Talking ’bout my business

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I recently read about the dearth of over-50s in the workplace.

As an over-50 myself the article left me feeling that either I was out of step with my generation, that I haven’t done as well as all the ‘disappeared’, or else I am enjoying what I do more than they did and so continue to work.

I lean towards the latter, acknowledging that I am lucky to be able to do so.

This thinking leads me to ask whether there is a similar disappearing act going on in the stock market.

I have written before about the fall in the number of quoted companies over the last 10 years.

It has halved on the main market of the Stock Exchange and the total fall when AIM is taken into account is still about 15 per cent.

But how many old companies are there?

The latest figures show that there are about 130 companies that have been on the stock market for over 50 years.

This compares well with the number in 2000 when there were about 150.

The oldest quoted company has some debt listed rather than shares.

It’s the Calgary & Edmonton Railway Company. It’s been on the stock market since 1903.

The oldest company with shares listed is the Daily Mail & General Trust which has had its listing since 1932, some 84 years.

Companies can go through many and varied transformations over the years whereas perhaps we humans too should be more adept at reinventing ourselves in this way – even if we lack the advantage of investors with deep pockets to enable us to change direction when required.

This leads me to think that the joint stock company is a marvellous invention when operated ethically and responsibly.

It creates a corporate person that can live longer (and more successfully) than its original shareholders.

It allows for a smooth process of succession amongst shareholders and management. It can outlive all of us.

But only about 20 per cent of the companies on the stock market have been there for over 20 years and only 10 per cent for 30 years. So companies have a variety of lifetimes.

Perhaps this is a sign of corporate health which shows that the market adjusts to allow successful companies to flourish, backed by patient capital; and succeeds in clearing out the less successful companies, typically by acquisition, merger or failure.

Rather like humans, companies come and go, but over a different timescale.

On this reckoning, an excellent way to evaluate the success of a market may be to look at the age profile of listed companies and evaluate the returns for different age groups.

Perhaps the oldest, more experienced age group will have provided consistently better returns over time. (Or perhaps that’s wishful thinking!)

Whatever their age, the best quoted companies generate wealth and employment and provide good financial returns for investors.

We need them for our future economic welfare.

And perhaps I should look more closely at how I am perceived in my organisation as an over-50.

I am lucky to be there and hope my contribution makes the organisation just as fortunate!