Poor take-up of
But DIRK survey shows IROs’ overall mood
German issuers are cautious about adopting electronic voting and
online annual meetings, according to the findings of new research from
DIRK, the German investor relations
The caution exists despite moves by European politicians to encourage
electronic shareholder communications at the annual meeting. Last year saw
the deadline for the implementation of the Shareholder Rights Directive,
which expressly permits companies to use electronic voting and meetings.
DIRK’s survey finds 75 percent of respondents are not considering allowing
electronic voting this year. By contrast, just 3 percent have permitted it
and a further 23 percent are considering the option for the future (figures
have been rounded).
‘The reticence among German companies to implement electronic voting does
not come as much of a surprise,’ comments Bernhard Wolf, president of DIRK
and head of corporate communications at GfK, the market research group that
conducted the survey on behalf of DIRK.
‘Although the legislature has put the necessary framework in place, the
problem lies in the implementation. A veritable culture of dispute has
developed in Germany, especially among the prominent and major DAX
companies: the greater the extent to which a minority escalates an issue
during an annual general meeting, the greater the number of column inches
dedicated to that company.
‘The grounded discussion preferred by the board of management and the
majority of the shareholders is thus often overlooked. In this sort of
environment, companies are unwilling to take any risks, for fear of opening
themselves up to further objections and actions for annulment.’
Online meetings are also failing to take off. Only a quarter of respondents
plan to broadcast their annual meeting over the internet to the public,
finds DIRK. Bigger companies are at least showing strong interest in this
area, with 75 percent of DAX companies considering taking this step.
The survey notes, however, that broadcasts that take place usually only
contain speeches from the chairmen of the management and supervisory boards,
while the general discussion and voting ‘are seldom broadcast’.
DIRK conducts its survey – called the sentiment indicator – twice a year to
measure sentiment among IROs across Germany, Austria and Switzerland as well
as gauge feelings on key issues.
This spring’s results offer some encouragement for the future. The
indicator’s primary aim is to ascertain how positive issuers are about the
present and future situation and this latest indicator sees an improvement
in sentiment for the second consecutive year. This follows a steep decline
in sentiment that began in 2007 and continued until spring 2009.
The survey also asked some more specific questions, which further reveal the
optimistic mood among many IROs. The proportion of German companies
expecting to make cuts to their IR teams fell to 5 percent, in line with the
long-term average and down from 10 percent in the autumn 2009 survey. In
addition, the number of issuers predicting a drop in the number of IR-related
events fell to 6 percent, which is way down from the 24 percent that
expected cuts this time last year.
Finally, the number of companies anticipating a fall in analyst coverage
dropped for the fourth consecutive survey: three quarters of respondents
expect coverage to remain stable during the first half of 2010.
The DIRK sentiment indicator is based on a poll of 460 IR departments in
Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Response rates usually stand at around 50
percent, according to DIRK.