My wife and I just last week returned from a relaxing vacation across the Atlantic. To get back in the writing groove, yesterday I did what I usually do: scan the news for proof that we're actually home. It didn't take long. Seeing that a trial date had been set in PeopleSoft's (Nasdaq: PSFT ) suit against Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL ) was just the blast of cold water I needed. After all, is there anything more American these days than a lawsuit?
Database giant Oracle is already facing a court date with the Justice Department on June 7 over its proposed hostile takeover of business software supplier PeopleSoft. On Nov. 1, it will defend against PeopleSoft's charges of libel and unfair competition.
Regardless of who wins, these contests have proven costly to shareholders. Owners of PeopleSoft have seen the value of their stake drop 29% from the stock's 52-week high of $24.04 to $17.07 a share at yesterday's close. Those holding Oracle shares haven't done much better. The stock is 26% off its 52-week high of $15.51, finishing trading yesterday at $11.40.
Ouch. And yet I don't feel sorry for Oracle and PeopleSoft shareholders, because they aren't without blame for their current predicament. Really, I'm serious. Superinvestor Benjamin Graham was clear in his writings that shareholders should act as if they own 100% of the companies they invest in. As an owner, Graham was often the conscience of management, challenging executives when cash wasn't applied well or when strategy failed to deliver a reasonable return on equity.
How many of you who own a slice of either Oracle or PeopleSoft would meet Graham's standard? Have you read the materials covering the proposed merger between the two? How about the proxy statements that detail management proposals and pay? I fear the knowledgeable investors who contribute regularly to our Oracle discussion board are in the minority. I hope I'm wrong, of course.
The bottom line is there is no excuse for not engaging management as an owner, especially when it's so easy to contact them. That's what investor relations departments are for. You can reach Oracle's here and PeopleSoft's here. Please, if you have an opinion about either of the lawsuits, do as Ben Graham would: Act like an owner.
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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is setting aside time to read the proxy statements and annual reports that piled up during his vacation. He has no stake in any companies mentioned, and you can view his Fool profile here.