred extra voting rights on shareholders who stick around, typically for two years or more; others, like Air LiquideAI.FR +0.25% LafargeLFRGY -0.93% and L’OréalOR.FR -0.04% pay bonus dividends.

The fact that these companies are based in France, where capitalism and socialism dance cheek-to-cheek, might make you raise an eyebrow.

So far as I know, no U.S. company offers such rewards. One that used to—Potlatch,PCH +0.47% the timber company, which starting in the 1980s offered extra voting rights to investors who stuck around for at least four years—later dropped the provision after complaints that it gave insiders too much power. A Potlatch spokesman declined to comment.

David Winters, portfolio manager of the $1.8 billion Wintergreen Fund, calls the idea of loyalty shares “very interesting.” But he warns that it could “become an entrenching mechanism as opposed to a rewarding mechanism”—potentially coercing long-term investors into kowtowing to management.

The renowned investor Benjamin Graham often pointed out that small investors have great advantages over professionals: Individuals can choose not to measure their results over the short term, and they can invest at will in unfashionable stocks.

So you don’t have to have ants in your pants just because everyone else does.

Research by University of California economists Terrance Odean and Brad Barber has shown that investors who traded the least outperformed those who traded the most by a remarkable 6.8 percentage points annually.

So buy an index fund and hold it forever. Or find a mutual fund with expenses under 1% and a turnover rate of 33% or less, meaning it holds its typical stock for at least three years. Or pick a few stocks yourself, buying on bad news and then holding stubbornly through all the short-term noise.

Before you buy, write down at least three reasons why you believe the company is a good investment; sell only if those reasons have become invalid.

“If you are fortunate enough to invest in one of those rare companies that are great long-term investments,” Mr. Winters says, “the best reward is just owning the shares for years on end.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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