Spring 2022 cover story: How the pandemic has shaped share registers

Mar 31, 2022
The acceptance and adoption of virtual investor meetings is the pandemic’s enduring legacy for listed businesses around the world. This has made it easier for companies to attract global shareholders to their register, but has it resulted in a more diversified shareholder base?

No one will be surprised to read the stats on in-person meetings from last year: according to IR Magazine’s Global Roadshow Report 2021, limitations on human movement as a result of the pandemic led to a substantial reduction in one-on-one, in-person meetings between companies and investors. 

The results show that companies held just a handful of face-to-face meetings with investors in the past year: an average of 11 globally, representing just 7 percent of all meetings during 2021. This number would be even lower were it not for Asian firms, which held an average of 20 in-person investor meetings in the past year, compared with six held by European companies and just three by North American firms.

Instead, there was a stunning shift to online: virtual meetings accounted for 14 of every 15 meetings with investors in the past year. What impact, if any, did this have on the way companies reach out to, and interact with, existing and new shareholders?

Shifting registers

There was certainly movement in global investor allocations to listed assets through 2020 and 2021. But with so much going on in the markets, it’s hard to point to how much of a role the online meeting revolution played in that change.

Lucas Scheer, LS Global Advisors
Lucas Scheer, LS Global Advisors

Lucas Scheer, president of LS Global Advisors in Japan, notes that virtual meetings and videoconferences were rarely used in the country pre-Covid. Although this has changed completely, the attraction of foreign investors to US companies has always been there.

‘Virtual meetings were frowned upon [in Japan] due to security concerns and general corporate policies prohibiting them,’ Scheer explains. ‘The pandemic means foreign travel to Japan is still highly restricted. My clients have realized they must allow for virtual videoconferences so we can have the conversations and communication we need to have with investors, given that in-person travel is limited. In Japan, virtual conferencing and communications probably have been brought to the forefront 10 years earlier than they would have been without Covid.’

Scheer adds that while the US investor base has attracted more foreign ownership through the pandemic, it’s not just due to the rise of virtual communication. ‘That’s helped, but the US is also the most attractive place to invest money, which means there has been a concentration of capital in US businesses and more foreign capital going into US businesses,’ he says.

In the same vein, Ross Moffat, head of IR at Australian supply chain software firm WiseTech, agrees virtual meetings have made outreach easier, but demurs when asked whether this has led to a change in the shareholder mix on the register. ‘What it has enabled is broader outreach and more efficient use of management’s time,’ he says. ‘Investors still go through the same thorough process to make their investment decisions, no matter whether meetings are virtual or in person.’

IR Magazine’s research points to a dilution of domestic investors in US companies through 2021. The percentage of shares held by local investors in US businesses dropped from 88 percent in 2020 to 84 percent in 2021. The data shows the vast proportion of listed US businesses remain in the hands of institutional investors, which hold a 69 percent interest in listed US companies, down from 71 percent in 2020.

Similarly, two thirds of the equity in European companies is held by institutions in the region, with just under a quarter held by North American investors. These figures are largely unchanged year on year. By contrast, Asian investor ownership in businesses in this region has become more concentrated through the pandemic, rising by 12 percent as North American and European investors left Asian companies’ registers. Just three in 10 shares in Asian companies are held by institutional investors.

This is an extract of a feature from the Spring 2022 issue of IR Magazine. Click here to read the full article.

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