Private Investor: Proud to be a 'big pharma' shareholder

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The Independent Online

Allow me to save the animal rights extremists some time and effort. I own Glaxo-SmithKline shares. Not that many, for I am not a wealthy man, but I presume it only takes one share to qualify for vilification, or worse. Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty knows about me and can send me its literature.

As it happens, I'm no longer on the share register at GSK because the shares I own are now held through a nominee account at a broker. I don't know if the animal-rights people have found a way to uncover the real beneficial owners of all the shares in nominee accounts, but, as I say, I'm happy to spare them the trouble in my case.

However, I hope that the animal-rights lobby will also note that I'm a member of the RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports, which I've supported for years. Now, I suppose, I'll get hate mail from the pro- fox-hunting lobby.

So I'm all in favour of animal welfare, I'm against animal cruelty and I'm certainly against torturing animals for the purposes of testing drugs, that is unless it is absolutely necessary and there is no alternative available via human voluntary testing, computer modelling or whatever. As it happens, I'd be interested to learn more about the case against GSK, as it would make a difference to me as a shareholder.

But I'm buggered if I'm going to sell my shares just because someone's threatened to "out" me as a member of a legal and morally worthy organisation. Yes, it makes lots of money, but it must do so to fund research into new treatments - a very expensive business. Yes, it gives some back to shareholders in dividends, because if it didn't do that, it'd never attract the capital it needs to stay in business.

Yes, it's true that it doesn't give its drugs away free to the world's poor. That, however, is the job of the world's governments, and, given the chance, politicians find it much easier to mouth off about evil "big pharma" than to try to persuade the model classes to stump up for Aids drugs for Africa. I'm not saying GSK and co are run by Mother Teresas, but they are mere ciphers in the capitalist system. So until I am persuaded by rational argument that GSK is not a worthy home for money, I shall be holding on to my shares. I also expect the hate mail to be heading my way very, very soon. By the way, I also expect the authorities to be completely ineffective in dealing with these threats, even though they have lots of new powers under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. As with the foreign criminals who were supposed to be considered for deportation but weren't, it's not more and more new powers that the authorities need but the ability to use the powers they have now properly. End of rant.

Much less heated but, in its own small way controversial, is the matter of "roaming" mobile-phone charges. Now I know that this is one of the most profitable areas of activity for the likes of Vodafone (in which I have a holding) but I've always thought that, in the long term, companies shouldn't really try to make too much money out of their customers in ways that they resent. Now that the charges for calling via mobile phones from abroad are plummeting, I can express a little more ethical confidence in my investment in the mobile-telephony giant.

I also feel a good deal happier that it's at last trying to solve its problems in America, putting returns to shareholders ahead of corporate pride. The clear signs are that Vodafone is going to sell its 45 per cent stake in Verizon Wireless to Verizon, its partner in the joint venture. When the idea was discussed last week, Vodafone's shares rose modestly from 126p to 130p, itself enough to shift the FTSE 100 index 10 points.

Just imagine where we might be if Vodafone returned to anything like its old form. A very frustrating affair. Still, at least no one's going to send me poison-pen letters because I won shares in Vodafone. Yet.

s.ogrady@independent.co.uk

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