Equities Dividends for body and soul

Some investors care about more than price gains: they are also keen on chocolate and beer. What shares give out dividends in kind?

by Marc Lustenberger 17 Apr 2017

Hermann Struchen has attended around 700 annual general meetings of Swiss corporations over the last 50 years. He can list every event that he went to in the last year. “There were 21 in total. In the past, I sometimes went to two in one day,” the 86-year-old pensioner from Zurich recalls. “I get to go all over Switzerland.”

AGM speaker

From Nestlé on Lake Geneva, to Rieter in Winterthur and Georg Fischer in Schaffhausen, the former businessman is a familiar face. And he isn’t afraid to step up to the microphone and voice his opinion to the directors, often about the dividend package. For Struchen, good food, an attractive accompanying program and a bag of giveaways should also be part of every AGM.

After all, companies don’t only pay dividends in cash; some still give out dividends in kind. A famous example is the four-kilo case of chocolate from Lindt & Sprüngli. However, anyone wanting to enjoy this special treat must dig deep in their pockets: one share in the Kilchberg company costs around 60,000 francs. Shares in the Swatch Group (approximately 320 francs) are also popular. In addition to the dividend (7.50 francs), every shareholder who attends the AGM gets a Swatch watch worth about 100 francs. The Falken brewery, on the other hand, serves all-you-can-eat ox tongue salad and beer, followed by cold cuts and cheese, and hot sausages towards midnight – with a six-pack of beer to take home. Giveaways from mountain railway companies and institutions like the Zurich Zoo are also popular.

Marketing mix

“Dividends in kind should not be the main focus when deciding to invest,” explains UBS analyst Stefan R. Meyer. For major shareholders such as investment and pension funds, such gifts are irrelevant anyway. For small shareholders, however, a varied dividend policy can offer added value. “The annual general meeting is a valuable marketing tool,” Meyer continues. “The event helps to inspire shareholders interested in the company’s longterm development.” In the past, shares with attractive dividends in kind were more widespread than they are today.

Less wine

Hermann Struchen regrets that annual general meetings are becoming less important. In some places, you’re sent on your way with a bag containing just a soft drink and a sandwich, he says. Wine is no longer a matter of course. “It annoys me that Novartis no longer provides a drinks reception, and I said so loudly and clearly through the microphone at the AGM,” Struchen recalls. Nothing has changed at the EMS-Chemie AGM, however. “It’s always a huge party,” Struchen says. He also praises Georg Fischer’s AGM in Schaffhausen, describing the trip to the Rhine Falls as worthwhile for the “piping hot ham and legendary strawberry tart” alone. And at the end of the meeting, all shareholders get a bag of exquisite Schaffhausen specialties to take home with them.

Eggs in one basket?

Dividends in kind are tempting, but the golden rule for investing remains: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Investing in different markets, sectors and countries reduces the risks. UBS Strategy Funds, for example, are an easy way of doing this, offering a solid foundation for any portfolio.