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Dominion's Power Marketing

By Bill Mann (TMF Otter)
September 4, 2003
One of the best mines for investing ideas comes from those things that you use everyday. In One Up On Wall Street, Peter Lynch describes how he skillfully missed the signs that The Limited (NYSE: LTD) offered excellent investing prospects as evinced by how much money his wife -- and all her friends -- spent there.

Many of us are aware of the branded products we use daily. My computer? Hewlett Packard (NYSE: HPQ). Soap? Dial (NYSE: DL). Morning blast of joe? Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX). But what about that stuff you use regularly but don't think about? I mean, I send several hundred bucks each month to my power company, and so do all my neighbors. For equity awareness among retail investors, this is not such a good thing.

These were my thoughts when I tore open this month's power bill. That plus the fact that my power bill is substantially lower due to the mild summer we've had in Northern Virginia. Dominion Resources (NYSE: D) included an insert into people's invoices detailing how we can buy stock in "one of the nation's leading energy companies" through a company program called Dominion Direct.

I've got mixed feelings on such efforts by companies to advertise the availability/attractiveness of their stocks. On the one hand, people cannot invest in something if they don't know that the potential exists, and such companies as utilities are generally only visible to the average consumer when (a) the bill is due or (b) there's a blackout. Certainly, this flyer is substantially less blatant than the full-page ads that Washington Mutual (NYSE: WM) took out to flog its own stock -- an act that drew the ire of our own Tom Jacobs.

But we should simply face the fact that the long-held taboo against companies marketing their stocks is crumbling.

I first noticed this when certain dot-coms like Sportsline (Nasdaq: SPLN) included their tickers on billboards, print advertising, even on television. More conservative companies like AFLAC (NYSE: AFL) have also gotten into the act, offering a testimonial from a long-term shareholder.

Dominion's insert ought to be viewed as a continuance of this trend. Hopefully, even with lower-risk companies engaging in stock marketing, the companies make every effort possible to ensure that purchasers read their filings -- and that those who buy the shares take the responsibility to do just that.

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