Pressure to dole out credits
Harvey Norman's Gerry Harvey and the Australian Shareholders Association's Stephen Mayne agree on one issue — the retailer should pay out its millions of dollars in franking credits.
Even so, as the annual meeting season reaches its final week, with Harvey Norman, Woolworths, Bank of Queensland and Challenger Financial Services among the companies set to present their earnings to shareholders, there will be one likely constant — that the retailer will continue to keep hold of its more than $650 million of franking credits.
"They've been accumulating for such a long time, and I really do want to pay them out," Harvey Norman's chairman and founder Mr Harvey said on Sunday. "We will do it one day but I don't know when.
"There are plenty of people arguing that we could gear up higher and pay it out, and that the company's strong enough to do that. They are probably right, but at the same token I've been around a long time and I know if you hit bad times, it's nice to have a solid company."
Mr Mayne said the retailer was one of the worst offenders when it came to distributing franking credits, given its market capitalisation and capacity to pay. Harvey Norman had a market capitalisation of $3.4 billion as of Friday. "Shouldn't these be paid out to shareholders before they become less valuable when Tony Abbott's paid parental leave scheme is introduced?" Mr Mayne asked in a statement.
"The tax position of the controlling shareholder may be different from that of retail investors, so we will also ask the independent directors why a lowly geared company like Harvey Norman doesn't distribute more of its franking credits."
The ASA also took aim at what it said was the high number of ASX-listed companies, more than 200, holding their annual meetings on the final day of the season, calling it the "last day laggards' club".
"If you've got something to hide, having an AGM on Friday afternoon in Perth on the last day of the season is the best way to avoid attention," Mr Mayne said.
This year's annual meeting season has been fairly uneventful, with financial markets more focused on the news from US Federal Reserve about when it might start to reduce its bond-buying program, Patersons Securities strategist Tony Farnham said.
"I think everyone's been more focused on what's been happening overseas. Will [the Fed] taper, won't they taper?" Mr Farnham said. "The AGM season, unless there's a spectacular story like WorleyParsons, hasn't been getting the front pages."