But shareholder demand for perks is stronger than ever, and companies will be well advised to find ways of keeping the tradition going, according to Peter Hargreaves, managing director of the Bristol-based stockbroker Hargreaves Lansdown. They do not intend to put their clients' shares into nominee accounts which put their perks at risk. They also compile an annual list of sweeteners for shareholders, which Independent readers can obtain free by phoning 0800 850661.
The new list contains 101 names, including old favourites such as P&O Ferries and Next, the fashion retailers. There are nine new entries, including Berisford, owners of the Magnet DIY group; the building suppliers Sharpe & Fisher; Jury's Hotels; Lyles carpets; and Tottenham Hotpur FC, which offers a 10 per cent discount on merchandise from its superstores, including mail order. Forte is the only company to drop off the list, but the Forte Gold Card, which now offers a 12.5 per cent discount on food and lodging, survives and may well be extended shortly to Granada shareholders.
The best deals include 2 per cent off a new or part-exchange Barratt home, 1 per cent off a Persimmon home, pounds 1,000 off a McCarthy & Stone retirement property in the UK or abroad, a pounds 100 discount on a range of new cars from Lookers, a 2 per cent discount on top of any other current offers on new Ford cars from Alexanders Holdings, discounts of 20-50 per cent on Magnet DIY items from Berisford.
You can get 15 per cent off at Austin Reed, 12.5 per cent off at Burton Group, 10 per cent off personal insurance premiums at General Accident, 10 per cent off Airtours holidays and 15 per cent at Barr & Wallace Arnold and Rank, 10 per cent off household insurance premiums through the brokers Berry, Birch & Noble, 10 per cent off a pair of specs at Specialeyes, 2 per cent off a PEP or unit trust from Abtrust and Invesco, and 25 per cent off dry cleaning bills at Johnson group outlets.
A baker's dozen hotel chains, from the Savoy, through Queens Moat, Ladbroke, Ryan, Stakis and Vaux, offer discounts on accomodation and meals, although not on drink, but drinkers can get concessions from Whitbread, Scottish & Newcastle, Eldridge Pope, Fullers and Greene King.
Some companies have a minimum shareholding and others a qualifying period before shareholders are entitled to discounts. The builders usually require shareholders to claim their discounts when they reserve their properties. Some companies issue shareholders with discount cards, others distribute special vouchers. Some companies, but not all, specify a minimum shareholding.
Peter Hargreaves says no one should buy shares just to get discounts, or hold much less than pounds 1,000 worth of shares because minimum commissions make smaller holdings uneconomic. But unlike dividends, perks are tax free and, properly used, can be worth much more than dividends. Hargreaves Lansdown charges 1 per cent to buy and sell shares for deals up to pounds 10,000, with a minimum fee of pounds 15.