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July 21, 2002, New York Times article


July 21, 2002

Another Dimension of Shareholder Activism



In a time when some companies report money that isn't there, can other companies have too much hard cash?

Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit against National Presto Industries, arguing that the maker of kitchen gadgets is primarily an investment company and should be regulated as such for the benefit of stockholders. The company has a $195.8 million surplus stash, or 72 percent of total assets.

Another cash-heavy company is Farmer Brothers, a family-controlled California coffee company with a cash hoard of $282 million, or 70 percent of assets. Franklin Mutual Advisers, a group with a 9.7 percent stake, is leading an effort to force Farmer Brothers to unlock value.

These cases are part of a trend of stepped-up shareholder activism at a time of intense scrutiny of corporate America. Gary Lutin, an investment banker in New York who has been urging National Presto and Farmer Brothers to treat themselves as investment companies, argues that some new mechanism is needed for shareholders to communicate with one another and with management.

"The annual stockholder meeting is no longer functional" as a means of monitoring performance, he said. He is using what he calls forums to allow discussion among company owners, a type of activity encouraged by the S.E.C. These involve Web sites (his is www.shareholderforum.com), letters and face-to-face gatherings.

"Investors shouldn't rely only on accountants and regulators," he said. "They have to take responsibility themselves."


Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company



Material presented on this page was distributed to participants in a "Forum Program" conducted for public educational purposes, co-sponsored by Gary Lutin with the New York Society of Security Analysts ("NYSSA") Committee for Corporate Governance and Shareholder Rights from January 1999 to July 2001.

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