Going dark: public companies and public interest

I have talked about the costs of Sarbanes-Oxley forcing companies to delist themselves and go dark. The disturbing part about that trend is that it undermines one of the great strengths of the markets in the US, Canada, Europe and Great Britain and Australia with the rise of the citizen investor.

It's the great democratisation of the market where more citizens are the collective owners of the big companies. When society at large has some skin in the game, the companies become more accountable to society. It's a point I examine here when I look at the trend of the "universal owner".

Now there are many more constituents and vested interests, and that changes the game completely.

Just ask the ousted chief executive of Home Depot Robert Nardelli, a point made in this piece by The Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray that we have here via the San Diego Daily Transcript.

The trend of so many companies going private therefore might not be in the public interest. It's a point examined by Chicago Tribune columnist Andrew Leckey . Leckey draws on the comments made by Robert Mittelstaedt, dean of the W.P. Carey School of Business who, it must be said, is no friend of Sarbanes-Oxley. Just read his comments in this piece.

Still, Mittelstaedt now says that public companies have brought jobs, retirement plans and good investment and that the practice of private equity outfits to saddle the companies up with debt, and then unload it later might not be in the public interest.

More importantly, it undermines the way citizen investors are reshaping corporations and making them more accountable. It's a trend examined by Stephen Davis, Jon Lukomnik, David Pitt-Watson in their new book The New Capitalists, and summed up in their piece The Capitalist Manifesto: Managing the Rise of Citizen Investors.

The citizen investor, they argue, has laid down 10 commandments for delivering value:

1. Be profitable – create value.

2. Only grow when you can create value.

3. Pay people fairly to do the right thing.

4. Do not waste capital.

5. Focus where your skills are strongest.

6.Renew the organisation.

7. Treat customers, suppliers, workers and communities fairly.

8. Seek regulations which ensure your operations do not cause collateral damage and your competitors do not gain unfair advantage.
9.Stay clear of partisan politics.

10. Communicate what you are doing and be accountable for it.

Any trend that undermines these forces has to be watched carefully. That's in the public interest.


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