Name three things these five companies have in common: AutoZone, Booking Holdings, Cable One, NVR and Seaboard. One: Their shares are among the priciest in the U.S. stock market — all in four figures. Two: They have almost never split their stock. Three: All enjoy among the highest-quality shareholders measured by long-term horizon and portfolio concentration.
These are not coincidences, yet the shared experience seems lost on the increasing number of companies doing stock splits, from Apple US:AAPL
to Tesla US:TSLA
. Both of these companies recently split their stock in order to cut share price. They apparently are trying to attract shareholders who will also be customers. But while that might be good product marketing, it is definitely bad investor stewardship: Stock splits degrade a company’s shareholder quality.
Managers and investors alike should care about which shareholders grace a company’s shareholder list. At companies brimming with transient shareholders, managers bend toward a short-term focus, while those dominated by indexers get shareholder proposals and votes aligning with prevailing social and political fashions.
Some companies attract a greater proportion than others of patient and focused shareholders — what Warren Buffett has dubbed “high-quality shareholders” (QSs for short). While all public companies have transients and indexers among their shareholders, those with a higher density of QSs get longer strategic runways that are associated with superior performance.
Stock splits are riveted on stock price; managers who cultivate quality shareholders shun them. ”
Companies shape their shareholder base through dozens of corporate practices. Actions that focus on stock price tend to draw transients while those emphasizing business performance attract QSs. Stock splits are riveted on stock price; managers who cultivate quality shareholders shun them.
After all, stock splits are like exchanging a dime for two nickels. They produce no economic effect, but carry subtle psychological ones. Side-effects include increasing a company’s market capitalization, despite no change in fundamentals. This occurs because both the news of the split and the lower share price stimulate short-term interest.
In contrast, companies that avoid splits and have the highest stock price boast the highest density of QSs. For example, Berkshire Hathaway’s Class A shares US:BRK
take the cake, with a six-figure share price, and a greater proportion of QSs than any other company by far. While many factors contributed to Berkshire’s multi-decade success story, its outstanding shareholder base is an important one.
After Berkshire, the next tier of high-priced stocks and high-quality shareholder lists includes the five companies mentioned earlier. Their shareholder lists give a taste of who are today’s leading QSs — the most patient and focused:
, an automotive parts retailer, counts sizable QSs among its shareholders including institutional investors AllianceBernstein, Burgundy Asset Management, First Manhattan and Tweedy Browne.
, a travel fare aggregator and search engine, formerly known as priceline.com, has not split its stock since 1998. Its long list of QSs includes Capital Research Global Investors, Dodge & Cox, Edgewood Management, Fidelity Investments and Harris Associates.
is a homebuilder and mortgage banker whose shares grew ten-fold in the decade before the housing bubble burst. The shares remain pricey and the stock has never split since its 1940 debut. Marquee QSs include Diamond Hill Capital, Smead Capital and Wellington Management.
is a $6 billion (annual revenue) conglomerate that is 77% owned by the Bresky family. The stock has never been split since its 1959 launch and turnover is extremely low. Its recent trading price is also low by historic standards. Notable QSs include First Saberpoint Capital, Khan Brothers and Knightsbridge Asset Management.
Cable One US:CABO
is a broadband communications company spun off in 2015 from Graham Holdings (successor to The Washington Post Co.). Its QSs include Capital International Investors, D. F. Dent, Neuberger Berman, Rothschild & Co. and Wallace Capital.
Consider what happened when the board of The Washington Post Co. prepared to spin off Cable One. Advisers predicted its shares would open for trading at more than $400 a share and they urged the board to split the stock to lower the price. The distinguished board, attuned to attracting QSs thanks to Buffett’s longstanding service on it — rejected the advice. Five years later, Cable One trades more than four times that estimated opening price and maintains its high-quality shareholder base.
Research conducted by the Quality Shareholders Initiative at George Washington University shows that companies with the highest-priced shares tend to enjoy the greatest proportion of QSs. For instance, of the 100 highest-priced shares in the S&P 500 US:SPX
, more than one-third are in the highest decile for QS density and more than half are in the top quarter.
Leading names on both of these lists are corporate stalwarts, including American Tower REIT US:AMT
, Avalonbay Communities US:AVB
, Roper Technologies US:ROP
, Stryker US:SYK
, and Thermo Fisher Scientific US:TMO
. Among companies with triple-digit share prices that lead the list of shareholder quality: Equinix US:EQIX
, Intuitive Surgical US:ISRG
, Mettler-Toledo International US:MTD
and TransDigm Group US:TDG
Commentators predict more stock splits this quarter. The optics appear too good to some boards. Even companies with a high density of QSs can succumb, such as McCormick US:MKC
. Directors weighing a stock-split decision should consider its impact on their shareholder list.
It’s said that managers get the shareholders they deserve. Those focused on business performance tend to have a greater proportion of QSs, rather than transients or indexers, and prosper accordingly. Those focused on share price, exemplified by making stock splits, instead attract short-term transient interest, with corresponding effects. Managers and investors alike would do well to pay attention to corporate practices that QSs endorse, and where they invest.
I am 32, and just a month ago I found out that my ex-wife, whom I haven’t spoken to since we divorced, passed away tragically in a moped accident. My ex-wife had life insurance through her job. My ex-mother-in-law informed my father that my ex-wife had kept me as her beneficiary on her life-insurance policy, and her family wants the money for funeral costs, bills, etc.
Not only did my ex-wife have me on her policy as the primary (and only) beneficiary, she updated my home address on the policy after we divorced. Also, I found out through the insurance company that my ex-wife had two term life-insurance policies, one for me and one for my ex-sister-in-law.
I blocked my ex-in-laws, and now I received a threatening voicemail from a blocked number, so I’ve taken it upon myself to notify the authorities. I live in New York, I am remarried, and my divorce was very simple and easy. We left the marriage with what we came into it with. The life-insurance company approved the check in my name, and is sending it to my home.
Am I legally in the clear? I have not spoken to or bothered these people once since we divorced five years ago. I just want to be left alone and move on with my life.
Thank you very much in advance.
You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.
Dear Fed Up,
First, I’ll deal with your life insurance concerns, and then the subject of your ex-wife’s funeral expenses.
The life-insurance policy was between your ex-wife and her insurer. It’s possible to overturn a life-insurance policy if it explicitly goes against the terms of a divorce decree, as happened in this case, but that too was a complicated lawsuit. Some states do have statutes that can revoke such beneficiary arrangements.
In “Kaye Melin and Metropolitan Life Insurance,” the children of the deceased were awarded the proceeds from the life-insurance policy, not the ex-wife who was named as beneficiary on the agreement. In that case, the law presumed that what her ex-husband wanted after their divorce was incorrect.
The ruling stated: “Thus, if a person designates a spouse as a life insurance beneficiary and later gets divorced, Minnesota law provides that the beneficiary designation is automatically revoked. At least twenty-eight other states have enacted similar revocation-upon-divorce statutes.”
‘I’m reluctant to say that you are ‘in the clear,’ given previous court rulings, and statutes in some states on the revocation of named beneficiaries post-divorce.’ ”
I’m reluctant to say that you are “in the clear,” given previous court rulings, and statutes in some states on the revocation of named beneficiaries post-divorce. In your case, it seems clearer that your ex-wife wanted you to be the beneficiary. She did, as you say, update your address. It would be hard to see a more explicit sign of her intentions than that.
“Unless the policyholder of the life-insurance plan changes the beneficiary designation officially, the people originally named will remain the beneficiaries through the life of the policy,” according to Heban, Murphree and Lewandowski, a law firm in Toledo, Ohio. “Even if the policyholder was not on speaking terms with the individual upon his or her death, that beneficiary would still receive the income.”
“In the case of someone who divorced and remarried, the policy may name the first spouse as beneficiary. If the policyholder never changed the policy to reflect the divorce and remarriage, the ex-spouse could end up with the benefit. This can cause the current spouse and any children from the second marriage to dispute the beneficiary designation on the policy,” it adds.
But much, I suspect, would depend on what state you live in, and the specifics of your case.
On a separate issue, it’s difficult to glean from your letter whether your in-laws had little funds to pay for the funeral expenses, or were mad as hell that you were listed as beneficiary and felt you should contribute, or both. On the one hand, it seems like they are not in a state of mind to be reasonable and, chances are, if you did engage it would lead to further demands and acrimony.
Perhaps you could talk to your ex-wife’s lawyer and see if there is enough money to cover the costs of her funeral and, if not, you could make a contribution. But given the alleged harassing phone calls, their anger and grief, and their antipathy toward you, you would need to have all correspondence go through the attorney and refrain from any direct communication.
There is no excuse for their taking their grief out on you. Still, spare a thought for her family. If you are fed up, imagine how they feel.
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Wear a mask. Don’t wear a mask. Make one. Buy one. Wear it outdoors. Wear it indoors.
Confused? You’re not alone.
So what’s the deal with the CDC’s new guidance? “Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Thursday. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
Vaccines have helped to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and this appears to be a natural next step for Americans tired of masking up. “We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” Walensky said.
We are still far, far away from normal. You can take off your mask “except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance,” the CDC says. You still need a mask on buses and trains, in museums and most stores, possibly at your place of work, but not inside restaurants, except when you’re going to the rest room.
How do you know a maskless person is vaccinated? It’s an honors system. The CDC guidance gives less reason for people to abide by that old American Express slogan: “Don’t leave home without it.” People are leaving home without their masks, even in states that still require everyone — vaccinated or not — to wear them in outdoor public spaces, including on the streets of New York.
Many people are fed up, it seems. Little wonder: The CDC’s announcement took many health professionals by surprise: According to a New York Times survey, 29% of epidemiologists surveyed thought people would be wearing masks in public spaces for at least aanother year, while 26% said they believed people would do so for another year, and 26% said they thought mask wearing would continue in some form from now on.
‘You still need a mask on buses and trains, in museums and most stores, possibly at your place of work, but not inside restaurants, except when you’re going to the rest room.’ ”
The change in CDC mask guidelines comes just over a year since the CDC said everyone should wear masks. In April 2020, the Trump administration and the CDC reversed their policies on face masks, and said all Americans should wear cloth face coverings and not — as officials previously said — just medical workers. Trump cited “recent studies,” while the CDC cited “new evidence.”
Fast-forward to Thursday. “I think it’s a great milestone, a great day. It’s been made possible by the extraordinary success we’ve had in vaccinating so many Americans so quickly,” a maskless President Joe Biden declared in the White House Rose Garden declared, citing the vaccines from Johnson & Johnson JNJ, +0.15%
Pfizer-BioNTech PFE, -0.20%
and Moderna MRNA, +7.68%.
“It’s going to take a little more time for everyone who wants to get vaccinated to get their shots. So all of us, let’s be patient with one another,” the president said.
Forgive the public for having mask rules fatigue. We’ve been on quite a journey. Studies earlier in the pandemic suggested that adopting the practice of mask wearing, one that was already accepted in many Asian cultures, would have saved tens of thousands of lives. Many Americans were understandably frustrated, but also eager to do anything they could to stop the virus.
Flashback: Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a briefing on Jan. 30 last year, “The virus is not spreading in the general community. We don’t routinely recommend the use of face masks by the public to prevent respiratory illness. And we certainly are not recommending that at this time for this new virus.”
Three months later, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, ordered all New Yorkers to cover their faces in public when they can’t maintain a proper social distance. “You’re walking down the street alone? Great! You’re now at an intersection and there are people at the intersection, and you’re going to be in proximity to other people? Put the mask on.”
‘These are just guidelines from the CDC. It’s up to the states to decide what to do next. New Jersey and New York still maintain their mask guidelines in public spaces.’ ”
The CDC’s latest mask announcement are just guidelines. It’s up to the states to decide what to do next. And that’s a whole other story. New Jersey and New York still maintain their mask guidelines when in public spaces. Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, is examining the guidelines, a spokeswoman for his office said in a statement. Murphy, like many governors, wears a mask in his Twitter profile. Perhaps that tells us all we need to know.
Roughly half of U.S. states have some mask mandate. Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Texas, among others, had already removed their statewide mask mandates in public spaces and/or had not instituted one. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said Thursday he would grant clemency to gym owners who broke the mask mandate.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, officially ended his state’s face-mask mandate in March, and allowed businesses to reopen, despite opposition from rival lawmakers and health professionals at the time. Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, described the move as “extraordinarily dangerous” and said it “will kill Texans.”
Cuomo, meanwhile, perhaps still reeling from this time last year when New York was the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., was definitive in maintaining current policy. Keep your masks on. “In New York, we have always relied on the facts and the science to guide us throughout the worst of this pandemic and in our successful reopening,” he said in a statement.
‘People take off their masks to make phone calls on the street in states where there is a mandate to wear them in public places, and they take them off while they are sitting outdoors eating.’ ”
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, said his state will follow the CDC guidelines. “Later today, we’ll be updating Vermont’s mask mandate following the CDC’s updated guidance, announced yesterday,” he tweeted Friday. “This will mean those who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks — indoors or outdoors — nor do they need to be concerned with physical distancing.”
In Nevada, Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, said the state updated its own policies on mask wearing to follow the CDC’s guidelines with immediate effect. Nevada Health Response added: “COVID-19 is still very much a threat in our State and many Nevadans may choose to continue using masks based on their and their families’ personal health concerns. Others should respect this choice.”
That statement, perhaps more than any other, illustrates the tension, fear and frustration not only with state laws and changing guidance, but with each other. People take off their masks to make phone calls on the street in states where there is a mandate to wear them in public places, and they take them off while they are sitting outdoors eating. Most people are doing the best they can.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said people should still wear masks in public spaces for now, but likely not after June 15 when the state fully reopens. “Only in those massively large settings where people around the world, not just around the country, are convening and where people are mixing in real dense spaces,” Newsom told KTTV.
“Otherwise we’ll make guidance, recommendations, but no mandates and no restrictions in businesses large and small.” Is that all crystal clear? I’ll leave that for you to decide.