6 Gifts for Investors

Wrigley (NYSE: WWY  ) shareholders are probably still giddy over last week's buyout. The $23 billion deal promises to cash out investors at a nearly 30% premium. That's a big jump for a slow grower, and you'd expect investors to be tickled about the juicy fruit of this exit strategy.

But I'm not convinced. I predict that Wrigley investors will feel a void come December, when they wait in vain for a gift that will never come.

See, Wrigley has been the poster child for shareholder perks. Every holiday season, Wrigley ships out a box with 20 packs of gum to every investor. Because new Wrigley parent Mars is privately held, there won't be any public shareholders to send the annual gifts to.

In other words, another shareholder perk bites -- or, in this case, chews -- the dust.

I've been chronicling the demise of shareholder perks for a few years now. I went from covering the plethora of shareholder freebies -- in two separate installments -- during the late 1990s to wondering where they went in 2006.

The sweetest perk is a well-performing stock. Capital gains rule, my friend. However, a tradition of perks encourages investors to hold for the long haul. And because the benefit is typically related to the company's product or service, shareholder perks are also good branding efforts.

Companies don't always see it that way anymore, though. Amusement-park chains that used to offer discounted admission and lodging for their shareholders have discontinued the practice. The leading coffeehouse chain that used to send a keepsake shareholder gift card with every annual report sent out just a pair of coupons for small coffees last year.

The shareholder perk is becoming an endangered species, but there are still a few good ones out there. So let me throw some support behind the practice by singling out some of my favorite offers.

Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B  )
This past weekend, 30,000 investors in Omaha, Neb., were treated to hours of wisdom-soaked presentations, Q&A fun, and Fruit of the Loom theatrics. If you think Hannah Montana is a tough ticket to get, admission to this show requires ownership of at least a single Class B share in the company. That will set you back $4,345 as of this morning -- though at least the Berkshire investment will be worth just as much, if not more, after the show.

In addition to the annual meeting itself, investors are treated to special deals and discounts that are available only to those in attendance, with many of the Berkshire-owned companies setting up exhibits at the shareholder powwow.

If you can't make it out to Omaha, you're still in luck. Berkshire investors get a discount on GEICO insurance products.

Churchill Downs (Nasdaq: CHDN  )
Kentucky Derby fans know Churchill Downs well. The horseracing-track operator sends out a pair of passes to investors owning at least 100 shares at the beginning of the year. Those passes provide unlimited general admission for the entire year, and that includes entry to the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby races.

Yes, these are general-admission tickets. You still have to pay up for reserved seating. Still, it's the ultimate freebie for horseracing fans.

Willamette Valley Vineyards (Nasdaq: WVVI  )
This Oregon winery may not be a household name, but oenophiliacs with a pinot noir bent might find themselves trekking out to the Northwest for a piece of Willamette. Shareholders get a list of benefits to rival the length of a five-star eatery's wine list.

Willamette investors get invited to special events at the winery, priority on limited productions, and discounted pricing. They also can play a role in the company's future: They receive personalized business cards to spread the word and get opportunities to volunteer at the company through the nonprofit Oregon Wine Enthusiasts group.

Green Mountain Coffee (Nasdaq: GMCR  )
Java junkies don't have to pay retail if they own a chunk of Green Mountain Coffee. Shareholders get a reference code in their annual proxy mailings that entitle them to receive a 10% discount on all nonsale items through the company's catalog or website.

Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  )
Cool beans also apply to Starbucks investors, even if the company is one of the many to have scaled back their perks in recent years. Until just two years ago, Starbucks sent out a gift card with its annual report. The amount on it wasn't much -- just enough to cover the cost of a favorite brewed beverage -- but the allure to investors was that the card identified them as shareholders.

A few Starbucks investors wrote me last year to complain that Starbucks replaced the gift card with a pair of coupons for free 12-ounce coffees. The coupons may have been commensurate in value with the slick shareholder gift cards, but investors missed the appeal of handing over the gift card to a local barista and being acknowledged as a co-owner.

Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL  )
Landlubbers won't care much for Royal Caribbean's freebie, but it's pay dirt for cruise lovers. The company offers holders of at least 100 shares steep savings once they set sail on one of the company's vessels. Shareholders get between $50 (for short cruises) and $250 (for treks of two weeks or longer) in onboard credit on every Royal Caribbean cruise they take.

Some restrictions apply, but this perk is still one more potential way to cash in on Royal Caribbean beyond the 1.9% yield and the potential for capital appreciation.

Freebies forever
No one should buy a stock exclusively for the perks. It's a mistake to buy any company if the stock falls by greater amounts than anything you may receive as a shareholder benefit.

However, shareholder perks are typically a win-win situation. They usually result in incremental sales for the company and offer investors the opportunity to be rewarded for their loyalty.

If you found yourself on the receiving end of a cool shareholder perk this year, drop me a line, and I'll see whether I receive enough submissions to revisit the topic shortly.

More Foolishness:

Berkshire Hathaway, Royal Caribbean, and Starbucks are Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter service selections. Berkshire Hathaway and Starbucks are also Inside Value picks. The Fool owns stock in Berkshire Hathaway and Starbucks. If you want a freebie right now, check out either service for free this month with a 30-day trial subscription.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz isn't just scrounging for cheap stuff. He simply believes that, in the long run, rewarding investors will pay off many times over on the bottom line. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story and is part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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