'No gift' policy cuts turnout at Japan shareholder meetings

People arrive for a shareholders meeting for Japan's electronics giant Sony in Tokyo on June 19, 2014.  Some of Japan's best-known companies, such as Sony, Japan Airlines and fast-food chain Yoshinoya, are seeing attendance plummet at their shar
People arrive for a shareholders meeting for Japan's electronics giant Sony in Tokyo on June 19, 2014.  Some of Japan's best-known companies, such as Sony, Japan Airlines and fast-food chain Yoshinoya, are seeing attendance plummet at their shareholder meetings, but it is not World Cup fever that is keeping investors away - it's the lack of gifts. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Some of Japan's best-known companies are seeing attendance plummet at their shareholder meetings, but it is not World Cup fever that is keeping investors away - it's the lack of gifts.

Sony, Japan Airlines and fast-food chain Yoshinoya were among the firms that have dumped a longstanding tradition of coughing up freebies for investors who come to annual meetings.

In fact, some shareholders have been known to grab their gifts - ranging from food coupons and cookies to batteries and movie tickets - and then leave before executives even started talking.

On Thursday, Sony's conference in Tokyo drew fewer than half the record 10,693 investors at last year's meet.

The company had previously notified investors there would be no free gifts this summer as it undergoes a painful restructuring to reverse years of huge losses.

Sony said the move was aimed at being fair to investors who could not attend the meeting, but it acknowledged that cost-cutting was an "additional factor".

Turnout at Yoshinoya's meeting dropped by about two-thirds this year - no coincidence, perhaps, that this is the first time the restaurant chain hasn't given out coupons for its beef-on-rice bowls.

"We've downsized complimentary shareholder gifts over the years and completely scrapped them this year," said a Yoshinoya spokesman.

"As long as we can communicate well enough with shareholders, we thought the gifts were unnecessary," he added.

Sony investor Ryohei Ogo said he wasn't too impressed with chief executive Kazuo Hirai's apologies for being late in responding to big changes in the electronics sector.

But the 72-year-old gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to the gift policy.

"At least that is one thing I feel good about - the company should focus on business, not souvenirs."