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There's plenty to worry about in the current economy. But it's Thanksgiving, so let's take the emphasis off the types of concerns that have besieged thoughtful investors. After all, this particular holiday emphasizes being thankful for what we do have, even in the face of fear and adversity.
So let's count a few blessings, shareholder-style.
Five for thought
Most of us will gather around tables on Thanksgiving and express our appreciation for our family and friends. Before the tryptophan coma, here are five things I believe serious long-term shareholders should be grateful for this year.
Gadflies: As difficult as times have been, gadflies have abounded, fighting for shareholder-friendly attributes like say-on-pay policies. Maybe the agitation is even working; serial over-compensator Occidental Petroleum (NYSE: OXY ) recently made some concessions to angry shareholders, for example. You don't always have to agree with the gadflies, but we should all be grateful there are folks willing to lend constructive criticism or push back when corporate managements and boards forget their duties to shareholders.
Responsibility: As much as the economic landscape has seemed monopolized by irresponsibility for years, there are some chief executive officers out there who don't think only of themselves. A few examples include Costco's (Nasdaq: COST ) Jim Sinegal and Starbucks' (Nasdaq: SBUX ) Howard Schultz, both of whom have fought to keep health-care benefits for employees despite pressure to do otherwise. That's far more than most of the corporate managers on the retail scene have been able to muster. On a bigger level, socially responsible investing has seen a significant inflow of capital, suggesting social responsibility is finally "in" in the marketplace.
Innovation: Innovation is one of the market's creative forces, and the real source of hope for any stumbling economy. As bleak as things might seem, founders of the next Google or Apple could be toiling in a garage or basement as we speak, ready to spark yet another wonderful, highly profitable business idea. Tough times don't strangle all innovation. United Technologies (NYSE: UTX ) was founded during the Great Depression, and Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) and General Motors (NYSE: GM ) popped up during the panics of 1837 and 1907, respectively.
Community: I recently read a piece in Wired about the genesis of ideas; there's good reason to believe they come from diverse, creative groups like our own Foolish community, not lone hermits holed up somewhere away from other people. Shareholders should always be grateful to have "social scenes" where they can have stimulating discussions about the stocks they own. And of course, ideas that germinate from vibrant social groups could help herald the next breakthrough start-up we can invest in one day. Large public outcries that build virally from community settings also encourage many companies to do the right thing or pay the consequences of poor public relations and other negative outcomes. Strong communities rock hard when all else fails.
Information: On a related note, the Internet disseminates mind-blowing amounts of information for our purposes. After all, we have a heck of a lot more data at our disposal now than investors had decades ago. Securities and Exchange Commission filings are available online at sec.gov, investors can email companies' public relations departments, we can find transcripts of companies' conference calls with analysts, and financial news is copious and instantaneous. There are most certainly problems in our marketplace, but at least we're more aware of the issues we face, now more than ever before. Information is power.
The future is all about the long term
At the moment, I'm not thankful for massive insider trading probes, government intervention that will surely complicate things for the businesses and entrepreneurs that employ people in our country, and Federal Reserve monetary policy "affectionately" known as QE2 that puts us in uncharted waters and could drown us. Meanwhile, many Americans are suffering financially these days, too, which adds a sad and difficult tinge to the landscape. These are difficult times, indeed, in so many ways.
However, let's focus on the future and remember to be grateful for positive elements we do have in our marketplace and to fight for those. Targeting positive, responsible growth in the companies we own, and having so many tools to do so (all the while discussing the issues with one another), separates the long-term shareholders from the short-term speculators.
Long-term thinking -- and its side effect of actually caring about what's going on at the companies we own -- is something we should definitely be thankful for. It pushes for a far better future than the kind speculators build. Happy Thanksgiving, Fools, and please feel free to add your own shareholder-friendly, thankful thoughts in the comment boxes below.
Check back at Fool.com for Alyce Lomax's next column on corporate governance on Dec. 1.