Is Institutional Shareholder Clout Really Growing?

Institutional, rather than individual, shareholders seem to get more clout each year in the U.S.

That's the finding of a new report by The Conference Board which discloses that by the end of 2006, the latest data available, retail investors owned 34 percent of all shares and 24 percent of stock in the top 1,000 companies.

Back in 1980s, individuals held 63 percent of all shares and in 1950, it was a whopping 94 percent, according to the report.

At first glance, this means that the C-Suite and boards really need to take notice of what the institutions -- pension funds, 401(k)s, insurance firms, etc. -- really want. If they receive a resolution, they had better pay attention.

But at least one source I spoke with says that this merely reflects that individuals hold a lot of stock through mutual funds and other investments made by their 401 (k) managers. Something like half of all households in the country invest this way.

Does this mean there will be more barbarians at the gates bombarding the corporate castle with shareholder resolutions demanding this director or that disclosure of greenhouse gases?

Maybe not, but there's no question that this past proxy season has sure been lively. But the resolutions are in the scores or hundreds, not tens of thousand -- just to keep perspective.