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Warren Buffett Joins Call to Target "Short-Termism" In Financial Markets

Tuesday, 8 Sep 2009 | 8:45 PM ET

Warren Buffett is one of twenty-seven business, government, and academic leaders endorsing what's described as a "bold call to end the focus on value-destroying short-termism" in financial markets.

Buffett is one of the signers of a statement to be released tomorrow (Wednesday) by Walter Isaacson'sAspen Institute.

The statement argues that a "healthy society requires healthy and responsible companies" working to achieve long-term goals.

Instead, "boards, managers, shareholders with varying agendas, and regulators ... have allowed short-term considerations to overwhelm the desirable long-term growth and sustainable profit objectives of the corporation."

The Aspen statement calls for boards, managers, and "most particularly, shareholders" ... institutional investors .. to shift their focus to long-term goals and not push for "high-leverage and high-risk corporate strategies designed to produce high short-term returns."

As companies try to satisfy influential institutional investors focusing on short-term metrics like quarterly earnings, they "can harm the interests of shareholders seeking long-term growth and sustainable earnings."

The statement recommends:

  • "Market incentives to encourage patient capital," such as lower capital gains tax rates for longer holding periods.
  • Closer alignment of the interests of financial intermediaries, like mutual funds, and their investors.
  • "Greater transparency in investor disclosures" to make it harder for activists and other investors to "use their influence to achieve short-term gains at the expense of long-term value creation."

The bottom line, says Aspen, is that "the trend toward greater shareholder power .. should be accompanied by greater investor and intermediary responsibility" to "empower and encourage business managers and boards of directors to focus on sustainable value creation rather than evanescent short-term objectives."

Carl Icahn
Shiho Fukada
Carl Icahn

Not everyone will agree, of course. Activists like billionaire Carl Icahn believe incompetent or entrenched managements often cite the pursuit of "long-term goals" as a crutch to avoid making difficult changes that would help the company, shareholders, and everyone else.

A few years ago, he told Business Week, "My critics say I am short-term-oriented .. My point is that a lot of times assets can be better utilized and enhance society when you put them in better hands than the current management."

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