Derek Pain: It's time to speak up for the 'little guy' investor


I have often thought that private investors need a campaigning voice representing their interests. A number of organisations have appeared over the more than half-a-century I have been chronicling the goings-on in the City, but few have made an impact.

An organisation called Wider Share Ownership is probably the most successful of the various institutions that have materialised. It enjoyed its heyday in the Margaret Thatcher privatisation spree which produced the famous (or infamous) "tell Sid" investment slogan.

The Wider Share organisation disappeared a decade ago. However, the recent wave of flotations, with Royal Mail, Saga and TSB encouraging retail participation, has helped persuade the Wealth Management Association to revive the defunct organisation as the Wider Share Ownership Council. Its chairman is Gavin Oldham, the forceful head of the online stockbroker, The Share Centre.

The WSOC will, presumably, fully represent all individual shareholders, not just those who operate via computers. There is much to occupy its attention. For example, discrimination against what I regard as traditional shareholders, those who are not online, still deal via the telephone and want certificates. They are one segment of the investment community that has not enjoyed internet-inspired cut prices and often incur exorbitant charges.

There is also the cold shouldering of private investors in many of the flotations that the City has enjoyed. The absence of small investors from so many new issues is a disgrace and offends the democratic aspirations that are supposed to be part and parcel of the stock market. And let us not forget the power of the big battalions that so often rule the investment roost to the detriment of the individual.

WSOC, already described by some as the "cheerleader" for small players, does promise to look at a range of issues, ranging from regulatory to operational. I hope it soon demonstrates real zeal.

The strength of private investors has increased, with the latest figure suggesting they now represent some 11.3 per cent of the stock market. Their progress should be welcomed by the City that is not renowned for its love of the small player. The fact they now have a voice could, I hope, help to change established attitudes.

Indeed Dr Tim May, chief executive of the WMA, which represents 113 wealth managers and stockbrokers, says: "We must remember that individual investors are typically not speculators but take a long-term interest in a company's behaviour, adding an extra layer of accountability".

Higher limits for Isas should, many believe, encourage the small brigade to continue investing. Yet such thoughts are not apparently confirmed by Isa take-ups that continue to largely embrace cash.

Now to the No Pain, No Gain portfolio. Two constituents have been active. TEG, the environmental group that has so far produced a disappointing performance, has issued a mildly encouraging trading update. But its proposed plant at Gaydon, Warwickshire, remains undeveloped due to "site-related issues".

And Avation, the aircraft leasing group, has had no trouble raising £4.2m through a share placing.

The shares were sold at 140p, compared with a 143.5p price at the time of writing. It seems Standard Life was involved and now has a 6 per cent stake. The cash will be used for pre-delivery payments for additions to a growing fleet.