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I bought a copy of the share register for an ASX listed company today, and I was surprised to see around a hundred entities holding some nominal number of shares (usually one). In fact, I found about 30 entities that were all controlled by a single person, and each of those entities held only one share.

I've been racking my brain trying to think of what the purpose of this might be. Does anyone have any ideas?

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Each shareholder can attend the Annual General Meeting (and any other meeting such as an EGM), which can have lavish catering. Historically, the bulk of the attendees of AGMs are retirees, and attending an AGM is something to do, potentially with a free feed.

They post you an annual report, which is exciting if you don't get much mail or reading material.

Why one person would own 30 lots of one share... thirty copies of the report? For his lending library? More likely, though, is that person can provide a rent-a-crowd of activists to attend an AGM and disrupt it. Shareholders can appoint a proxy to attend a meeting and act on their behalf. If the action was asking awkward questions of the board, for example about cutting staffing levels (unions have been known to do this with their single-share holding members), it could tie up the AGM and cause angst.

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After speaking to various people, I think the most likely explanation is that the company needed to "fluff out" its shareholder register during the IPO to satisfy the "minimum spread" requirements of the ASX. That is, there needs to be a certain number of shareholders that take up shares in the IPO.

If the IPO would not otherwise meet this criterion, then the underwriter may approach someone who offers this kind of "sneaky" service - that is, someone that has registered a large number of shell companies that can nominally participate in the IPO.

In recent years, it appears that the ASX has clamped down on this process - the participants in an IPO must now apply for at least $2,000 worth of shares.

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