When Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy told a reporter that he supported the "biblical definition of the marriage unit," it was a shot heard 'round the world. In addition to the reactions from activist groups and non-activist consumers, corporations large and small have jumped into the fray by showing their support of marriage equality. But will such demonstrations hurt their bottom line?
Good politics or bad business?
Value-focused consumerism is not a new concept. Environmentally conscious consumers drove the proliferation of natural and organic products. Socially responsible investors actively search for stocks that meet their screening qualifications. A company's policies, lobbying activities, and conservative or liberal leanings, once made public, are all fair game for customers and investors who care about such things. (And some don't.)
In the days following the Chick-fil-A episode, Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife pledged $2.5 million toward the fight to legalize gay marriage in Washington state. General Mills (NYSE: GIS ) CEO Ken Powell has publicly stated the company is against a gay marriage ban up for vote in Minnesota, saying the ban is not in the best interests of the company's employees or Minnesota's economy. And Target, (NYSE: TGT ) , which from the earliest days has positioned itself as a community-focused chain, has launched a series of ads welcoming same-sex couples to the company's wedding registry.
The few, the angry, the loud
A group calling for a boycott of General Mills garnered 8,000 local signatures, a very small drop in a very large, multinational bucket. Even if those 8,000 people earnestly attempted to boycott General Mills, can anyone truly boycott every item made by the giant company?
On the other side of the issue are companies like Marriott (NYSE: MAR ) , whose CEO, Bill Marriott, recently retired. Marriott spoke with BusinessWeek about his strong Mormon values, and how he made the distinction between his personal values and the needs of an international corporation. One significant difference between Cathy and Marriott, of course, is that Marriott had already left the company when the interview ran.
What this means for a diversified portfolio
Will companies coming out in support of marriage equality hurt investors? It hasn't hurt General Mills. When posting quarterly earnings, Powell said there had been no noticeable impact in the company's sales since the announcement. In fact, the stock price rose in the days following. A Web search for "Amazon backlash" turned up very few comments about the donation. More people were upset about last year's Amazon app malfunction.
In the months leading up to election season, both local and federal, we can expect to see more shows of support for and against marriage equality from a variety of large and small corporations, as well as personal endorsements from CEOs that don't reflect a company's policy.
Investors can breathe easy. Such statements and donations aren't PR disasters. They're not product recalls, or labor disputes. And most importantly, they're not surprises. Any investor who has done his or her research before buying a stock will know not only the basics of the balance sheets, but the general ethics of the company. And if a company's ethics are important to you, you'll know what they are before you buy your first share.
Don't worry about who's saying what between now and the election; worry about which companies will thrive, and fall, depending on who's in office. We have and prepared this special report, "These Companies Could Skyrocket After the 2012 Presidential Election." Download a copy today on us; it's free for Fools.
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