Investor Relations
Relating to the Foolish Four

by Chris Rugaber (TMF

Alexandria, VA (January 28, 1999) -- Earlier this week the Fool posted a shareholder rights feature by Yi-Hsin Chang (TMF Puck) and Louis Corrigan (TMF Seymor), which rated ten different companies on how well they handle their investor relations. Many of the ten companies Yi-Hsin and Louis looked at are held in various Foolish portfolios, and others are widely held stocks. Click here for an excellent article about why full disclosure to shareholders is important.

Of course, here in the Foolish Four portfolio, investor relations are not quite as important, since we have picked these stocks as part of a mechanical strategy. Nevertheless, as shareholders we are part-owners of these companies and should have the same access to conference calls, earnings reports, and so forth that institutions and analysts have. Even if these are mechanical picks, many of us want to keep up with what the companies are doing. Therefore, shareholder relations are relevant.

Five Dow companies are included in Louis and Yi-Hsin's article: AT&T (NYSE: T), Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), IBM (NYSE: IBM), McDonald's (NYSE: MCD), and Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS), with IBM getting the best grade of the five and Coke the lowest. None of our Foolish Four stocks were included in the article, so let's take a quick look at them now.

All of our Foolish Four stocks have adequate websites to help the investor keep up with what's going on with the company. All the websites include quarterly reports,recent news releases, and other basics. J.P. Morgan's (NYSE: JPM) and 3M's (NYSE: MMM) are probably the best organized and offer the most information. Caterpillar's (NYSE: CAT) is also helpful, but International Paper's (NYSE: IP) has less financial information and is not quite as well organized.

J.P. Morgan's website provides daily and historical stock quotes, an Excel file of historical financial data, contact info for individual investors (including an e-mail address), and annual and quarterly reports, with the quarterly reports dating back four years. On the main page, you can also read some of Morgan's analysis of European Monetary Union.

3M's is even easier to navigate than Morgan's, with interesting information about their products and downloadable copies of their financial statements. (I knew 3M made Post-It Notes, but I never knew they were making lenses for NASA's spacecraft).

Caterpillar has lots of cool pictures of their equipment, an online form to order an investment package, and fairly well-organized financial information, though it takes slightly longer to find some of it than it does on 3M's website. Caterpillar also has an Investor Relations e-mail address.

International Paper's website has plenty of information about the company itself and has all the necessary financial information. Navigation is not quite as clear, though I suppose my only real complaint is that if you go to "Financials," the most recent information is for the third quarter of 1998. Fourth quarter information is available in a news release in the "News" section, which is easy enough to find -- but you have to know to look for it. Of course, there's also a link to it on the home page, which I didn't notice at first because I bookmarked the Financials page.

Of course, reading press releases on a company's website will only tell you so much. 3M's press release describing its fourth quarter earnings is informative enough, but you have to read Ann Coleman's Tuesday column before you can really understand why the company's stock price went up after the earnings report, especially since the company's fourth quarter earnings were (slightly) lower than they were a year ago.

In addition, there's certainly more to investor relations than websites. As we cover these companies over the upcoming year, we'll hopefully be able to listen to conference calls and generally keep our eyes open to make sure individual investors are getting the same information as the institutions and the analysts. Any Fools out there with good, bad, or ugly investor relations experiences with any Foolish Four companies should drop me a note, and we'll see if there are some particularly egregious offenders. Fool on!

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Today's Stock Lists | 1998 Dow Returns

01/28/99 Close
Stock  Change   Last
CAT  -   1/8   44.50
JPM  +3  7/8   104.38
MMM  +1  7/16  75.63
IP   -  13/16  40.06
                   Day   Month    Year   History
        FOOL-4   +0.86%  -1.73%  -1.73%  -0.27%
        DJIA     +0.88%   1.09%   1.09%   0.69%
        S&P 500  +1.78%   2.94%   2.94%   4.33%
        NASDAQ   +2.92%  12.98%  12.98%  14.53%

    Rec'd   #  Security     In At       Now    Change

 12/24/98   24 Caterpillar   43.08     44.50     3.30%
 12/24/98   14 3M            73.57     75.63     2.79%
 12/24/98    9 JP Morgan    105.51    104.38    -1.08%
 12/24/98   22 Int'l Paper   43.55     40.06    -8.01%

    Rec'd   #  Security     In At     Value    Change

 12/24/98   24 Caterpillar 1034.00   1068.00    $34.00
 12/24/98   14 3M          1030.00   1058.75    $28.75
 12/24/98    9 JP Morgan    949.62    939.38   -$10.25
 12/24/98   22 Int'l Paper  958.12    881.38   -$76.75

                             Cash     $41.84
                            TOTAL   $3989.34