Derek Pain: Low-tech shareholders could soon be driven to extinction

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The Independent Online

I have often complained about the suffering of small, traditional shareholders in this high-tech, allegedly cost-effective age. The investors I have in mind still deal via the telephone and require paper share certificates. They are a declining breed with, its seems, every City big gun empowered to exterminate them.

There are no indications that their lot will improve. Deterioration is more likely. Share certificates remain under threat, with the meddling European Union seemingly intent on putting them out of existence. And although online dealing has dramatically reduced the cost of share transactions, the traditional shareholder is still subjected to often extraordinary payments. I realise dealing with us is more time consuming and costly, but from what I hear some of the charges extracted are quite exorbitant.

There is no doubt the internet has sharply increased the City's news flow. For example free online services like ADVFN can keep anyone informed about a company's stated activities and share performance. Yet many people miss out as they have yet to be captivated by the allure of computers. Indeed, any offline shareholder probably hears from a shareholding once a year – when the annual report flops through the letter box.

Some firms do acknowledge that not all their shareholders are wired up. One in that category is the insurance broker Brightside, a constituent of the no pain, no gain portfolio which has – by post – kept shareholders informed about current takeover developments.

Progress, I suppose, is essential. But for the small, traditional player, the high-tech age reinforces the words of Patrick Hutber, once a leading City editor. A few decades ago he opined that "progress means deterioration". For the marginalised small investor, suffering from an acute lack of shareholder democracy, his words ring painfully true.

And make no mistake, as the Financial Conduct Authority chief Martin Wheatley recently made clear, the technology revolution has far to go. For the small traditional player, the death knell could be just a few years away.

Two portfolio constituents have reported encouraging trading updates. Avation, the aircraft lessor, expects current year net revenue to rise 29 per cent to $55m (£32m) with pre-tax profits gaining some 25 per cent to $17.5m The group's shares, as I write, are below their peak at 133p. The portfolio paid 83.5p.

Spirit Pub Co shares are also short of their high at 76.5p, compared with the portfolio's 42p. Yet managed pub sales in the 12 weeks to 24 May were up 6 per cent with the figure for a 40-week period 5.2 per cent. Leased pub net turnover grew by 3 per cent during the 40 weeks.

Finally, portfolio followers may be expecting comments about the star performer, the Booker cash-and -carry chain. The shares have, since hitting a 176.5p peak in April, experienced a torrid time; the price is now 129p. Negativity from giant investment house Goldman Sachs is partly responsible. There is also the impact of the supermarket price war.

There could be a growing temptation for the group's retailer customers to at least do some of their shopping at supermarkets instead of cash and carry warehouses. Also, the supermarket assault on convenience stores could be hurting its customers. Chairman Richard Rose expects increasing price competition throughout this year, although in the first seven weeks, trading was ahead of 2013. Next month's shareholders meeting should offer further clues about any supermarket squeeze.

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