I'm a fan of capitalism, but I'm sure that not all problems can be solved by market forces. I've also seen a similar sentiment argued by yourselves at MoneyWeek. So imagine my surprise to find you printing an opinion piece from The Wall Street Journal suggesting "the great manure crisis of 1894 suggests a far better way to advance clean, affordable and safe energy; open competition on a level playing field" (issue 871). Mildly amusing, but it suggests the opposite.
There's no evidence that the manure problem was the driving force behind the adoption of motorised transport. It was probably more because feeding, housing and looking after a horse is hard work and expensive. But let's assume the "great manure crisis" was indeed responsible. Does that mean it's a good analogy for how to clean up our current energy system? A cursory bit of critical thinking suggests not.
In 1894, you would be unable to ignore the impact of horse manure on your environment. You would smell it first, then see mounds of it in the street. You'd find it necessary to step over and even in it. So public demand for a cleaner alternative would have been pressing.
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On the other hand, carbon dioxide is invisible and odourless. The damage it causes to our environment is not obvious and the ramifications of climate change lie in the future. Energy use is still mostly driven by the basic economic principle of supply and demand and consumers continue to demand lower prices.
Global welfare is only just beginning to make an impact on the demand for a cleaner alternative and that has been driven by scientific investigation, increased public awareness of climate change, and a realisation by governments that the priority for most individuals and businesses is their present financial situation. Hence the subsidies to the renewables industry and grants for research.
If you only allow market forces to dictate a response to this crisis, by the time consumers see the most serious effects, it will be too late to do anything. The pharmaceutical industry is huge and profitable, yet there have been no new antibiotics invented for decades even though there is a huge and pressing need for new ones to combat antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The reason is the economy surrounding their development is broken. Market forces are not always up to the job of fixing serious problems.
We aim to include a wide range of views and talking points in MoneyWeek, so the articles that we summarise don't always represent our own opinions. In this case, the authors made valid points about the problems of subsidising new technologies and the importance of competition. However, we entirely agree that their comparison misses many important distinctions.
Another way to keep your rights
After reading the article on shareholder rights by Lucy Loewenberg (MoneyWeek 872), I am shocked. I get annual reports and voting forms sent to me directly at home despite my shares being held electronically. This is because I am a sponsored member of CREST, the UK's central securities depository.
There is no need to use nominee accounts for shareholdings when your shares can be held electronically in CREST with your name on the share register. The only exception to this is for shares held in an individual savings account (Isa), where shares have to be held in a nominee account. I am surprised that this method of share ownership wasn't promoted in the article.
Having a sponsored CREST account is indeed an alternative to paper share certificates if you want to have your name on the shareholder register and have direct access to the rights discussed in our article. The problem is that you can only have sponsored CREST membership through a stockbroker and increasingly few brokers offer this option for new clients. Those that do typically charge high fees that may make sticking with paper certificates more attractive for long-term buy-and-hold investors (who tend to be ones who care most about their rights as investors).
This is not a good thing. We'd like to see sponsored CREST accounts offered widely and at the same cost as nominee accounts. However, this is unlikely to happen (and, as you say, would require changes to the Isa regulations to be relevant for readers who hold shares in an Isa, as many MoneyWeek readers do). So the best option for many people is to use a broker that passes on shareholder rights as fully as possible, while also pushing for a better system for registering ownership of shares (for example, one where investors can be members of the central depository independent of their broker, as in a few countries such as Singapore).
Get your tips straight!
In MoneyWeek 863, one of the three shares tipped to buy on the Shares page was Drax. In MoneyWeek 870, the "If you'd invested in" column included Drax under the "Be glad you didn't" heading. Another example is Biffa shares. These were initially tipped to buy, then later sell, and then buy again. It seems MoneyWeek share tips can be costly.
Our Shares page is a round-up of the buy and sell tips from the newspapers and magazines, rather than being investment ideas from MoneyWeek. This sometimes means that we will include one company tipped to buy by one paper and then to sell by another in rapid succession (occasionally even in the same week).
"If you'd invested in" is compiled solely based on what have been exceptionally good or bad performers over the past year, which means that these tips (and even sometimes MoneyWeek's own ideas) may subsequently feature on this page.
Don't blame the pensioners
Regarding public-sector pensions (MoneyWeek 872), in 1982 I chose to join the police. I accepted the restrictions on my private life, the uncertain hours and the dangers of the job. One of the reasons was because I would be able to retire aged 55 on a reasonable pension. I contributed 11% of salary, with the government supposedly contributing substantially more. Successive governments failed to do this, instead spending my contributions. These contributions, if placed in a low-risk fund for 30 years, would easily have paid for the so-called "generous" pension. The argument should be with the government and not those of us lucky enough to have a public-sector pension.
Writing to MoneyWeek
MoneyWeek magazine welcomes letters and emails from readers, but unfortunately we are not able to publish or reply to all of them. We may edit letters prior to publication. All responses are for information only and should not be relied upon in making investment decisions. Our staff are unable to respond to personal investment queries, as MoneyWeek is not authorised to provide individual investment advice. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to us at Editor, MoneyWeek, 31-32 Alfred Place, London, WC1E 7DP.
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