Vault Series: Cambridge Associates

Gender equality in the investment profession has been a hot topic in the industry lately, and it was addressed in detail during a January 10, 2019 Vault Series talk from Dierdre Nectow. Her firm Cambridge Associates, a large institutional investment consultant, is an outlier in the profession with half of its executives being women. Nectow discussed why her firm has much higher female representation than average, and what the state of women in finance is today.

To start, some good news: the number of women in finance is growing, yet as a percent of the workforce, women are still underrepresented. The United States is also a laggard when it comes to gender equality in the workplace, coming in at a dismal 51st place globally. One of the worst places for gender equality in finance can be seen in venture capital, where just 9 of the top 100 VCs are female. In contrast, the hedge fund industry has the best female ownership numbers, with 2% of AUM managed by women-owned firms.

Cambridge has been a bit different than its peers in hiring and promoting far more women than average in large part due to the philosophy of its co-founder Jim Bailey. His mother was a strong woman that had inspired him, and he saw women as an untapped resource. Hiring them could lead to outperformance in the industry. The firm has also spent time training workers on unconscious bias and has sought to make it safe to have those kinds of conversations while fostering more thoughtful attitudes around encouraging women and minorities in the workplace. Additionally, Cambridge has a mentorship program, a CFA women’s group and a new initiative called Prevail, which is designed to bring women at asset management firms as well as Cambridge clients and prospects together to talk about investing and issues.

Gender equality is becoming increasingly important for financial firms because pensions are using women and minority representation as a means to hire managers (or not hire ones with inadequate representation). Many companies have been hiring diversity officers to address this trend.  Cambridge is also scouring the landscape to find female and minority-owned managers due to demand.

Following the introduction, David Baeckelandt, senior investment director at Cambridge Associates, took the stage to give us a brief history of women in financial markets, beginning with ancient firms. While by day Baeckelandt is a salesman at Cambridge, in his free time he is a history buff and has done extensive reading on the subject of women in finance.

Beginning in ancient Egypt, Baeckelandt said that Cleopatra was the first women to coin her own currency and put her image on it, which was an important step in modern finance. Another famous woman in finance milestone came with Queen Isabella funding Columbus’s voyage to the new world. Baeckelandt said that you could argue that Isabella led the most successful venture investment of all time, as the exploration of the Americas led to vast wealth for Spain. Another milestone took place in the coming years, with the Dutch East India Company being perhaps the world’s first IPO, and it had a number of women investors involved.

An interesting story of women in finance came from Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams. She made a small fortune trading bonds, which she turned into a small farm that she used to convince her husband to return to from Europe. Victoria Woodhull was another luminary who spotted an arbitrage opportunity between gold bullion and US dollars and used it to make a substantial profit. She then ran a financial firm with her sister, and her story is the subject of an upcoming TV series. Baeckelandt mentioned Hortense Friedman, a story familiar to many charterholders (there is an award given out annually in her name). A number of other women firsts took place in the late 1800’s, with the first women CPA’s and the first women investment bankers in the US.

There are a number of positive signs with respect to women in finance, yet there is much work to be done, particularly with respect to compensation. Public pensions and other large investors will continue to put pressure on firms to ensure adequate female and minority representation, and the march towards gender equality will likely continue to grow in the investment industry.

Distinguished Speaker Series: Joel Greenblatt, Gotham Asset Management

Joel Greenblatt, the legendary author, Columbia B-school professor and hedge fund manager, presented his thoughts and methodology on investing to CFA Society Chicago and local investment community on Wednesday, December 5, 2018.

The title of his presentation compared value investing to the New York Jets, i.e. unpopular and out of favor. Per Greenblatt, where we stand today on a valuation basis relative to the past 25 years is that about 25% of the S&P 500 could be considered “undervalued” versus just 7% of the Russell 2000, if we assume the S&P 500 earns its long-run average forward return of 7%. Greenblatt also thought that the S&P 500 could earn a below-average 3%-5% return for the next few years.

In a statement that was likely no surprise to anyone in attendance, Greenblatt noted that “Growth” has outperformed the market the last 5 years. Greenblatt defined for attendees what the parameters were for a value investor (with all of these definitions supported by the Russell and Morningstar definitions:

  • Low price-to-book
  • Low price-to-sales
  • Low cash-flow valuation

What Greenblatt admonishes his students to aspire to, “Do good valuation work, and the market will likely agree with it”. Greenblatt noted he just wasn’t sure when the market would agree, but in theory at some point it will.

Greenblatt put up the chart that showed the classical individual stock return versus company valuation, and to no surprise to anyone, the overvalued stocks typically had the lowest forward returns relative to the lowest valuation. He also used the examples of two lectures he gave to a group of NY doctors who only asked what he thought the market would do over the next few years, versus the Harlem high school jelly bean test, and asking the kids to guess as to the number of jelly beans in the jar. Joel Greenblatt used the story to lead listeners to the conclusion that the kids in Harlem were closer to the right answer in terms of the accurate number of jelly beans in the jar, when doing their own homework versus listening to “word-of-mouth” guesses by the class.

It was clear that Greenblatt was more impressed by the analytical rigor of the Harlem high school class than the group of doctors, but he also used the story to illustrate the power of impression and what is heard by the retail investor and how emotion and psychology play important roles in investing. Greenblatt also talked about one of first books, i.e. The Big Secret for the Small Investor and the two most important points from the book:

  • 41% of the investment managers with the best 10-year track records also spent at least 3 of those years in the bottom decile of performance rankings.
  • The “Big Secret” is really just patience. Find an investment strategy that you are comfortable with and stay with it.

Greenblatt noted that the press’s preoccupation with Tesla is the “tyranny of the anecdote” contrasting that with deep value investing strategies and how they work over long periods of time.

The Q&A session noted that – not surprisingly – Greenblatt finds more opportunities in the smaller-cap universe despite the valuation comments from above. The valuation metrics aren’t “weighted” in that price-to-sales isn’t weighted more heavily than price-to-book although from his side comments and what were more impromptu thoughts by Joel, price-to-cash-flow and cash-flow health was rather significant.

Greenblatt did note that with “international” investing, the Professor’s fund trades long-only since with international there are trading costs, different forms of regulation, liquidity and other notable differences between US and Non-US investing.

 

*If you missed the event the webcast of the full presentation is still available to watch on the CFA Society Chicago website.

Tips and Tricks for Negotiating for Yourself

“So much of life is a negotiation – so even if you’re not in business, you have opportunities to practice all around you.” – Kevin O’Leary

When we think of negotiations, we tend to restrict our thinking to business situations like deals, compensation, office location etc. However, we negotiate in our daily lives starting as early as toddlers when children hold their parent’s hostage to have their way. To talk about some tips and tactics to help us amp up our negotiation game in every walk of life, the Society’s CFA Women’s Network hosted Laurel Bellows on November 27, 2018, at The Standard Club.

Laurel Bellows, founding principal of The Bellows Law Group, P.C. is past president of the nearly 400,000-member American Bar Association, past president of The Chicago Bar Association and past president of the International Women’s Forum Chicago and The Chicago Network. Bellows is currently serving on the Executive Committee of the InterAmerican Bar Association.

Bellows began the event with a short video clip of a comic which was aimed to explain how brains of men and women work. It was good humor that shed light on how men and women think differently and hence negotiate differently. Overall, it was a great event with simple yet important takeaways we all should focus on while negotiating. Some key themes to discussed during the event are briefly described below.

Know your opposition

Knowing how the opposition thinks and anticipating their goals and their best alternatives for the negotiation can help you strategize your efforts.

Determining the goal of negotiation

By determining what constitutes a successful negotiation to you can help you decide what works for you and how flexible you could be during the process. It is important to think about what kind of relationship you would like to have in the future with the counter party and how their non-performance could affect you. At the end of the day a successful negotiation is when you have a viable deal for both parties.

Preparation is Power

Key is to Prepare, Prepare and Prepare. Do not negotiate with your gut! Determine authority of the person you are dealing with and make sure they can sign off on the negotiated terms at the end of the conversation. You do not want to waste time negotiating with a person who would need approval from a higher authority which almost every time leads to a counter offer to your best negotiated terms. Gather knowledge, know your opposition and visualize your deal. This process will help you figure out motivation of the deal for yourself/client, define finite priorities and be able to articulate your position succinctly in 5-7 words. If you are dealing with a difficult person, be firm and don’t be afraid to walk out! If on the phone, respectfully let the other person know you are not comfortable with their behavior towards you (especially if they are shouting) and hang up. Deciding on where to hold the negotiations, your place or theirs? Your office will enable you to take control, their office would give you the ability to walk away. Whichever the case may be, own the room you walk-in!

Build a working relationship

Clarify your position, propose creative options and be consistent to establish trust/reputation with the opposition. Never lose sight of your reputation and listen closely to your opposition. Do not plan your response while listening to them, the brain can only focus on one!

Do not have more than one best alternative to what is on the table at any given time during a negotiation. The best alternative may change constantly as you may choose one over the other but avoid having more than one at any given time. If the BATNA is no deal you walk out! Make sure you are aware that walking out could be for good.

Control the Agenda

By controlling the agenda, you will be able to focus on objectives, control information exchange timing and who makes the first offer.

Persuade the Opposition

Be patient and listen to your opposition. Your tone of voice matters depending on who you are against. Mirror your opposition to engage with them and build trust and be prepared to have uncomfortable conversations. It is ok to be fearful, but you may be able reframe the situation with optimism and further the conversation with curiosity.

Conversational Techniques

Use accurate facts asserting informed certainty. Do not be afraid to interrupt to take control of the conversation but do so respectfully. It’s a good idea to have a default expression like a light smile to be unpredictable and be sure to practice a few default moods ahead of time. Power language is important. For example, using more ‘ands’ (positive) in place of ‘buts’ (negative) can make a difference. Try recording your ending sentence to see whether your statements have a hint of a question or uncertainty and address that. Use open questions to gather more information and use ‘blocking’ technique (answer with another question or refuse to exchange information at the time). Try to avoid impasses by talking past a ‘o’ by either stating facts or moving on to another subject.

Communication

Avoid negotiating on email unless you really must. It is easy for the opposition to say ‘no’ not leaving much room to negotiate. During team negotiations make sure you know ‘who is who’! A telephone negotiation can happen from time to time. Be prepared and have an agenda as small and simple as conveying a deadline or timeline or a mood. If you get a call suddenly, ask them call back in 5-10 minutes to make sure you are prepared and have an agenda. There is no excuse for not being prepared!

Reaching an agreement

Leaving a little bit something on the table sometimes during negotiations may help build long-term relationships. Attend carefully to the dates and time concessions. After the deal, the opposition party may come up with minor changes like a week or two early delivery dates or a minor design change in packaging. It is best to either refuse outright or ask something in return. It could be a small ask even if you don’t care much about the change but if not done at that time, expect many of such nuances down the road. Just be resilient!

Launch Your Search

The CFA Society Chicago Professional Development Advisory Group hosted the Launch Your Search program over the course of 4 weekly sessions in September and October. Over thirty participants gathered to develop or enhance the skills necessary to successfully navigate a job search, lessen the associated stress, boost confidence and stand above the competition to get hired faster. The program was conducted by Megan Walls who is a certified executive and career coach who provides professional guidance for all phases of your career: entry, advancement, and change.

Week 1 kicked off with participants learning How to Talk Confidently in an Interview. Individuals reviewed their personal strengths that were determined by taking the GALLUP Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 Assessment. Years of research suggest that the most effective people are those who understand their strengths and behaviors. A review of the knowledge and skills you have acquired can provide a basic sense of your abilities, but an awareness and understanding of your natural talents will provide true insights into the core reasons behind your consistent successes.

Each participant’s report listed his or her most dominant strengths from 34 themes that were measured. The strength themes include a broad range from Achiever, Communicator, Developer and Includer, to Learner Maximizer, Relator, and Strategist. Many participants agreed that they have difficulty talking confidently in an interview for various reasons – they’re modest, they feel like they’re bragging, or they don’t think their accomplishments are unique. But, we learned that leveraging these strengths into stories makes it much easier to talk about yourself and articulate your value proposition.

We spent time individually to develop Strength Success Stories based on our Top 5 Themes.The process includes listing a strength and providing an example of how you’ve used it in a business situation.Then a CAR (challenge, action, result) story is crafted on that strength. Having these stories polished and at the ready relieves anxiety, increases confidence and makes you stand out as self-aware in an interview.

An example CAR story:

CHALLENGE: There was no recording keeping system for the sales/orders that came in from the sales representatives.

ACTION: I developed an electronic submission form and organized a two-step process for the sales representatives to use on future orders.

RESULT: Company orders were processed 40% faster.

Week 2 focused on Crafting Your Personal Brand Statement. This one to two sentence statement conveys your uniqueness and competitive advantage to your target audience. It should be easily understood, memorable and benefit driven.  Your statement should answer 3 questions: 1) what value do you provide (describe your expertise); 2) what sets you apart from the competition (your unique attributes – use your strengths learned in the first session), and 3) who is your target audience or what is the position you are seeking? This statement will be the foundation for your marketing material and distinguish you from others in the same industry by creating differentiation in the minds of networking contacts and interviewers. Additionally, it establishes a consistent (versus broad) message, highlights your credibility/expertise and tells an organization why they need you.

Example Personal Brand Statements:

I use my passionate, emphatic approach to build key relationships with customers (sets you apart) that evolve into multi-year contracts (value) for high tech companies selling enterprise software (target audience).

I help small to medium size businesses (target audience) grow strong brands and boost organic growth up to 27% (value) by creating marketing programs that speak to customer needs (sets you apart).

Modernizing Your Resume was the focus during week 3. The group discussed many aspects of resumes, including the differences in today’s resumes, as well as the best ways to get your resume noticed. It’s important to make the best of your resume and grab the attention of your potential employer quickly. Typically, a recruiter or employer will only spend six seconds looking over your resume. With this being the case, the top third of your resume is most important. This section should include the highlights of your strengths, achievements, and value you will bring to an organization. Walls provided this example:

Corporate Finance Executive | Senior Finance Management Professional

Dynamic and resourceful problem solver who mitigate risk and addresses opportunities for profitable growth

Strategic about cost-savings: Eliminated, averted or saved $3M during tenure at XYZ Corp.

Adaptable to fast-paced changing environments: Partnered with cross-functional team to create financial model to calculate weekly one-year cash liquidity positions during financial crisis.

Extensive finance and management skills: Eliminated key man risk in department by creating cross coverage task list and initiating cross training of staff, allowing continuous workflow during absences.

Analytical approach to achieve results: Led development of database to consolidate disparate data sources so bankers could have accurate real-time picture of expenses, saving time and money.

Further, with job applications being submitted online, it’s imperative to have your resume make it past the ATS (applicant tracking system) so your resume makes it to a human being in HR, or better yet, the hiring manager. (In addition to applying online, you should always network into the organization to have someone at the company present you personally.) To pass the screening of an ATS your resume must contain keywords specific to the job! Scour job descriptions in your industry to gather those that best suit the position you’re looking for and incorporate them into your resume.

In addition to keywords, it’s important to use statements that are accomplishment driven. Beyond explaining what you were required to do in your role, you should expand on your successes. Your past experiences should enlighten prospective employers on what value you bring to the organization. Your CAR stories will be helpful in penning your achievements. To make your achievements pop, use powerful verbs in describing how you were effective.

The Powerful Verbs below will be helpful if for example, you:

Saved the Company Time or Money – conserved, consolidated, decreased deducted, diagnosed, lessened, reconciled, reduced

Led a Project – chaired, controlled, coordinated, executed, headed, operated, orchestrated, oversaw, planned, produced, programmed

Supported Customers – advised advocated, arbitrated, coached consulted, educated, fielded, informed, resolved

The final week’s topic was Structure your Job Search Plan, Set Goals & Take Action. In order to jump-start and conduct a successful search you need to be mindful of many factors and be honest about where stand personally in each area. To help you focus your time and effort in the right areas, rank each of the following components on a scale of 1-10:

  • Structured Plan & Goals
  • Time Commitment
  • Networking
  • Resume & Marketing
  • Mindset & Attitude
  • Personal Brand
  • Interview Prep & Skills
  • Self-Awareness

With an understanding of where you need to dedicate time, you can start setting goals for a systematic job search. Think about the strategies you will pursue to move toward this goal and establish specific action items.  Be aware that obstacles will arise along the way so think about how you can best overcome them.  Often times you will require support in various forms so don’t hesitate to ask for help – many people have been through this process and are willing to be of assistance.

Participants gained invaluable job search insights and left armed with many tools to help them throughout the process. Additionally, new networking contacts were made and all benefited from the ideas/support from others in the group.

Should you desire career coaching or help with your job search, you can find information about Megan Wall’s services from her website www.WallsCareerCoach.com, and she can be reached at megan@wallscareercoach.com or 847.490.5776.

Moving Beyond LinkedIn 101

Many within the business field have heard of LinkedIn as the professional business social media platform that business users use to connect with one another. After all, Microsoft’s $26.2 billion acquisition in June of 2016 made for quite the headline and further solidified LinkedIn as the premier business social media platform. But how many users are active on the site? How many professionals use the site to its fullest potential? Even if we are not job searching, a thorough update of one’s profile can be beneficial for everyone’s professional careers.On November 20th, CFA Society Chicago’s Professional Development Advisory Group brought in Kim Stapleton, founder of “The Network Effect”, to provide a crash course in how to get your LinkedIn up to par. Stapleton provided the following tips and tricks for maximizing your LinkedIn efficiency.

Keep your information up to date and remain active.

  • Keep your profile information up-to-date to foster dialog with future potential employers, industry contacts, and prospective clients.
  • Check LinkedIn at least weekly to see who you may have connected with that week and what people in your industry are saying through the LinkedIn NewsFeed.
  • Be active:  Add links to relevant videos and presentations users in your industry would find interesting and relevant.
  • Build your network: Connect with current colleagues, prospects, clients, referral sources, friends and alumni.  Personalizing your connection request helps the user remember how you’ve met.
  • Utilize “shared connections” to find ways to get introductions.  Users will be connected to each other in more ways than you think whether it be alumni connections or employment histories.

Optimize your profile.

  • Add your Full Contact Information.  It’s useful for users trying to make contact with you.  Phone number and email (work or personal) are helpful for connections trying to reach out.  Customize your URL: “linkedin.com/in/[firstnamelastname]”.  Your contact information is only shared with users you have accepted a connection with—cold calls from non-connections should be limited.
  • Adding your Professional Photo makes you 14x more likely to be found and 36x more likely to receive a message.
  • Add your Volunteer Experience—its helps to show employers and clients you are a well-rounded individual and which topics you are passionate about.
  • Listing “Skills” in your profile makes you 13x more likely to be viewed and 17x more likely if you have 5 or more skills.  Skills increases your google and LinkedIn search engine optimization.
  • Adding Videos and Presentations help turn your profile in a sales opportunity by enhancing your profile visually and adding relevant content for your clients.
  • Join “Groups” that are relevant to either the industry that you are in or the industry you want to be in.  Groups helps you connect with people directly in the industry.
  • Follow “Clients and Prospects”.  Follow industry leaders–both individuals and reputable companies.  Often industry leaders with millions of followers post relevant industry topics.
  • If you’re job hunting, enable “Job Alerts”. You can set job alerts specific to your target career path such as “equity research” or “accountant”.

Q&A session.

  • Users are not notified when you “un-connect” with someone.  Try to keep your connections to people you know to keep your rolodex of connections clean.
  • Export connection information into Excel. It is helpful to have a rolodex of you contacts all in E  It can be easier to search through your contacts in Excel versus on the web interface or phone.
  • Try Premium for 30 days for free. However, it is likely only recruiters or very active business development users will find the Premium version worth the monthly fee.

The largest takeaway from the event was that even if you are not job searching, it is important to remain active and keep your profile up to date on LinkedIn for networking purposes.  You never know when a connection may be relevant for a potential introduction, business lead, or new job opportunity and LinkedIn is a great way to stay relevant in the professional business world.

Private Equity: Should You Invest and How?

The challenges of investing in private equity were addressed at a recent event held at 300 N. Wacker and hosted by CFA Society Chicago’s Education Advisory Group. There are numerous issues that arise when making the decision to invest in the asset class. One of the biggest is regarding transparency. Investors typically do not have information on which companies they will be investing in but rather must put their faith in a fund that follows a certain strategy.

The basic characteristics of an investment in private equity are certainly more complex than an investment in the public market. The typical investor becomes a limited partner in an investment fund with a fixed term. A private equity firm will usually manage a series of distinct funds and will solicit new money as previous funds become fully invested. Funds can be capitalized by equity or debt; highly leveraged funds are LBO funds. Liquidity is limited compared to the public markets and investors that unexpectedly need cash may need to search for a buyer of their investment.

The event was organized into two panels on which six (6) investment professionals participated.  The panelists were divided between asset managers, intermediaries and asset owners.

Panelists for Fund Managers and Intermediaries:

Tobias True, CFA – True is a partner on the Investment Strategy and Risk Management team at Adams Street Partners. He is responsible for portfolio construction and risk management as it applies to portfolios including commingled and separately managed accounts.

Josh Westerholm – Westerholm is partner in the Investment Funds Group of Kirk & Ellis. He is an attorney involved in forming and structuring private funds and advises clients with respect to regulatory exams and inquiries.

Panelists for Asset Owners:     

Brad Beatty, CFA – Beatty is the chief investment officer at Sirius Partners LP. He is responsible for developing and implementing the firm’s investment strategy and oversees the firm’s investment in private equity.

Michael Belsley –Belsley is one of the country’s leading attorneys in the field of secondaries. His practice includes formation and governance of private equity funds (including primary interests in and secondary markets sales of private equity fund interests). He counsels buyers and sellers in their secondary market activities.

Harisha Koneru Haigh, CFA – Haigh manages the Private Investments and Real Asset portfolios for Northwestern University’s $11 billion endowment. Prior to joining Northwestern, she was a private equity manager at PPM America Capital Partners, LLC.

Moderator:

Bill Obenshain – Obenshain is chairman of the Advisory Board of the Center for Financial Services at DePaul University. Before joining DePaul, Obenshain spent 38 years in the financial services industry with Continental Bank and Bank of America.  He is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago and the Chairman’s Circle of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Each panelist gave a brief presentation and then answered questions from the moderator and the audience. The first panel featured fund managers and intermediaries and covered the following points:

What type of due diligence is performed on fund managers?

  • Knowledge of historical performance is critical, as there is evidence that top quartile performance may be a good predictor of future performance.
  • What were the drivers of past performance, what type of risks were taken?
  • What were the sources of return?
  • New investors need to know what type of valuation methods the fund uses. Most funds use a multiple of EBITDA to value potential investments.

What qualitative methods are used to evaluate funds?

  • Does the fund have the infrastructure and back-office personnel to sustain itself across any cycle?
  • What is the quality of the investment professionals making decisions for the fund and how are they compensated?

What are the challenges of creating a portfolio?

  • A portfolio of funds can be diversified by geography, sector and fund size. Over time, different sectors fall in and out of favor. Investment dollars that are paid out over different time periods will aid in the diversification of return.
  • Each investor will have a certain number of funds that they are comfortable investing in.

What is the risk of private equity with respect to other asset classes?

  • Public equity influences private equity; however there is a much different risk profile. Limited liquidity, blind pool risk and higher fees demand that private equity returns be superior to public equity.
  • Investments are made at intervals throughout the life of the fund; the timing will affect the IRR realized by the fund.

In the early days of PE, 25% to 30% returns were common; returns have dropped to the high teens.  How does this change the risk assessment?

  • Over the past 20-25 years there has been 10% annual growth in new dollars committed, this has compressed returns.
  • There is a wide range of returns among funds and access to funds and managers who outperform can be constrained.
  • Private equity funds must show performance at 300-500 bps better than public markets, LBO funds must demonstrate the highest performance premium.

What is a forever fund?

  • A typical private equity fund may have a 10-year life, at which time capital is returned to the investor.
  • There is very high interest from certain types of investors for longer terms from private equity funds. This is a better fit for institutional endowments and family offices needing investments for future generations.

What has been the trend in regulation?

  • With the passage of Dodd-Frank in 2012, private equity is no longer the “Wild West”.
  • Mandated registration has led to more oversight and enforcement actions are climbing.
  • PE firms face more questions from regulators; there is a focus on marketing materials being truthful.
  • More compliance personnel have been added, this is a positive for investors.

In the audience Q&A, the issue of risk was again addressed by the panel. True argued that risk can be defined by 1. Volatility (will it be lower?), 2. Fund Outcome (will return realized in 10-years be adequate?) and 3. Liquidity/cash flow (institutions have cash flow constraints that must be balanced with fund liabilities).

There was some audience Q&A with respect to the loosening of debt covenants and fee structure.  Higher leveraged funds will be riskier and require a higher return. Historically, the fee structure has been 1%-2% of assets managed and a 20% share of profits at the back-end. The limited partnership agreement must be specific when enumerating fees (list it or lose it).

After a short break the second panel was convened. This panel was comprised of asset owners who were able to provide some additional perspective on the issues.

What kind of due diligence is done before investing?

  • Haigh stated that 22% of Northwestern’s portfolio is in private equity. These are in co-investment’s with manager with which they have the highest conviction.
  • Investors are under pressure to commit money to managers within a relatively tight-time frame as funds are closed to new investors quickly
  • Staff resources are dedicated to getting to know the managers, those with a history of success are favored.

Now that all sectors are fair game for PE, how has the risk profile changed?

  • The benefit has been the ability to diversify within this asset class. Different managers may specialize in different sectors.
  • The challenge becomes “Which managers have the expertise for which sector?”
  • PE firms with specialty funds in out of favor sectors still have to do deals; given the time-frame can they attract investment dollars?
  • This trend reflects the maturation of the sector.

Given that the current part of this cycle has led to high valuations, what defensive measures do you take?

  • Patience is needed, however when top quartile funds are raising cash, you need to invest if you have dollars to put to work.
  • Investing consistently is important; timing the market is a mistake.
  • Take advantage of secondary sales if possible.

In the audience Q&A there were several questions concerning currently inflated valuations among private companies and the paucity of investment opportunities because of over-valuation. Investors take comfort in PE firms who have followed companies for 3-4 years and use consistent valuation methods. The computation for EBITDA can vary among managers, the biggest error can be overpaying for an asset.

Distinguished Speaker Series: James Grant, Grant’s Interest Rate Observer

James Grant has a resume. Navy man. Journalist. Founder and editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer. Author of books that range from the Great Depression, financial histories, a presidential biography, a forthcoming biography about Walter Bagehot, and appearances on numerous financial programs. Grant was the featured guest speaker at CFA Society Chicago’s Distinguished Speaker Series on November 14, 2018. Over lunch at the JW Marriot, Grant gave his views on topics ranging from interest rates to asset valuations and finished with questions from the audience.

Grant started with a U.S. economic review of the past 10 years concentrating on the progress and consequences of the monetary / fiscal policies applied over this period. Grant noted in 2007/08, the largest banks were leveraged around 29/1. The same group of banks are now levered approximately 13/1. While the risk these banks pose to the financial system has been reduced by de-levering over the past ten years, the leverage ratio of the Federal Reserve Bank has moved in an opposite direction, now standing at all-time highs. Fed policies have created a risky and perhaps fragile economic situation. Although the Fed has the ultimate backing of the U.S. government, at some point the investing public could say “enough” as ultimately the term “risk-free asset” will come into question. Grant then compared debt loads to GDP, asking rhetorically what is the level of debt that inhibits a country from issuing new debt at any price? Japan’s ratio of public debt to GDP is around 228%, Italy’s is 130%, while the U.S. stands at 105%. None of these countries currently have a problem issuing or servicing their debt. However, Grant explained that the level of debt is not the key, but how a country is viewed in the eyes of the world markets. For example, in 1978 the U.S. was in the midst of a funding crisis and the debt/GDP ratio was at only 26%. While finances and balance sheets matter, it is the cycles of interest rates that dominate a countries ability to raise debt and the world economies appetite for it. An alarming fact is the level of U.S debt issuance (in terms of percentage of GDP) is at its highest point since 1945. Grant pointed out the incongruity of the U.S. bond market activity and the overall economy. The economy by any measure has exhibited steady and reasonable growth in the past 10 years. Yet the U.S. government continues to issue more debt and increase the overall deficit in the face of increasing GDP.

Next, Grant addressed the value of risk-based assets. The past ten years of near zero term rates has created a perversely low cost of capital. By holding interest rates to artificially low levels, asset prices have inflated abnormally. Companies have exhibited a vicious cycle of issuing debt and using the proceeds to buy back their stock thereby propping up valuations. Fed policy is the main reason why there are a number of mega-sized companies that have recently gone or are about to go public. The commonality among these companies is that they typically make no money, have remarkably high valuations, and have easy access to cheap capital. Think Uber – it has never been profitable, year-over-year growth is decelerating, and it continues to lose market share. Despite this documented financial condition Uber has been recently valued at an enterprise value over $70 billion.

To underscore his points, Grant cited the works of two other authors. The first was Ed McQuarrie, Professor Emeritus at the Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University. McQuarrie is a part-time market historian who takes particular issue with the views popularized by Jeremy Siegel of a 6-7% average return in the stock market over time. McQuarrie’s position is that for decade long periods the stock market has had negative returns and there is not necessarily a reversion to the mean. Grant strongly advised the audience to read Dr. McQuarrie’s paper Stock Market Charts You Never Saw.

When Grant finished his prepared remarks he fielded questions from the audience.

Q – Given your outlook on interest rates and asset valuations, is the pricing of private equity realistic?

A – Grant answered with a quick “No”, and pointed to a recent disagreement between Palantir Technologies and Morgan Staley which has a stake in the company. Palantir has been valued in the $30B – $40B range and is looking to launch its IPO in 2019. Morgan Stanley has lowered the valuation of the company to a fraction of its private market $30-$40B valuation. What does it say to the current state of private equity valuations if the very banks that are to take a company public cannot agree with the company on valuation?

Q – In the current market environment where would you put capital?

A – As bond yields go up (a certainty in Grants eyes), gold will also go up. When the public losses confidence in a country’s fiscal management, there will be a flight from that currency.

Q – Given the state of the U.S. finances, what is the answer – raise taxes, lower spending?

A – The first step to fixing our financial crisis is something akin to a person dependent on drugs. Admit there is a problem. Setting aside the lawmaker (or the out of power political party) that calls for fiscal responsibility, the U.S. government as a whole must tackle the problem. It is more likely that there will be monetary disorder before the problem is addressed. If this is the most likely scenario, then investors should consider gold as hedge.

CFA Society Chicago 32nd Annual Dinner

The CFA Society Chicago Annual Dinner was an event devoted to honoring the 148 new CFA charterholders and the recipient of the Hortense Friedman, CFA, Award for Excellence.  The evening also featured Heather Brilliant, CFA, past chairman of CFA Society Chicago and Keynote Speaker Richard H. Thaler, 2017 Recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and the Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

The newest charterholders were congratulated for passing all three levels of the CFA exam, and having the required four years of relevant work experience required to qualify for the charter.  Honoring their commitment to completing the program, a crowd of 1,050 attendees gave them a standing ovation. It is estimated that preparation for the exams requires nearly 1,000 hours of study. The newest charterholders now hold a professional designation that is recognized worldwide as a symbol of excellence in their profession and a commitment to uphold the highest ethical standards.

Heather Brilliant, CFA is currently vice-chair of the CFA Institute Board of Governors and a managing director at First State Investments.  She addressed the “State of Disruption” in the financial services industry.  Brilliant identified two disruptors: the rise of passive investing and the increasing influence of technology.  She viewed both as positive developments that will in the long-term serve client interests.

The changes these disruptors cause will need to be harnessed by CFA’s.  Active managers will face more consolidation and robo-advice will be more prevalent.  However, it is difficult for machines to empathize with clients.  Brilliant stated that the CFA Institute will offer more continuing educations support and continue to advocate for fiduciary duty.

Brian Singer, CFA was honored as recipient of the Hortense Friedman, CFA, Award for Excellence.  The award honors a member of the Chicago-area investment community who has demonstrated initiative, leadership and a commitment to professional excellence. Singer is the head of William Blair’s Dynamic Allocation Strategies team, as well as its lead portfolio manager.  In expressing his thanks for the reward, Singer spoke of the great experiences he had earlier in his career in working with Gary Brinson and Gilbert Beebower.  They collaborated on a seminal article published in 1991 entitled: Determinants of Portfolio Performance II: An Update.

The keynote speech took the form of a question and answer session between Richard Thaler and Thomas Digenan, CFA, chairman of CFA Society Chicago. The questions from Dinegan covered a wide variety of topics and took advantage of Professor Thaler’s expertise in decision theory.  The Q & A unfolded as follows:

Guess a Number between 0 and 100
The number guessed must be the closest to two-thirds of the average guess of people attending this meeting. After some calculations, you arrive at a mean of 25.4, two-thirds of that mean is 16.93. Professor Thaler made an initial guess of 17 without having to go through the calculations. He was hopeful that charterholders would arrive at a number close to the correct answer.

Outlook for the Chicago Bears
Professor Thaler states the due to the NFL salary cap; successful team must have players that perform at a level greater than their salary. This favors teams with good draft picks and teams that find good players that other teams don’t want. The Bears were forced to pay defensive lineman Khalil Mack a market value salary for the next four years. This acquisition does not bode well for the Chicago Bears as Mr. Mack must be highly compensated.

Lottery Ticket Purchase?
Given the $1.6 billion payout, Professor Thaler would have purchased a ticket. He called it a “smart dream”. Interestingly, of 14 people asked to sell their machine number generated $2 ticket for $4, 11 would not do so. Once you have something, you don’t want to give it up.

Health Care Options for Employees and the Role of “Nudge”
Employees routinely make bad decisions with respect to which health care plan is best for them. These decisions include paying $2,800 for reducing your deductible by only $2,000. Professor Thaler characterized the desire to go to a smaller deductible as a “negative nudge”. He co-authored the global best-seller “Nudge” in 2008.

During open enrollment, there is no action required if you want to keep the same plan as the year before, however if you want to change you are forced start over (go to zero). This leads to what he termed “status quo bias”. Few employees understand their health care options, which can be a bigger decision than what type of 401K you have.

An Example of “Sludge”
People who sell things need to nudge. Bernie Madoff nudged, however he nudged people for evil. It must always be our intention to “nudge for good”.
When trying to access a review in a British journal, Professor Thaler ran into a paywall. The paywall asked for only one pound of payment to access the article; however he was required to give them his credit card. After an initial period you were automatically renewed at the market rate. To stop the subscription, you were required to give 2-weeks’ notice via telephone. This is a prime example of what Professor Thaler views as “Sludge” (making it difficult to get out)

What is Life Like after Winning a Nobel Prize?
Professor Thaler has noted that he has encountered more “Sludge”. He is the third recipient of the Nobel Prize on the floor he works on at the University of Chicago, so after about a week everything returned to normal.

Thoughts on “Surge Pricing”?
Professor Thaler warned that surge pricing can be a huge blunder. This is especially true when it becomes too prevalent. Most customers are resentful when a hardware store raises the price of snow shovels during a snowstorm. During a snow storm in New York, Uber commenced surge pricing. He noted that Home Depot does not raise the price of plywood after a hurricane. Home Depot, by not implementing surge pricing, is promoting a long-term relationship with their customers.

How do you guard against over-confidence?
It is important to eliminate hindsight bias. You must distinguish between bad decisions and bad outcomes. In a football analogy, Professor Thaler stated that attempting to score a touchdown on fourth down with one yard to go for a touchdown early in a football game is a smart decision. If you are not successful, you give the ball over with no points scored. However this is not a case of overconfidence by the head coach. This is an example of good decision with a bad outcome. It is difficult to do, however it is better to evaluate the decision, not the outcome.

In his concluding remarks, Professor Thaler criticized point forecasts by analysts and advocated confidence limits. A $2.34 point forecast can be contained in $2.15-$2.50 confidence limit. It is also critical to be able to look back at forecasts to track errors. Forecasting is an important part of what people do and the more feedback you have the more you will learn.

 

CFA Society Chicago would like to thank the following organizations for helping to make the 2018 Annual Dinner a success!

PREMIER SPONSORS
Northern Trust
UBS Asset Management
William Blair

PLATINUM SPONSORS
First Trust Portfolios, L.P.
Mesirow Financial
Nuveen

Thank you to all our Gold, Silver and Bronze sponsors as well!

Vault Series: John Wightkin, CFA, TradeInformatics

On November 8, 2018, John Wightkin, CFA, a senior trade consultant at TradeInformatics, spoke at the Vault Series of the CFA Society Chicago about how the process of examining trading costs can help preserve portfolio alpha.

According  to John, “trading costs can represent close to half of active returns” and the process of analyzing and examining trading costs can help claw back those costs that preserve alpha. The dispersion of average trading costs can be between 3 and 48 basis points per the presentation. The process John outlined to combat these high costs has three basic steps:

  1.  Alpha profiling, which is the analysis of the firm’s linkage and relationship between the portfolio manager, trader, broker and analyst. The “alpha profile” tries to identify the unique DNA of portfolio ideas and then link the process to return preservation and implementation.
  2. Return preservation, which means looking across different participation rates and liquidity buckets for opportunities which might not be apparent. The participation rate refers to identifying active vs passive relative to market flow and the liquidity buckets are determining what order size is relative to average daily volume.
  3. Implementation is the last step to be considered and ought to be low-cost and transparent. The client firm will learn how to take control of trade execution on a specific platform to prevent information leakage, but also use the platform as a way to receive information about market flow and trade reception.

A case study was provided where TradeInformatics examined a hedge fund with 30 traders but no central trading desk. When the trades were working in the desk’s favor, there was an average of 12 minutes between trades, but when trades were working against the desk, or positions were losing, the average time between trades lengthened to 40 minutes. The conclusion drawn was that actual returns were 5.9% lower than “expected return” based on the actual trading patterns.

Using a healthy lifestyle analogy, TradeInformatics concluded that to reduce trading costs, the trading desks should “lose weight and eat a balanced diet” which translates into slowing their trading down and doing it more consistently over both sides of the market, i.e. whether the trades are winning or losing.

Summary / conclusion: The takeaway from John Wightmkin’s slide presentation was to slow down and be more consistent with a firm’s trading practices. The time differential between winning and losing trades was antithetical to the traditional practice within investing of “cutting your losses and letting your winners run”. Trade Informatics often found that the opposite was the case.

Trade Informatics can provide more discipline around the trading / execution process, for which the goal is to ultimately lower trading costs and preserve portfolio alpha.

Distinguished Speaker Series: Rick Waddell, Chairman of Northern Trust

Who better to teach management during a crisis than a former bank CEO who began his job in the midst of the 2008 recession? Rick Waddell has one of the most extensive resumes you’ll find in banking and dedicated his career to growing Northern Trust from a sleepy custody and wealth management firm into the technology-driven asset management and banking leader it is today. Waddell was CFA Society Chicago’s guest speaker on October 10th for its Distinguished Speaker Series luncheon.

He noted proudly that he saw many former and current Northern Trust employees in the audience. “The CFA Society is really important to us at Northern Trust,” he said. Waddell said that he was told not to make his speech a commercial for his bank, and joked that “this eliminates about 95% of my content” and made him ponder what would be a good topic for him to address, ultimately deciding on “5 Things I Learned From the Global Financial Crisis of 2008”.

In Waddell’s mind, the following five key features made the difference between success and failure during the financial crisis.

Capital matters. For any organization with a balance sheet, both the quantity and quality of its capital during ’08 were incredibly important. He noted that capital ratios had been too low in Europe, but generally were roughly OK in the US. He still sees problems with bank capital transparency in Europe today.

Liquidity matters. Again, both the quality and the amount of liquidity are important. Waddell said that he believed that the fall of Lehman Brothers was not due to lack of capital, but to lack of liquidity. The Fed was much more focused on capital during the global financial crisis than liquidity, but the latter was just as important. One of the earliest warning signs Waddell saw that all was not right in the financial world was when HSBC wrote down $11 billion worth of subprime mortgages in March of 2007. Waddell wanted to know if any part of Northern Trust had exposure to subprime lending and found that, while they didn’t make the loans themselves, they still had subprime-related instruments in some of their investment pools. Another warning sign came in August 2007 when Waddell learned that a securities lending collateral pool was facing losses when a number of banks withdrew from the niche Auction Rate Securities (ARS) market and banks holding the formerly liquid instruments suddenly faced losses.

Leadership and management during a crisis matter. Waddell said that during a tumultuous period, “the good and the not so good in all of us comes out.” With his background focused on commercial banking, he had to learn a lot of things quickly during the crisis as a new CEO leading a diversified financial firm. At the same time, Waddell had consultants and executives coming to him asking who he was going to fire in order to shed costs. Firing people immediately after the bank’s best year on record (2007) didn’t make sense to Waddell. He didn’t want to go down that route, and it turned out that staying the course and not making widespread headcount reductions was the right decision.

Culture matters. “At Northern Trust, our values are service, expertise and integrity,” said Waddell. Having that culture in place before a crisis hit was extraordinarily important. While Waddell admitted that Northern Trust has its share of problems like any firm, and its culture needs to evolve while holding employees more accountable, having a set of values that the team buys into was one of the main reasons the firm navigated the crisis so well. “Culture is more important than strategy,” Waddell said, echoing management consulting pioneer Peter Drucker. Despite the bank’s commitment to its partners and Waddell’s desire to avoid mass layoffs, its ROE fell to 8.2% in 2011, below its cost of capital, so the bank went on a mission to cut costs while still avoiding large layoffs that could have demoralized staff.

Strategy matters. Waddell said that having skin in the game was important during the recession. He found that the trend of banks securitizing assets and immediately getting them off their balance sheet led to a lack of skin in the game with financial institutions, and this made the crisis even worse.

Waddell continued on at length about his experience during the financial crisis. In 2009, large US banks were forced to accept a capital injection as part of TARP. Northern Trust was well-capitalized and didn’t need the money, but regulators hinted that they needed to comply or there could be consequences. Waddell said that the TARP program was in theory a good idea that could act as a stimulus, but the problem was that there weren’t enough borrowers demanding capital for it to have much of an impact. What was originally termed the “healthy bank program” soon became “the bailout” in the public’s eyes, which led to protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street, some of which were held immediately outside Northern Trust’s headquarters at LaSalle and Monroe. This populist take on the government bailing out fat cat bankers hurt the perception of Northern Trust, despite the firm’s insistence that it didn’t need capital and its desire to quickly repay the money. Waddell said that the terms of the loan Northern Trust was forced to take netted taxpayers a 15.5% return, and TARP overall was one of the most successful investments for taxpayers in recent history and very profitable for the government.

Blame for the crisis is difficult to assess, but Waddell said that the Fed was responsible for missing some of the warning signs, banks were also responsible to an extent for lax standards, and consumers were also responsible by borrowing far more money than they were able to repay. Waddell said that eventually there will be a recession in the US but the banking system will be in a much better position to not only withstand it, but even be a positive force for stability. One thing that remains unresolved is the issue of “too big to fail”, but bank capital and credit quality have greatly improved overall. While he noticed some clues that markets were starting to crack back in 2007, Waddell sees few red flags on the horizon today. He said that usually problems will manifest early on in the mortgage market, but that the industry appears to be functioning fairly normally now. There could be some issues with Brexit next year, and Northern Trust continues to monitor that situation closely, as well as the Chinese economy and issues around cybersecurity. In his Q&A, Waddell said that young professionals considering a career in banking will still find opportunities in the future, as the practice of safeguarding assets and allocating capital will be around for a long time. He was slightly less upbeat about the prospects for the asset management industry in light of the disruptions faced by robo advisers, low (and sometimes free, in the case of Fidelity) account fees, and the trend towards passive investing.

True to Northern Trust’s values, Waddell finished his speech by encouraging the audience to get involved in a philanthropic endeavor that aligns with their interest, saying “to much is given, much is expected”. Lastly, he noted the firm’s long history of collaborating with United Way and said that there’s still much work to be done.