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Bill Bennett


An ethical amount of tech shares for a journalist

I’ve deliberately not owned shares in the companies I write about.

That may change. By owning company stock I can take part in shareholder briefings, which is useful to my journalism.

The trick is to own the minimal practical parcel of then make them public when I write about the companies concerned. That way I’m not open to accusations of unethical behaviour.

No law in New Zealand stops me from owning shares. I haven’t seen any local code of journalist ethics or anything from NZX about owning shares.

But I have my own ethical standards. Independence is important. I certainly don’t want readers to suspect I have a vested interest one way or another about the companies I write about.

Nor do I want to write a story that would change a company’s share price if I stood to gain by its publication.

There have been occasions when I could have profited from trading. When Telecom NZ shares briefly dropped below $1.40 in 2010 it was clear the company was undervalued. By the following August the price had doubled. Anyone following Telecom NZ’s fortunes could have seen that coming.

I’m thinking of buying small parcels of technology company shares so I can get access to full shareholder information.

There’s a cost associated with buying shares and it’s often impossible to buy one or two at a time, so I need to buy smallest practical parcels. Can anyone tell me what the smallest practical parcel is and how to buy such a package without incurring large overheads?



5 thoughts on “An ethical amount of tech shares for a journalist

  1. If you have less than 5% in any company I wouldn’t consider it an issue, unless you are on the board or employed by them. If you are getting a retainer of some sort, that’s a different story, where I’d expect a disclaimer. Just my humble opinion:)

  2. Hi Bill
    It had the same principle as you have when I was on the FT. My rule (which was pretty much a general FT rule) was: if your shareholding was published (say, in Private Eye) would you mind? The underlying that is the question of whether you’d make a financial gain if people acted on what you wrote. It’s not in the journalist’s interests for that to happen (people wouldn’t take seriously what you wrote). To keep it simple, either own zero or one share. More complicated solutions include not writing about a company in which you own shares, or not writing something positive about a company in which you own shares.

    1. In the past I’ve always just turned up to shareholder functions as a journalist and no-one has ever objected. Any information sent to shareholders has to be sent to the NZ exchange, so there’s not been a problem. I’m concerned the easy access might not continue, but I guess the best approach is to worry about crossing that bridge when I get to it.

  3. I think you have a right to own as many shares as you want in any company. You also have a right to put your perspectives (positive or negative as you felt) on the company you own share of, as long as you are true to yourself. Sure, there will be cynics and they are better ignored.

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