Private Investor: Cold calls make me warm to share confidentiality
Saturday 19 November 2005
It's possible to receive the strangest calls when your name and address are, or were, on a shareholders' register. Last week, a man who called himself Alex Stone phoned me from a firm called Lauris Capital, of which I had never heard. He asked me first whether I'd got my shares in Stagecoach through being an employee or otherwise.
I didn't wish to say, but he pressed on. The reason he was asking was, he stated, because he believed people were asking shareholders to sell their Stagecoach shares, supposedly because the dividend had been going down, and that he was ringing them to advise them not to sell. When I asked whether Stagecoach had asked him to do this exercise, he responded that no it hadn't and that he was phoning "clients off his own back". He didn't seem to be bothered when I told him I wasn't his client and that he shouldn't be giving financial advice.
Stone also claimed a link between his firm and Stagecoach through another company called Invue which, he said, was the underwriter for Stagecoach's debt, and that his firm, Lauris Capital, either used the same underwriter or actually owned it, depending on which version of his tale he was telling at the time.
A quick search on Google (which I do own shares in, I have to declare) yields no references to Lauris Capital or Invue (as regards underwriting services). Stagecoach has never heard of them, neither has the Financial Services Authority. The phone number Stone gave me (an 0870 number) had a foreign ringtone. When I eventually got through to someone he was "not at liberty" to answer my questions - although he did give me an address in Frankfurt where the "investment bank" was based.
From the moment he opened his mouth and called me "mate", I suspected Stone wasn't all he seemed, and so it would appear. Yet such cold calls are worrying because there may be people out there who are drawn into some dodgy financial scheme in a process beginning with such strange calls.
Perhaps the authorities ought to consider making share registers confidential. Directors are one thing, but I see no reason why anyone should be able to know how many shares any of us own. I fail to see what public good comes of this. Maybe we should all place our shares in nominee accounts, which are cheaper to look after, but it seems a pity that this should be the reason why.
On a less depressing note, I've been thinking about death lately. I hadn't realised before that you can buy shares in a firm called Dignity, one of the biggest undertakers in the country, although the resolutely mutual Co-Op buries more folk than anyone else.
According to an entertaining news report in this newspaper, Dignity is looking forward to a bit of an upturn in business because of the coming bird flu pandemic. Nice to see someone's going to do well out of it. In fact, Dignity is an ambitious and acquisitive concern, and its shares have enjoyed a lively run lately.
Dignity apparently buried Winston Churchill and the Krays, so it has obviously got a wide client base. The shares are up about a third on the start of the year. Of course, that doesn't make them "cheap" or "expensive" necessarily, and I'm going to have to do some more research to see whether they're in rude health or in the bed next to the door. Dignity shares are trading on a p/e ratio of 25 and yield 1.5 per cent. Not that tempting, and they don't even do a shareholder's discount.
One last word of sorrow on the bashing Vodafone has taken. The company's attempt to massage expectations about growth downwards knocked my shares quite badly. Is there really so little life in Vodafone?
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