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Every demonstrator who ever hoisted a picket sign to protest a big corporation's activities dreams of having at least some kind of an impact on the company.

A new study by Brigham Young University sociology professor Brayden King suggests that such hopes aren't always in vain, especially if protesters can manage to get news coverage of their events.

"What we found was that news coverage of protests directed at public companies can make their share prices decline by an average of 0.4 to 1 percent, with most of the decline happening on the day of the protest or the day after," he said.

King and co-author Sarah Soule of Cornell University conducted their analysis of the impact of 342 protests that were covered by The New York Times over a 26-year period. Their study revealed companies that were the target of protests saw their share prices decline one-tenth of a percent for every paragraph printed about it in the newspaper.

And it typically took a company whose share price was impacted an average of five days to shake off the effects of a protest, King said.

"We're talking about millions of dollars of capital being transferred out [of a company's shares] or lost. And it didn't matter whether it was a liberal, conservative, religious or economic message at the heart of the protest."

When a group of Mohawk Indians blocked freight trains in southern Ontario in April 2006 over a centuries-old land dispute, The New York Times gave the story 13 paragraphs, King said. "The railway's stock price dropped 5.8 percent below the expected return by the end of trading the next Monday."

King's and Soule's study, which will be published in the upcoming issue of Administrative Science Quarterly, also found that share-price damage can be much worse for businesses not normally in the media spotlight when the protest involves labor or consumer issues.

"Part of what makes a protest work for activists is that investors aren't necessarily expecting it," King said. "Protests often present investors with information that they might not know about a corporation."

Toby Levitt, chief executive of Albion Financial Group in Salt Lake City, said the findings make sense. "Whenever there is a protest, it certainly increases the uncertainty surrounding a company, and raises the question of how it might effect earnings."

And that's important information for short-term and buy-and-hold investors who need as much information as possible about the companies whose shares they already own, or are thinking about acquiring, Levitt said.

One surprising finding was that protests that also call for a boycott of a company's goods or services were no more effective than protest that did not.

"Boycotts are purposely meant to take revenue away from a company, but boycotts don't seem to make a protest more effective," King said. "That tells me that investors' reactions to protests have more to do with perceptions or information than immediate financial damage."

Utah activist Joey Caputo, who is involved with organizations such as Utah Jobs with Justice and Utah NOW, said the study's findings were heartening.

"I've always told people that even if they didn't believe that participating in a protest would have an impact, that it still was beneficial, because you get to meet like-minded people who have the same concerns."

He added that with the study, protest organizers will have research to point to showing that demonstrations against corporations can be effective.

"What we're really trying to do with our protests is hit corporations in the pocketbooks, because that often seems to be the only thing that matters to them."

The study is titled "Social Movements as Extra-Institutional Entrepreneurs: The Effect of Protests on Stock-Price Returns."