1998 Telegraph series - opening story

By Stephen Mayne

January 17, 2008

This was the opening story in Stephen Mayne's 12-part series for The Daily Telegraph examining AGM Season 1998 from the perspective of an active shareholder.

It's been an expensive exercise, but over the past few months I've bought shares in 50 listed companies in readiness for corporate Australia's annual general meeting season. The idea is to go along to annual meetings as a shareholder and join other investors in asking a few pertinent questions.

Each Saturday, commencing this week, I will write a column wrapping up the experiences of the week and then most of this column each Monday will be devoted to foreshadowing which meetings are coming up the following week and the issues involved.

Logistically, most of the meetings attended will be of Sydney-based companies such as Kerry Packer's Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd, Rodney Adler's FAI Insurance, pokies giant Aristocrat, Frank Lowy's Westfield Holding and cinema group Hoyts. Each has their own interesting issues.

For most interstate meetings such as Burswood in Perth, MIM in Brisbane or Crown in Melbourne, a proxy will be attending to ask questions on my behalf.

As an employee of News Corp, the decision has been taken not to attend that company's annual meeting in Adelaide tomorrow.

The opening in the series will therefore be ERA's annual meeting on Thursday, which promises to be a colorful affair complete with the usual protestors against contruction of the Jabiluka uranium mine at Kakadu.

As an investment, ERA was good buying at $1.98 during the election campaign as the defeat of Labor has lifted it to $2.20 on Friday. However, it remains a long way from its high of $6.50 in October 1996 when uranium euphoria peaked after John Howard's first victory.

The two other meetings on this week are the perenially-troubled mining giant MIM in Brisbane on Thursday and insurer HIH on Friday, which has seen its share price tumble since launching its lofty $290 million bid for FAI.

A lot of companies don't have June 30 balance days and therefore won't be covered by the series. These include AMP, Star City, National Mutual, Colonial, WMC, BHP and Macquarie Bank.

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