Irish firms set to go virtual with agms

Cantillon: Restrictions on public gatherings hit companies legally required to hold agms

AIB chief executive Colin Hunt: Bank is holding its agm in April via conference call from its headquarters. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

AIB chief executive Colin Hunt: Bank is holding its agm in April via conference call from its headquarters. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Corporate Ireland is entering that time of the year when many listed companies hold their annual general meetings of shareholders. The end of April is always choc-a-bloc with agms. If, as looks possible, the current Covid-19 restrictions are extended by a couple of weeks, then those companies face two real issues.

First, their usual public agms effectively could be illegal, as public gatherings are banned. Second, even if they could hold the meetings, the mostly elderly cohort of retail investors that usually throng Irish agms are likely to be still “cocooned” in the self-isolation the Government has directed for the over-70s.

All companies must hold agms under company law, with the maximum time allowed between meetings set at 15 months. This gives most businesses a few months to play with while the wheels of commerce remain stayed by Covid-19.

Annual reports

However, it is really only the stock market-listed companies that require public meetings that, in the current crisis, must factor in the restrictions on movement and public gatherings. Under listing requirements, these companies must give at least 30 days’ written notice of the arrangements for their agms, once their annual reports are published.

Kerry Group wrote to its shareholders on Monday to tell them it still planned to go ahead with its agm on April 30th at a currently shuttered hotel in Tralee. “The room will be vacated promptly,” Kerry Group said. No doubt it will.

Glanbia is aiming for April 22nd while CRH’s agm is scheduled for April 23rd. As things stand, Kingspan is due to host its agm on May 1st.

Some companies have already adapted to the situation. AIB is holding its agm next month via conference call from the bank’s headquarters. Dalata, the hotel operator, is doing likewise, although the attendance at its agm is generally low.

Regardless of whether or not the restrictions are lifted, holding large public gatherings is not a good look. Expect many more Irish public companies to go the ‘virtual agm’ route in the coming weeks.

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