“WE WILL GREATLY miss seeing our shareholders,” lamented Warren Buffett ahead of Berkshire Hathaway’s annual general meeting (AGM) on May 2nd. Thousands of his devoted shareholders would normally have flocked to Nebraska for the jamboree. Not this year. Because of covid-19 the conglomerate has moved the gathering online. The 2020 edition of “Woodstock for capitalists”, as Mr Buffett calls it, may turn out to be a “wooden experience”, says Charles Elson of the University of Delaware.
An oddity in pre-coronavirus times, virtual AGMs are spreading fast in the age of social distancing. By the reckoning of Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), a shareholder-advisory firm, the total number of planned annual meetings worldwide confirmed to be online-only as of April 22nd was 2,240, up from 286 for all of 2019. American firms accounted for over half that figure. On April 27th Boeing, a troubled aeroplane-maker, and Honeywell, an industrial conglomerate, both held their AGMs in cyberspace (including voting on shareholder resolutions, most of which were defeated). On May 4th America’s Securities and Exchange Commission, a regulator, will hold a public hearing (online, naturally) to discuss what it all means for corporate governance.
Online meetings have their virtues. Many AGMs are sparsely attended because far-flung...
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