Companies drop investor freebies amid hard times

Fri Apr 24, 2009 12:15pm EDT
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By Martha Graybow

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Forget the goody bags. Many shareholders accustomed to grabbing free food and gifts at U.S. corporate annual meetings are going home empty-handed.

Citigroup, 3M Co, Hershey Co and other big businesses have scaled back the freebies at their yearly stockholder gatherings, deciding to send a message of austerity to investors amid the rough economy.

The annual meeting is a corporate rite in which stockholders typically elect members of the board of directors, approve the appointment of outside auditors and listen to management deliver optimistic remarks about the business.

Most individual investors never go to these meetings, usually held in the spring by companies whose fiscal years end in December. But some do turn up in part because they are enticed by a free lunch, gifts or live entertainment.

But some meetings are being held without the frills these days. Citigroup, for example, did not supply the coffee and pastries it has historically provided when it held its annual gathering earlier this week.

Citigroup Chairman Richard Parsons told stockholders that offering refreshments would have required the bank to rent more space at the Midtown Manhattan hotel where the meeting took place, increasing the expense of the event. In these times, he said, saving money is a good thing.

With the government funneling $45 billion of capital into the bank and the company's share price in the doldrums, many people might agree with the no-doughnuts policy.

3M's shareholders already have been told not to expect any frills at the industrial manufacturer's May 12 meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota.   Continued...

<p>Rows of Hershey candy bars are seen inside the Hershey Store in New York, June 17, 2008. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton</p>