Vault Series: Bob Greer, CoreCommodity Management LLC

The why and how of commodity investing–especially when considered as a core position in a well-balanced portfolio–was the topic of the latest CFA Society Chicago Vault Series event held on November 28th, 2017. The presenter was Bob Greer, Senior Advisor at CoreCommodity Management LLC, and Scholar in Residence at the JP Morgan Center for Commodities at the Denver School of Business of the University of Colorado.

Commodities as a Hedge Against Inflation

Greer began by presenting a ten year chart of the Bloomberg Commodity Spot Index (slide 2) which showed considerable swings from highs to lows, but not an impressive net average annual gain. However, for comparison he pointed to other periods when large cap stocks (measured by the S&P 500 Index) provided similarly bland returns—for example, the decades ending in 1974 and 2008 (slide 3). Rather, it’s when one looks at commodities in a portfolio reaching across asset classes that the benefits show up in diversification and the contribution to risk-adjusted returns. This has been especially true during periods of rising inflation when commodities have provided returns that vastly exceed those of bonds and global equities–and even beat natural resource equities by several hundred basis points (slide 4).  This performance, in turn, stems from the high correlation commodities have to inflation—especially unexpected inflation (slides 5 & 6). Unexpected inflation is the investor’s worst enemy in that it has been a major factor in extremely poor, highly correlated returns for both equities and fixed income. Conversely, periods of high unexpected inflation are precisely when commodities have been at their best. Because inflation has been low for a long time, unexpected inflation may have faded from investors’ memories, but Bob offered a list of reasons why that could change soon:

  • Slow growth in the supply of labor in developed countries, with demographic trends showing no sign of reversal, will eventually lead to wage inflation,
  • The rise of populists governments makes trade restrictions increasingly likely,
  • An infrastructure build-out will increase demand for commodities,
  • Large, and growing, government budget deficits are more likely to lead governments to choose a monetary solution (i.e., inflation).

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Commodities as a Diversifying Element

Besides performing as a good inflation hedge, commodities have also performed well as a diversifying element. Greer presented a chart (slide 8) of three year correlations between commodities, stocks, and bonds that showed, at least until the 2008 financial crisis, that pairing commodities with stocks and bonds, diversified as well as the more common stock/bond pairing. During the crisis, this benefit broke down as the unprecedented need for liquidity among all types of investors, raised correlations for many asset classes far beyond anything measured in the past.

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Successful commodity investing calls for active management in Greer’s view.  He compared the returns of the Bloomberg indices of spot and futures commodity prices from 2001-17 (slide 9).  While both were volatile, the spot prices generated a cumulative return of about 150%, but the futures prices ended with a small negative cumulative return.  Because the price curve of most futures contracts exhibits a positive slope, rolling out of an expiring contract and extending into a new, longer contract, usually creates a loss. This “negative roll yield” causes the persistent return lag in commodity futures portfolios, and is a primary reason Bob advocates for an active strategy in commodity investing. Commodity futures are less subject to the forces of “irrational exuberance” because there is no limitation on the number of contracts that may trade, and futures prices must converge with cash market prices eventually. This makes analysis of commodity futures prices more effective than for other asset classes. Among the tools managers use to beat the index are:

  • Timing of the roll into new contracts
  • Curve positioning
  • Mis-weighting the constituents versus the index
  • Management of collateral away from passive T-Bills
  • Selective use of commodity equities in place of futures.

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One metric managers use in applying these tools is a comparison of commodity prices relative to the underlying cost of production (slides 11-12). Over long periods, prices have averaged 30-35% above the cost of production but with significant variability (and including occasional periods of a discount relationship). This applies not only in the aggregate, but also among the various commodities within the Bloomberg Commodity Index. Recent data for the prices of the index members showed a range from a discount of 29% below the cost of production (for Kansas City Board of Trade Wheat) to a premium of 71% (for London Metals Exchange Zinc).

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Commodities as an Asset Class

After laying out his reasoning for including commodities in a well-diversified asset allocation model, Greer explained why the timing is good now for an initial investment into commodity futures. The basic reason? They are cheap relative to the more common asset classes (slide 13). Of the twenty-two constituents in the Bloomberg index, only zinc currently trades above 50% if its long term value. By comparison, stocks, bonds, and REITs are all currently above the 95% mark. Global demographic and economic developments indicate a long term rising trend in the demand for all manner of commodities.  World population continues to grow (slide 19), with a concentration in developing countries. Economic growth in these countries will engender an increasing demand for commodities broadly. This is already reflected in changing dietary habits in developing countries where the consumption of meat in all forms is increasing (while it declines in the U.S.). This has knock-on effects on the prices of grains needed to produce the meat (slides 20 & 21).  Growth in developing economies also increases demand for energy (mainly oil) and metals and industrial goods (to build out infrastructure). Graphs displaying the consumption of corn, wheat, copper, coffee, and oil all show persistent, long term rising trends (slide 22).

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Greer provided greater detail regarding the supply and demand for oil. The two most populous countries in the world, China and India consume significantly less energy per capita in the form of oil than developed, slow growing, Japan and the United States (slides 24-26). So, as their economies develop and grow faster than the developed world, China and India will drive global oil demand. Meanwhile the spare productive capacity of OPEC countries has been declining since 2009 (slide 27) and shale oil production in the U.S. is still a small contributor to global supply–just 5% (slide 28).  Thus the long term trend in global economic growth, driven by the developing world, argues for an allocation to commodities as a contributor to both returns and diversification in a well-balanced portfolio.

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Corporate Governance in an era of Clawbacks, ESG, Mega-Managers, and Zombie Investors

Two expert panels came together at the Conference Center at UBS Tower on November 29th to provide insights to various aspects of board related corporate governance. The first panel, moderated by Eileen Kamerick, focused on Management and Directors. Kamerick is a current and previous board member of several financial and industrial companies and is an adjunct professor. The panel included Thames Fulton, managing director at RSR Partners (executive recruiting); Frank Jaehnert, member of the board of directors of Briggs & Stratton, Itron, Inc., and Nordson Corporation; and Todd Henderson, professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School.

Kamerick started with a question about board diversity – should investors care about diversity? Henderson believes board diversity is a top issue and gave the following example of why boards lack diversity. When adding board members it is typical to get one or two women and / or a minority on a board, and then the board stops diversifying. Boards go through a ‘we are diversified enough’ type of thinking. Boards also suffer from a bias by what traits they look for in a new board member, which is usually for a former CEO or an operating exec type skill set. The pool of women or minorities coming from this group is already small, so the odds of getting a diverse board pick is reduced. The lack of diversity in the C-suite carries forward to the board. To combat the small pool of current/former women CEO’s corporate boards should look for a skill set other than a CEO, looking at other non-corporate entities such as universities, foundation/endowments or the private equity world. While the panel was in favor of board diversification, they were against legislation for mandatory board seats for women – legislation of behavior is not usually effective.

The panel then considered the topic of executive compensation, which is under the prevue of a corporate board. How should the board determine reasonable compensation? Jaehnert advised that the alignment of executive compensation with that of the shareholders is crucial, and that compensation should not be mandated but it should be provided in a defined and appropriate manner. Henderson considered that boards and investors spend too much time on CEO pay, because CEO’s are underpaid relative to revenues.

Kamerick asked the panelists to elaborate on how to set executive compensation. The panel advised that even if peer compensation or quasi government mandated compensation is used as a guide, the compensation committee is still responsible for setting executive compensation. However, most of these committees lack the training or background that is typically required. To obtain the appropriate skill set a board should have a current or former head of HR as a board member. In practice a board is more likely to rely on the job training, gathering executive compensation skills in a disjointed manner. One area that should be considered to obtain expertise on management compensation is the private equity world, which is better suited to choose compensation packages.

Kamerick brought up claw back policies – should they be used, are they effective. The panel as a whole was in favor of claw backs for a variety of instances including fraud, and for reputational damage as a result of executive actions. The panel advised a downside of claw backs; provisions of this sort would increase CEO pay. If a CEO understands that he/she will continue to be responsible for claims against them, the CEO will mitigate that by asking for more compensation. To combat this behavior the panel suggested using disgorgement of earnings, which would work better than claw backs.

The last topic the panel discussed was that of board services. An example why board services make sense was provided; when a corporation needs financial or legal help, the corporation hires a CPA or law firm to get the needed expertise. However, when a corporation needs governance (via a board) they hire individuals who do not have the collective depth of governance knowledge required. Hiring for board services should be allowed, but is illegal in Delaware (which exclude corporations) as well as in the Investment Company Act of 1940 (which exclude investment companies). An area in which there examples of professional boards could be found in the LLC space.

The panel provided some final thoughts based on audience questions;

  • If you have been on a board for a lengthy period of time, you are probably no longer independent.
  • Search firms are not favored by boards when looking for new board members. The board will seek out people they know or have had a history with.

 

The second panel focused on topics related to investors and asset managers. The moderator was Bob Browne, CFA, executive vice president and CIO at Northern Trust. The members of this panel included Gillian Glasspoole, CFA, senior associate of Thematic Investing for the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board; James Hamilton, CFA, director at BlackRock; and Kevin Ranney, director of product strategy and development at Sustainalytics.

Browne started with a question about analysis of a corporate board governance – is good or bad governance worthy of investor analysis? Hamilton advised that as an investor engagement of a board is process oriented, meeting with the board as well as senior management. It is through these meetings where one can get a sense of if the board is adding value. Depending on the size of the corporation, some education of the board regarding governance can occur. Larger cap companies have ESG processes in place, whereas the middle and small cap corporations are more open to having institutional investors provide guidance on ESG good practices.

Browne then asked the panel to consider difference between corporate governance in Europe versus the United States. Europe is more tuned in to ESG and looks to meet or exceed international standards. In Europe board diversity and executive compensation are linked to ESG targets. From the asset owner perspective Europeans are more inclined to think about ESG and have specific goals to address them. However, Europeans do not try to link alpha to ESG as much as it is done in the United States and Europe considers ESG value unto itself, without the need to have a positive correlation to alpha.

Another cultural board difference between Europe and the United States is the holding of CEO and chairman role by the same person (common in the United States, frowned upon in Europe). Hamilton considered that holding the CEO and chairman position is an acceptable practice, but other strong independent voices are needed in the boardroom to offset that dynamic.

The panel closed the program with a discussion regarding board transparency. How does an investor know if a board is doing the job they were hired for, and they are acting in the best interest of stakeholders? The panel noted in practice it is hard to determine if a board is engaged, but there are ways to get an overall idea. Do all the board members go to all committee meetings, do they have onsite visits to offices other than the headquarters? Learn to ask the correct questions and then you will uncover issues that will impact the value of the company.

Volunteer of the Month: December 2017

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Amir Moaiery, CFA

CFA Society Chicago would like to recognize Amir Moaiery, CFA, for his contributions with the Society’s Industry Roundtables event and the Job Seekers Forum. Today, Amir Moaiery is the Professional Development Advisory Group’s Volunteer of the Month.

Amir has been a CFA Society Chicago member for more than two years and joined the advisory group in July 2017. He worked with a small group of volunteers that planned the Society’s Industry Roundtablesa member-only event where table hosts discuss their respective sectors in the investment industry. Amir has also been involved in ensuring facilitators of the Job Seekers Forum are prepared to lead discussions by updating the Job Seekers Facilitator Guide with current tips and best practices.

Thank you Amir! We’re lucky to have you as a part of our society!

 

Distinguished Speaker Series: Myron Scholes, Ph. D., Janus Henderson Investors

Nobel Laureate and co-originator of the Black-Scholes options pricing model Myron Scholes, Ph. D., gave a crash course to a sold-out crowd on utilizing risk management over stock selection at the Palmer House Hilton on November 17th. Over 250 CFA Society Chicago members and finance professionals braved a dreary day to learn how options might be used as a predictor of market prices.

Scholes maintains that as investors pursue compound returns, tracking error and portfolio mandates constrain managers to stay close to the benchmark. Management of portfolios is left to asset allocators and active managers will hug the benchmark in times of risk. Relative performance constraints or not deviating from the benchmark is an implicit cost. The take away is that average returns produce average performance.

When looking at bell curve distributions, Scholes suggests focusing on the gains and losses in the tails to manage risk and not paying attention to the averages or the “stuff in the middle”. Every performance period matters and as time compresses, risk increases with compound returns being asymmetric. Letting risk fluctuate around an average can reduce returns. He also opined that with time diversification and cross-sectional diversification being free, time diversification is more important.

So, given all of this, how do we get measures of risk?  This is where options markets come in to provide risk prices. Per Scholes, people ignore valuable options information when they are constrained. As Scholes expanded on this theme, the audience learned about the fallacies of some of our industry’s well-known and highly utilized risk measures. For example, our much loved and used Sharpe ratio does not fit in with this thought process because it is a mean variance measure. The closely watched Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX) gives correlations that are in the center of the distribution. Knowing the limitations of traditional risk measures, how can investors use option information? Back tested options information should be used to see the risk distribution allowing reallocation and management of risk in a portfolio.

The presentation concluded with a question and answer session. Attendees were clearly thirsty for information about this methodology from this industry icon and were interested in comparing it to momentum investing and other popular valuation methodologies.

CFA Society Chicago 31st Annual Dinner

The Chicago Cubs didn’t win the World Series like they did during last year’s Annual Dinner but the 31st CFA Society Chicago Annual Dinner was yet another terrific evening honoring 163 new CFA charterholders and two recipients for the Hortense Friedman, CFA, Award for Excellence. We also had fantastic keynote speaker, David Rubenstein, founder of The Carlyle Group.

During the evening, our newest charterholders were acknowledged for making substantial investments in their careers by passing all three levels of the CFA exam as well as completing the four years of relevant work experience required.  Earning the CFA designation requires a significant investment of time, energy, and tenacity demanding for most nearly 1,000 hours of study.  The new charterholders are joining an exclusive club of investment professionals that possess both a high level of investment aptitude and a commitment to uphold the highest ethical standards.

Congratulations to all the new charterholders!

CFA Society Chicago Chairman Marie Winters, CFA

On behalf of the Society, congratulations to all those who met the rigorous requirements to become a CFA charterholder. After acknowledging the new charterholders, two individuals were honored for the Hortense Friedman, CFA, Award for Excellence.  This award is presented annually to individuals who have demonstrated initiative, leadership, and a commitment to professional excellence.

Larry Lonis, CFA, and Marie Winters, CFA

Larry Lonis, CFA

The first award recipient was Larry Lonis, CFA, who has worked in the industry since 1989, first for JP Morgan and more recently for Bank of America’s US Trust wealth management group where he served as the lead portfolio manager for a REIT equity strategy. Currently, he serves as the COO for the specialty asset management unit specializing in direct investments in oil and gas, farm, commercial real estate, timber, and private business assets.  In Larry’s speech, he was most thankful for being able to have a career where he is paid to learn every day as well as work alongside the incredibly bright people that he has had the opportunity to work.  As his father would always remind him, the most valuable asset each of us own is our name, which we must uphold to the highest standard along with the industry and the CFA designation.

Robert Harper’s son, Blake Harper, accepts the award on his behalf.

The second award went to Robert Harper, CFA, (posthumous) who grew up on the north side of Chicago, attended the University of Illinois where he studied Finance, and earned his MBA from Northwestern University.  He started his career at Stein Roe & Farnham where he became a senior analyst and Partner.  He later spent 22 years at Harris Associates, where he was the first director of research and the first institutional portfolio manager.  Mr. Harper was known for his contrarian views and was actively involved with the Investment Analysts Society of Chicago, known today as the CFA Society Chicago.

As the Friedman awards concluded, David Rubenstein took the stage and captivated the audience with a collection of videos of himself, including commercials, one in which he was running a young girls lemonade stand in which he suggesting bringing in LP’s and taking the company public or an outright sale through an LBO, in another video he was out-lifting bodybuilders in the weight room and another, showcasing his rapping ability while promoting his firm, The Carlyle Group.  After several laughs, Mr. Rubenstein talked about how he started his private equity firm, The Carlyle Group, which led to a review of how his success at Carlyle lead him to contribute philanthropically to our society, and finally a list of predictions for the economy over the next 12-18 months.

Rubenstein grew up in Baltimore, the son of a blue collar Jewish family whose father worked at the post office and never made more than $7,000/year.  In hindsight, it was a great advantage to have the unconditional love of two parents that didn’t have a lot of wealth – you know you’re going to have to do something on your own to create your own success.  Rubenstein attended Duke, where his initial calling was into politics after being captivated by John F. Kennedy’s first inaugural address given on January 20th, 1961.  This is the speech when JFK famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  Continuing with his passion for politics, Rubenstein subsequently pursued law school at the University of Chicago where he graduated from in 1973.  After law school, he went to work for the man who wrote JFK’s speech, Ted Sorensen, who saw Rubenstein was interested in politics, but that he didn’t have the skills to be a terrific lawyer.  From there, he worked as chief council for Birch Bayh, a former US Senator from Indiana, who dropped out of a political race 30 days after David joined leaving him without a job.  Rubenstein then found a job working for Jimmy Carter at a time when Carter was a 33 point favorite to beat our Gerald Ford.  President Carter later won by only one point.  One of Rubenstein’s jobs while working for President Carter was to fight inflation, and if you remember back to this time inflation rose as high as 19%!  Quite the contrast from several economists today more worried about about deflation in today’s environment.  President Carter later ran against a much older Ronald Reagan and lost, putting Rubenstein yet again out of a job.  Without your party in power in Washington, it’s safe to say it’s very hard to find a job.  “If you want a friend in Washington, go buy a dog.”

Reconsidering his path in politics, Rubenstein read a blurb in the newspaper that changed his life.  The article highlighted Bill Simon whom started an investment firm which performed a “leveraged buyout” in which it bought Gibson’s Greeting Cards from RCA for $1 million and made $80mm in two-and a half year period.  He had the ambition and entrepreneurial spirit to start the first private equity firm in Washington DC and recruited the CFO of MCI and an executive from Marriott to be his partners.  They named their firm “The Carlyle Group” after a hotel in New York, for which ironically none of them had ever stayed.  The first four investors in their fund collectively contributed $5 million, or $1.25 million each.  The first deal was Chi Chi’s, a fast food Mexican food company that was looking to go private after being a public company.  The investment turned out successfully and today Carlyle Group has grown to one of the largest private equity firms in the world.  Rubenstein attributes the tremendous success to the creation of numerous styles of funds: a small buyout fund, a growth fund, a mezzanine fund, a debt fund, an institutional fund, and last but not least a family of funds among others.  He and his partners then took this idea of a multi-faceted fund structure and globalized it.

At 54 years old, Rubenstein came across a second newspaper article that also had a significant impact on his life.  This time it was an article of the wealthiest men in the world according to Forbes magazine, where he was featured for creating a very large fortune.  After living two-thirds of his actuarial life, Rubenstein signed a pledge to give away nearly all of his net worth—donating his fortune to educational institutions, medical research firms, and volunteering his time by serving as Chairman of Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and The Smithsonian.  A few years later, a THIRD article changed his life, this time coming in the form of an advertisement.  Flying home from London to New York, he read an invitation that an official copy of the Magna Carta was being auctioned off, of which there are currently 17 copies of around the world.  Ross Perot had bought one in 1981 and had since decided to sell it.  Rubenstein prevailed in the auction and has now donated it to the United States National Archives.  He continued purchasing historical documents that had significant to our country’s founding including the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution, rare copies of the constitution, and the first map of the United States.  After acquiring these meaningful documents, he has put them in places where Americans can see them so Americans can be inspired to learn more about the history of our country.

Rubenstein left us with quick yet informative bullets on his forecast for the economy and private equity industry:

  1. We are not going to have a recession anytime soon.  We are likely to have the longest growth cycle in the post WWII era
  2. New Fed Chair Jerome Powell will continue the Federal Reserve’s rate increase trajectory. Expect a 25bps rate increase in December
  3. US unemployment rate will hold steady and we will stay near full employment for the near-medium term
  4. Core inflation will stay below 1.5%
  5. NAFTA will be renegotiated but we will not withdraw
  6. We will have a tax cut bill.  Corp tax rate will go to 20%.  AMT / Estate tax will go away and repatriation will occur.  401k, SALT taxes will be preserved.  Expect tax cuts to pass early next year
  7. US Dollar will strengthen as the US economy continues to strengthen
  8. Europe will grow GDP nearer 2%; China will slow down to 5.5% – 6%
  9. Middle East conflicts won’t get resolved anytime soon.  Expect us to still be in Afghanistan 5-10 years from now
  10. Don’t expect a military confrontation North Korea
  11. Brexit will occur, however it won’t unduly kill the British economy
  12. Global climate change regulation will stay in place and actually will be enhanced
  13. Cyber warfare will continue to be the most important issue, and threat, to our country today
  14. Life expectancy will continue to rise globally as emerging markets catch up to developed world
  15. Private equity returns will drift down, but still beat index returns; United States private equity will outperform globally
  16. Sovereign wealth funds will continue to be increasingly important to the industry
  17. Government will allow retail investors to invest in private equity
  18. The largest private equity firms will continue to increase market share and grow globally

Concluding on Rubenstein’s philanthropic effort, he left us with “If you can make your mother proud, that’s where you’ll find real happiness is in life.”  For all the great deals that Carlyle had done and even after going public, he never received a congratulatory call from his mother.  He did however receive a call every time he donated his money and time to a worthy cause.  Even though many of us in the room won’t have the wealth that Rubenstein has created, you can still dedicate your time and skills to help make the world a better place.  Go out there and “Do something that will make your mother proud!”

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

To view additional pictures please visit https://edwardfox.pixieset.com/cfa/.

Volunteer of the Month: November 2017

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       Erik Baaske, CFA

Erik Baaske, CFA, is 2nd Vice President, Team Lead HFS Poseidon FX at Northern Trust. Erik joined the Membership Engagement Advisory Group in 2016. Shortly after joining the group, Erik presented an idea of expanding its outreach initiatives by conducting information sessions for summer interns at local financial institutions. He then planned and coordinated a session at Northern Trust this past summer where current CFA Society Chicago Chairman, Marie Winters, CFA, and CEO, Shannon Curley, CFA, spoke to 30 interns.

Erik is also a part of a small group that make calls to new members that join the Society. He places calls to welcome new members, shares information about CFA Society Chicago events, the use of function tickets and shares the benefits of serving on an advisory group. Additionally, Erik served as a panelist for the July 13, 2017 CFA Exam and Candidate Information Session.

CFA Society Chicago is grateful to volunteers like Erik Baaske for promoting the charter and making it possible to serve our members with the highest quality programming.

Industry Roundtables

On September 12th, CFA Society Chicago hosted its Industry Roundtables event at The Chicago Club. There were ten tables that focused on different sectors of the investment industry and participants chose three topics they wanted to learn more about. Each round lasted 30 minutes and gave attendees the opportunity to engage in face-to-face interaction with colleagues in a small group setting. Here’s a recap  by Richard Schiller, CFA, Rida Iqbal, and Susan Zeeb of some of the featured tables!

Equity Research: RJ Bukovac, CFA, CPA – Partner & Equity Research Analyst, William Blair

Bukovac is a partner and equity research analyst at William Blair focusing on Large and Mid-Cap US consumer companies. His team focuses on tech companies like Amazon, Tesla, Facebook, Netflix etc. They focus on market share value add against alternatives. Bukovac highlighted some of the qualities that are required for this nature of work:

  • Knowledgeable – Understand Accounting & Finance;
  • Inquisitive – to add value on top of management forecast;
  • Risk-taker – Willing to take a risk and bet on the company’s performance;
  • Convincing – Ability to sell it to clients to take investment actions.

He briefly discussed Netflix valuations in response to table participant inquiries which enabled him to demonstrate the everyday work challenges.

 

Fintech: Jim Daley, CEBS, CFA, CFP® – Project Manager, Morningstar

Fintech is one of the most popular discussions in the industry but also a very broad one that further understanding by the market participants. Jim Daley, CFA, shared his experience working for the Retirement Planning team at Morningstar. He was associated with Ibbotson Associates and continued to work with Morningstar as a project manager after Morningstar’s acquisition of Ibbotson Associates.

Daley introduced the table participants on basic branches of Fintech: Block Chain; AI Lending; and Machine Learning. He emphasized on the efforts in this area and that CFA Society Chicago is planning a series of events on the topic and how this is becoming a part of the CFA curriculum.

Daley is engaged in the retirement planning platform which is based on robo-advisor model which serves retirement planning (401K plans) by automating the investment strategies for discretionary plans like savings plan allocation of funds, quarterly rebalancing etc. This platform is capable of deploying both active and passive investment strategies. He explained how the traditional process of investment strategies has eliminated a sizeable amount of human interaction which now is only needed to review fund portfolios. Although Morningstar is currently offering a very limited Fintech related service, this current robo-advisor model could be replicated and expanded to Morningstar IRA planning accounts and retail. Fintech appeals to an age group of 30+ with some accumulated assets but the scope is growing constantly as people develop a greater understanding of how Fintech can serve the markets. Daley noted that Programming/Developing Languages, Statistics and Product Management skills are highly sought for in this area of industry and people with Engineering backgrounds and knowledge of C++, R, Python may do well in this field.

 

Fixed Income – Research: Rick Tauber, CFA, CPA – Senior Vice President, Morningstar

Tauber described his experience for the group which included roles as general credit analyst, high yield analyst, bank loan analyst, private placement analyst, and corporate bond analyst.  He explained how his role at Morningstar evolved from credit research to the corporate bond rating agency at the firm where he also covers industrials and manages the corporate team.

Tauber explained the different dynamics between buy side research, sell side research and agency research. Fixed income research on the buy side is usually team focused and the client is the portfolio manager/trader. Sell side fixed Income research is marketing and publishing oriented, with the client being buy side bond investors. Agency research is highly regulated with no conflict of interest as ratings are unsolicited, uses a committee process and is focused on the filing documents. Tauber explained the different research techniques between hedge funds and long-term investors, where hedge funds would be potentially looking for short-term volatility trades such as capital structure arbitrage trades or bond issue covenant violation trades. Long-term bond investors would focus more on long term fundamentals of the bond issuer and where the bond could potentially move if it was upgraded, for example.

He was asked if quantitative analysis methods were used in his position and he noted that Morningstar’s corporate credit uses four pillars to evaluate credits including business risk (which includes Morningstar’s Economic Moat analysis), a cash flow cushion, a solvency score, and distance to default. Tauber noted that the analysts conduct due diligence interviews with companies that issue bonds.

 

Investment Consulting: Chris Caparelli, CFA – Vice President, Marquette Associates

Caparelli has 9 years of investment consulting experience serving primary consultant on several client relationships. His company is mid-sized with 50bn in AUM with 80% clients in the Midwest and competes with companies like Mercer, Aon etc. He discussed the structure of his organization with distinguished fee structures as being contract based retainer fee as against the popular performance based fee.

He pointed out that apart from research and analytical skills, sales and marketing skills are effective in dealing with clients and more of a consultant’s time is spent on such activities as the individual progresses. He discussed his day to day activities including quarterly client meetings, manager selection process etc. He advised the table participants to read extensively and to focus on behavioral finance for self-correction and client correction/dealing to be successful in this field.

 

Manager Due Diligence: Daniel Harris, CFA – Principal, Borealis Strategic Capital Partners, LLC

Harris reviewed his background in the investment consulting, fund of funds, and manager due diligence segments. His current firm is focused on providing seed capital to top tier, early stage investment talent in return for direct economic participation in their growth and success. Harris led a discussion of the hedge fund industry and manager due diligence. He noted that manager due diligence includes reference checks of managers/teams, a thorough track record analysis, and several interviews with managers/teams. It is very important to have an aligned fee structure at the outset and that managers should know their operational level or break even AUM (assets under management). He also noted that it is somewhat more difficult to evaluate quantitative managers but he would focus on their R&D efforts, or what the next alpha signal will be, for example. There are typically several warning signs that put managers on watch lists, including team turnover, AUM size (too big for the strategy), distrust issues, and knowing the reason that managers have sold their business, either to cash out or to get working capital to growth the business.

Harris said that 3 year performance track records are very important and are typical minimums for foundations and endowments for example. Patience is also required. His firm will help hire a CFO and investor relations person if necessary. A manager should also typically have personal money invested in the strategy and/or a large percentage of his net worth in the business, which speaks volumes in terms of alignment incentives. Harris noted that one skill required in manager due diligence is diligent note taking; logging all notes and discussions with individuals and in background interviews. Manager due diligence also includes networking within the industry.

 

Real Estate:  Jimmy Georgantas, CFA, CPA – Assistant Vice President, Asset Management, Boyd Watterson

Boyd Watterson is an asset management firm with a real estate portfolio invested primarily in office assets with over $2.0B in total assets. Boyd operates through three funds with the largest holding $1.5B, or 75% of total real estate assets under management. After a round of introductions, our roundtable discussion started with disruptions that we’re seeing in the real estate market. What many think of as a stable, low volatility, technology-light asset class, real estate is actually being massively impacted by technology. Companies offering shared office space such as WeWork, TechSpace, and Regus are taking large blocks of space in the office sector and then releasing space to smaller users for space ranging from as large as 1kSF to single offices and even just a membership plan offering access to a shared workspace. This dramatic change in the demand profile begs the question what the future of office leases will look like and further what will the tenants demand of their workspaces? What we have seen is that leases rates are getting shorter on average and as a result we’ve seen far less build-to-suit requirements.

The conversation shifted to a very topical retail sector and more specifically shopping malls which have been severely impacted as a result of ~15% annual growth in e-commerce sales. We delved deeper into the what is negatively impacted the sector and we concluded that market sentiment is overly bearish while the majority or retail real estate is experiencing steady occupancy with increasing rents particularly in well located areas. It is also important to realize that not all retail real estate is created equal. Grocery supported retail is still performing phenomenally well while the suburban big box malls in the tertiary markets are struggling. Smaller strip centers in well located areas remain fundamentally sound with the colloquial saying “you can’t get a haircut online”.

Finally, we wrapped up our conversation briefly talking about the commercial mortgage backed securities market (CMBS). This is particularly topical in today’s environment because these securities are typically written with a 10-year term and if you remember the peak of the market before the Great Recession was back almost 10 years ago (2007). Several of the CMBS’s that were issued in 2007 are looking to refinance with their debt coming due in 2017. So far with credit spreads near lows and increasingly low interest rates versus what the market offered in 2007, debtors are able to refinance these loans without much market interruption. To conclude, we can all agree that real estate is relatively illiquid asset class which makes the business a very personal business. Relationships with key leasing and investment sales brokers along with the tenant representatives can be the difference in finding success in this growingly complex marketplace.

 

Wealth Management: Brad Summers, CFA, CPWA, CRPC, Financial Advisor, Wells Fargo

Summers reviewed his background in the investment banking and capital markets before he eventually moved into wealth management. Summers noted several takeaways with regards to why one may consider a career in wealth management including 1) your client base is your own and will generally follow you to another firm if you make a switch, 2) there is flexibility on how to build your client base, 3) there is flexibility on what you do for clients in terms of investing strategies, 4) your career path is as long as you want to keep working with your clients. Summers stated that there are a variety of firms in the wealth management business and fee structures vary as well. A large reputable shop would provide compliance monitoring while a smaller registered investment advisor you may have to perform that role as well. There are also different tasks involved in wealth management including marketing and seeking out new clients to build your base, relationship building with existing clients so they are satisfied and would potentially give you referrals, and staying up to date on industry trends and continuing education. Estate planning is not typically covered in CFA exams but is covered in the CFP, so that would be one area where you would need to learn. There are also additional designations such as CRPC (Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor) and CPWA (Certified Private Wealth Advisor) that can help you differentiate yourself as well. There is no typical day in the job as the diversity of tasks is large but once you are established you will likely spend the majority of your time focused on what you like to do the most.  Summers noted that the career path requires very hard work for up to five years until you have built up a big enough book of business to be stable. If possible, starting your career with a private bank or wealth management firm or working with another advisor would give you good exposure to the holistic client management model.

FEATURED TABLE TOPICS & HOSTS

  1. Equity – International: Bill Fitzpatrick, CFA, Investment Analyst, Manulife
  2. Equity – Research: RJ Bukovac, CFA, CPA, Partner & Equity Research Analyst, William Blair
  3. Fintech: Jim Daley, CEBS, CFA, CFP®, Project Manager, Morningstar
  4. Fixed Income – PM: Brenda Langenfeld, CFA, Portfolio Manager, Nuveen Asset Management, LLC
  5. Fixed Income – Research: Rick Tauber, CFA, CPA, Senior Vice President, Morningstar
  6. Investment Consulting: Chris Caparelli, CFA – Vice President, Marquette Associates
  7. Manager Due Diligence: Daniel Harris, CFA, Principal, Borealis Strategic Capital Partners, LLC
  8. Quantitative Analysis: Shaheen Iqubal, CFA, Senior Quantitative Analyst, UBS Asset Management
  9. Real Estate: Jimmy Georgantas, CFA, CPA, Assistant Vice President, Boyd Watterson Asset Management, LLC
  10. Wealth Management: Brad Summers, CFA, CPWA, CRPC, Financial Advisor, Wells Fargo

Starting Your Own RIA Firm (Part 2): Tips for Marketing and Business Development

Many talented professionals some day dream of having their own business. In the financial industry this usually means being the trusted advisor and investor on behalf of individuals and institutions. On October 4, CFA Society Chicago and its Professional Development Advisory Group assembled a panel to discuss the challenges of building an RIA business for the second part of the Starting Your Own RIA Firm series. The process of business development, brand development and marketing were addressed by the panel.

  • Jennifer Aronson, CFA: Aronson, moderator of the panel, is managing partner with Mosaic Fi, LLC. In that role, she works with family offices and high net-worth individuals. Prior to founding Mosaic, Aronson had over 20 years of experience with Northern Trust and Brinson Partners. She is currently serving on the Board of Directors for CFA Society Chicago for a three year term (2017-2020) and is a member of the CFA Women’s Network Advisory Group.
  • Scott Bosworth, CFA: Bosworth is vice president and regional manager in the Strategic Relationships group of Financial Advisor Services. He is responsible for sales, leadership and management of some of Dimensional’s larger advisory relationships.
  • Andy Kindler: Kindler is managing partner at Xcellero Leadership. Xcellero is focused on facilitating solutions for developing individuals, teams and organizations to spur growth. Kindler has a wealth of experience from different industries both on the corporate side and consulting.
  • Laura Sage: Sage is director of marketing and investor communications at Castle Creek Arbitrage, a relative value hedge fund. Prior to joining Castle Creek, Sage was an independent equity options trader.
  • Mark Toledo, CFA: Toledo has over 40 years of experience providing investment advice to individual and institutional investors. He began his career at Aetna Capital Management and after leaving Mesirow Financial in 2003, he founded Total Portfolio Management, LLC, his own RIA firm. In 2013 he merged his business with Chicago Partners Wealth Advisors.

 

Aronson began the discussion by asking the panel to address the critical tasks of marketing and business development for newly formed RIA firms.

Marketing and Business Development

The panelists agreed that as in any business, a business plan must be created, and that plan must include a path to an effective marketing strategy. The leader of the new advisory firm should spell out his role and have goals. A statement of investment philosophy is critical to the process. Advisors should focus on why they want to do this, what is their passion? You need to stick to your expertise and not try to be everything to anybody. It is important to be true to yourself and be able to tell your story. New RIA’s should attempt to have client meetings scheduled weekly and if you believe a prospective client’s needs are outside of your expertise, refer them to someone else. Client referrals will be critical to your success; often you will get a referral back. It would be useful for a new RIA to have a five-year plan where years one and two would be devoted to getting your story out; you will probably need to pay bills from some other source. Years three through five is when you can expect your business to ramp up.

Targeting Institutional Clients

The universe of potential institutional clients is much smaller. Sage was the panelist with the most experience in this arena. Most pension funds and sovereign wealth funds employ consultants. You will market to the consultant, not the fund directly. There are proprietary databases that contain information on these funds which can be accessed for a fee. There are other platforms similar to “speed dating”, which can gain you some introductions.

Methods to grow the business

  • Social Media: The use of social media is a critical skill to garner and keep clients. Retirees are ubiquitous on social media sites. LinkedIn is a site that can be helpful. Congratulate clients and potential clients on life-events they post online. Follow their work and offer assistance if there are sudden interruptions in their careers. They will remember you for it. A clear and concise website for your business is a must.
  • Referrals: Referrals are the way in which you will grow your business. A vast majority of clients would be happy to give you a referral, however not enough RIA’s ask for this. It is wise to spend time teaching your clients how to sell you. Don’t be shy about asking your client for a referral, however, you never want to put your client on the “spot”, be clear as to why you are asking for this.
  • Public Speaking: The panelists encouraged prospective RIA’s to burnish their public speaking skills. When you present yourself to other people, either publically of privately, be passionate about your expertise. It is important that you are able to communicate your conviction. You may suffer some setbacks, but show no fear in your demeanor. If you are able to keep your level of enthusiasm high, people will want to be part of your success. Clients are more motivated to put their trust in someone who can communicate vision and strategy with confidence.

There was a brief question and answer session with the audience at the end of program. There were inquiries on how to “close”, whether to remain independent or affiliate with an institution, and what functions to outsource. The panelists termed “closing” as the natural outcome of a positive meeting, once again there should be no fear in the “ask.” Typically affiliating with an institution is something that is done after establishing your business. Outsourcing functions can be expensive, but pay dividends down the road. You must look at your skill set to determine if some functions are better left to others.

 

Water’s Impact on Investing

On September 26th, CFA Society Chicago hosted a panel discussion in the Vault Room at 33 North LaSalle on the implications of the worldwide scarcity of potable water. The panel was focused on how this water scarcity may affect future investing. The lack of usable water is an “obvious” danger that does not garner a lot of attention at the moment.

The moderator and three panelists brought their perspectives to this worsening condition.

Michelle Wucker: Wucker, moderator of the panel, is a Guggenheim Fellow and founder of Gray Rhino & Company. A Gray Rhino as defined by Ms. Wucker is an obvious danger that many people ignore. Her expertise is in strategy, public policy and crisis management. She is the author of the book “The Gray Rhino:  How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Danger We Ignore”.

Dr. Dinah Koehler: Koehler has primary responsibility for the overall product positioning and development of Sustainable Equity Strategies and ESG database development at UBS Asset Management. She is a recognized researcher on corporate sustainability.

Dr. Bruce Gockerman: Gockerman specializes in the use of cross disciplinary analytics to understand and address complex issues and environments. In addition to his consulting work, he is a faculty member at Illinois Tech Stuart School of Business.

Lauren Smart: Smart is Global Head Financial Institutions Business with Trucost. She is an expert in sustainable finance and has advised money managers on how to integrate climate change into investment decision making.

Wucker began the panel discussion by stating that the demand for portable water is forecast to continue to outstrip supply. Current thinking is that 1. By 2030 demand will be 40% more than supply, 2. By 2050 global GDP may be reduced by 6% due to this shortage and 3. 43% of corporate CEO’s believe that their businesses will be impacted by this looming shortage.

The first panelist to speak was Koehler who presented four slides that geographically mapped out an investment opportunity set based on global water risk. The slides included:

  • Global Water Risk Map
  • Investment Challenges
  • Negative Impacts of Investment
  • Opportunities for Impact by Geography.

The slides illustrated that the greatest investment opportunities are located in densely populated areas with scarce water resources.

In response to a question from the moderator, Koehler stated that at the moment, most financing for water investment is coming from the World Bank. She expects the private sector to be taking a bigger role.

Gockerman, the second panelist, stressed six points that he believed has worsened the supply/demand equation.

  1. Governance is very weak (mainly local)
  2. Pricing does not include the cost of water (infrastructure only).
  3. Under investment has led to a deteriorating infrastructure.
  4. Needed capital must be focused on the “resilience” of any infrastructure.
  5. Investing impacts must include addressing increasing risk.
  6. Resulting opportunities

Gockerman pointed to the recent hurricane flooding in Houston as illustrating a lack of resilient infrastructure. Investments need to be made into better pumps, advanced technology and better designed large scale projects. He suggested that perhaps a “Marshall Plan” that included public/private partnerships may be a solution.

In response to a question by the moderator, Gockerman stated that current federal policy is mainly derived from the Clean Water Act enacted in the early 70’s. He reiterated that there is a need for the entire system to be rebuilt and expanded.

Smart was the third panelist to speak. She focused on the impact of dwindling water resources on agriculture and energy. Water stress with respect to crop production was illustrated on a slide she presented. The ratio of water withdrawal to supply can exceed 80% in areas where critical crops such as wheat and corn are grown.

In another slide, Smart illustrated that the price of water in most countries does not reflect actual supply or cost. Cities in arid countries like Cairo and Jeddah have much lower prices for water than cities like Copenhagen or Atlanta. These prices do not reflect true cost, are heavily subsidized and cannot be sustained.

After the presentation, there was a question and answer session. Some of the questions revolved around how regional or national solutions may help. Would a regional grid like an electric utility be workable? This is probably not doable since water resources are divided up into different aquifers across the US. Gockerman stated the Great Lakes aquifer region would resist water being diverted out of its aquifer to other states. The panel seemed to agree that Water Bonds might be a good solution and could be funded by pension funds and foundations. Finally the panel was unanimous in stating that de-salinization was not the answer to any shortage as it is currently prohibitively expensive and energy intensive.

Networking with Leadership

CFA Society Chicago gathered on September 27 for the annual Networking with Leadership reception at the Hard Rock Hotel on Michigan Avenue. With no formal presentation or agenda, the members-only event provided a full two hours for networking, making new acquaintances, and renewing old ones. The venue at the Hard Rock included both indoor and outdoor space. A balcony directly off the reception room provided a view of the Michigan Avenue scene below, and was a welcome feature given the unusual warmth for late September. Judging from the nearly sold out attendance of more than 100, our membership values this opportunity for face to face conversations with board members about society business, financial markets, careers, or any topic that comes to mind. Anyone who missed it should make a point to attend next year.