Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Investor Relations Year in Review

Like Jimmy Buffet, I sat down last weekend just to try and recall the whole year; all of the faces and all of the places, wondering where they all disappeared. Unfortunately, unlike Jimmy, I didn’t run into a chum with a bottle of rum, so I wound up sitting right here. Writing this post, I may add. Herewith a quick review of some of the more notable things I noticed in the world of investor relations this year coupled with Palizza’s Predictions for 2008:

The World is Going Electronic: The SEC ushered in the era of more aggressive electronic delivery of proxy materials in 2007. Previously, shareholders could opt-in for electronic delivery of the proxy statement and annual report. Relatively few did. Now, companies can force them to opt out of electronic delivery. The first big annual report season for this new delivery method will occur in the Spring of 2008, and given the cost savings in printing and postage involved, most companies will make economically rational decisions and force shareholders to take action if they want to receive a paper copy of the annual report. After all, investor relations reports to the CFO, not marketing. Annual report printers everywhere have to be very concerned about the disappearance of the traditional printed annual report. Companies will like the cost savings and designers of annual reports should be neutral on the subject.

Hedge Funds and Activist Investors have a Bifurcated Year. The first half of the year saw lots of activity by hedge funds and activist investors. Deals were easy to come by and the credit markets were loose. Company managements were always looking over their shoulders to see who was sniffing around. All of this came to a screeching halt in the second half of the year as the sub-prime mortgage crisis caused the credit markets to lock up. Companies that have been underperforming or that are particularly subject to financial engineering because they have underleveraged balance sheets have gained a bit of breathing room. If they’re lucky, investor relations officers will be able to focus more on the longer term fundamentals and less on the short term trading trends in 2008.

A Corollary to the Credit Crunch: Look for the M & A pendulum to swing back in favor of strategic corporate purchasers over the next year or two, until the credit hangover eases. Of course, corporate purchasers will have to try and overcome the heightened price expectation of sellers who have seen the multiples financial buyers paid over the past few years. That should make for some interesting investor relations spiels from IROs as they attempt to justify the price being paid.

The U.S. Dollar weakened throughout the year against the British Pound and the Euro. U.S. equities must look like relative bargains to investors in Europe. On the other hand, whatever gains European investors had in U.S. equities this year were probably wiped out by currency conversions back into the Pound or the Euro. (The market giveth, and the market taketh away.) Look for more interest in U.S. equities from European investors in 2008 provided they start to think the U.S. dollar is at or near the end of its slide.

Four predictions is about all I can handle, so I will close out with best wishes for a happy holiday season for all and a prosperous new year. May the markets be kind to you in 2008!

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