Economic Outlook and Policies

On January 16, 2019, a profound reflection on economic policy, politics’ influence on it, and the US economic outlook took place at the Standard Club in Chicago. The discussion was moderated by CFA Society Chicago’s very own Lotta Moberg, CFA,—with William Blair’s Dynamic Allocation Strategies team—and featured David Lafferty, senior vice president and chief market strategist at Natixis Investment Managers; Nicholas Sargen, chief investment officer for the Western & Southern Financial Group and chief economist of its affiliate, Fort Washington Investment Advisors Inc.; and Jas Thandi, associate partner of Aon Hewitt’s Global Asset Allocation Team. The discussion began with setting up the big picture of the world economy with the US as the focus and then progressed to cover the panelists’ outlook on how central bank policies and deregulation will play out in the US. Finally, the panelists shared their perspectives on the future of globalization before offering some concluding remarks. After the panel discussion was completed, Moberg opened the panel to Q&A.

Sargen kicked off the discussion by encouraging the attendees to “not focus on the tweets”—referring to the President’s activity on Twitter—or even the Federal Reserve. Instead, he encouraged people to focus on economic policy. He walked through the story of Trump’s economic policy since he took office citing the corporate tax cuts and deregulation in 2017. Sargen explained his view that these policies carried the markets through 2017 and by 2018 most of this positive news was already priced in to the market. The realization that these policies were already priced in combined with the new developments in the China Trade War led to 2018 falling flat by the end of the year. He closed his opening remarks citing political gridlock in America and a global economic slowdown as the continuing risks for markets. Lafferty continued the conversation agreeing with Sargen on all counts and expanding with his views on the global economic slowdown. He laid out a view of global deceleration across all major asset classes stating that some of the pessimism is already priced in. Lafferty even conjectured that he believed most broad asset classes were not far from fair value. However, none of these broad asset classes are currently priced for recession. Thandi rounded out the opening remarks by emphasizing politics’ growing role in markets and bringing focus back to the U.S.-China trade war and its implications on global assets—especially in Europe. He expounded on his European focus by pointing to the ECB and the need for investors to be wary of their policy actions as well. He wrapped up the opening remarks by touching on the increase in supply of treasuries due to the runoff of the Federal reserve balance sheet and the impact we should expect to be seen in the credit markets. This final point set up Moberg’s next point of discussion: how will the U.S. markets react to recent U.S. government and FED policies?

Thandi picked up by stating his belief that the U.S. economy would experience a soft landing due to some growth from the tax stimulus. However, he has been surprised by the way capital expenditures by corporations has “fallen off a cliff.” Lafferty followed Thandi’s comments regarding low capital expenditures by explaining that the execution of economic policy can have an outsized impact. Lafferty explained to attendees that the corporate tax cuts should have incentivized companies to spend more on capital expenditures, however, due to recent protectionist rhetoric from the President many companies became cautious to make capital expenditures due to political uncertainty. Lafferty also stated that the current political gridlock in the U.S. government could be dangerous for markets should any major problems arise. Despite these warnings, Lafferty too expressed some optimism stating his belief that we are merely experiencing a slowdown. However, he cautioned that Federal Reserve adjustments could have already killed the expansion. Sargen agreed with Lafferty regarding Fed policy and shared his view that the Fed’s communication regarding policy has been poor. He also revisited Thandi’s point of the tax cut stating his belief that the resulting stimulus would run its course by mid-2019. However, Sargen also supported the view of a soft landing stating that the U.S. would not experience a recession this year—but a recession beyond that short horizon is likely.

The next topic for the panel was deregulation in the US. Before this topic was kicked off Lafferty offered thoughts by first stating that there has been a surprising focus on regulating new forms of systemic risk and investor protection. He cited the growth of the ETF market as a point of concern for regulators. After making this point he explained that deregulation has been positive for smaller shops as it has eased their regulatory burden. Sargen expounded on this point by saying that executives overwhelmingly prefer less regulation—no matter the size of the company. He pointed to the current political landscape saying it is no longer as supportive of deregulation due to the democratic party’s representation in the House of Representatives. Thandi offered the final thoughts on this topic by stating that deregulation has only had a small impact. He explained that there were short term gains from deregulation but they were muted due to tariffs resulting from the U.S.-China trade war.

After the deep dive into recent developments in the US the panel transitioned to discuss the future of globalization, both in the US and across the globe. Thandi started off by discussing the recent protectionist rhetoric not only in the U.S. but across the globe citing Brexit as a major example. He explained that such policies will lead to consolidation in equities as large companies seek growth through acquisition instead of organically. Ultimately, Thandi believes these policies will lead to a lower growth environment. Lafferty agreed that protectionist policies appear to be growing in developed markets and will lead to a lower growth environment. Further, this lower growth environment will lead to stunted performance in passive investment strategies. He also expects these protectionist policies to cause more volatility in markets. Lafferty’s final point on the matter was that with the combination of low growth and higher volatility investors will allocate more capital to active investment strategies.

Finally, the panelists concluded the evening with their final thoughts:

Lafferty:

  • The trade war is not about prices but about national policy, specifically the U.S. is targeting the “Made in China 2025” effort.
  • Regarding monetary policy, backtracking on Quantitative Tightening is actually bad for equities because it signals the Federal Reserve doesn’t have faith in markets’ strength.
  • The dollar will be stable or bearish in 2019.

Thandi:

  • Reforms and policy decisions in Europe will be more influential than the media is portraying.
  • Assuming a soft landing for the U.S., emerging markets already had their correction and are due for a rebound.

Sargen:

  • Alternatives such as private equity are an attractive investment.
  • Passive investment strategies generally outperform hedge funds in the long run.

After the discussion was concluded Moberg opened the panel to Q&A:

Does it matter who Trump’s Economic Advisor is?

  • Sargen: No.
  • Lafferty: No.
  • Thandi: No.

Is international diversification out of date?

  • Thandi: No, however correlations have lowered with globalization. Currency risk still plays a big role.
  • Lafferty: No, however Emerging Markets are no longer as attractive in the long run because growth has slowed. Low correlations have become much rarer due to an interconnected global economy.
  • Sargen: No, but benefits of international diversification are not as attractive. Additionally, investors should be wary of diversification into bonds as the Federal Deficit continues to grow.

What is the big thing the general consensus is missing?

  • Lafferty: Bubbles in the capital markets.
  • Sargen: Global leaders are running out of policy ammunition to deal with crises.

What will volatility be in the next 6 months?

  • Sargen: Choppy.
  • Lafferty: Low 20s as opposed to low teens (referring to the VIX Index level).
  • Thandi: Choppy.

2019 Annual Celebration

CFA Society Chicago held its annual celebration for new members and volunteers on Thursday, January 17, 2019. The venue was a new one the Society, hosting the event at River Roast on LaSalle Street just north of the river. Attendees enjoyed a spacious, private setting away from the public area of the restaurant. The setting provided an excellent opportunity for new members to build their professional networks, and for everyone to reconnect with friends and colleagues.

CEO of the Society, Shannon Curley, CFA, led off the official portion of the event by welcoming everyone, and introducing members of CFA Society Chicago’s Board of Directors and co-chairs of advisory groups who were present. He added a special welcome to new members, encouraging them to take advantage of the event to speak with members of the various advisory groups represented, and consider volunteering their time by joining one. Finally, Shannon gave a well-deserved thank you to society staff for planning this (and every) event. 

Shannon then announced the list of volunteers recognized for their outstanding contributions during 2018 to each advisory group:

Annual Dinner – Cara Esser, CFA

Professional Development – Kevin Ross, CFA

Communications – Lisa Davenport, CFA

Education Seminars – Matthew Morris, CFA

Distinguished Speakers Series – Arthur Olunwa, CFA

Membership Engagement – Deb Koch, CFA

Social Events – Jenny McNicholas

CFA Women’s Network – Bhavna Khurana, CFA

Our Outstanding Volunteers!

Shannon continued by thanking the co-chairs of the advisory groups for the extensive time and energy they put into making the events the society offers so valuable to our membership. All recognized volunteers received a gift from the Society in appreciation of their service. The final piece of official business was the drawing of raffle prizes (to some the highlight of the event). This year, everyone could choose to enter their choice of two drawings for overnight stays for two at the Standard Cub or Hyatt Regency. Congratulations to Ben Huddleston, CFA, and Pranay Subedi, CFA, winners of the raffle! With the official business completed, the socializing continued for the remainder of the event.

The New Networking

How should one define networking? It could be described as simply an exchange of information and services. But, according to Sameer Somal, a better definition that could lead to a very successful career could be “finding ways to give to others”.

 “You have one of the very best societies,” Sameer said, mentioning the many high quality events put on by CFA Society Chicago. He couldn’t resist a gentle dig on the Chicago Bears, fans of which had recently witnessed a double doink missed field goal that led to a playoff loss against his favorite team the Eagles.

His Blue Ocean Global Technology provides digital reputation management, which Somal described as building, maintaining and repairing reputations. He’s an expert who has testified on internet defamation cases in court and says that the digital identity we all have will be one of the most valuable commodities of the future, which makes reputation management important not just for companies but for individuals as well.

His message has much in common with How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, which Somal said was “the bible of the subject”. According to the Carnegie Institute, as much as 85% of an individual’s success can come from ability to communicate, with only a small fraction determined by analytical skill.

One thing that Somal hears a lot from investment managers is “our business comes from word of mouth”. He said that might be true a decade ago, but now young generations (children of a client, etc.) will immediately look up a firm on the internet, and you need to manage your presence online.

His highly interactive presentation was sprinkled with giveaways to encourage participation, with Somal handing out a tin of Butterfields Peach Buds (“This is the finest candy that I send out all over the world”) to Austin Galm for being the first to answer a question.

Networking is really just the beginning step, as relationships are built over a period of time, and according to Somal, “the fortune is in the follow up”. Somal said that following up after meeting is the biggest part of networking that is often overlooked, and he asked the audience “Why would you even go to a networking event if you’re not going to follow up with the people you meet there?” And while the internet is an indispensable part of networking, Somal said that it is best to “use the internet to get off the internet”, and connect with people in person.

Somal confronted some myths he frequently hears about networking, such as it is only for salespeople and it isn’t as effective as people think. He told a story about how he was able to connect with a number of influential people using respectful and thoughtful language, often in handwritten notes. It’s also important to decide what kind of networker you want to be, Somal said. For some, it means making one important connection at an event. Somal described himself as a “speed networker”, and he tries to have memorable interactions and make as many connections as possible while at an event.

He also has a process that he follows for staying in touch with someone new, which he does within the first 6 months of meeting. When interacting with someone for the first time, it’s best to avoid the question “What do you do?”, because the answer can define a person. Better questions are open-ended, and could be something like “Tell me about your role at your firm”.

Not everyone is as altruistic as Somal when it comes to seeing networking as a way to enrich others. He is always on the lookout for what he terms “givers and takers”, and will quickly determine which side a new contact is on.

He covered topics such as body language, ways to introduce yourself and ideas for some interesting questions to ask. Things like eye contact, positivity, keeping your phone in your pocket and being confident will go a long way when meeting new people. Good questions come from preparation, and it is helpful to research who will be attending a conference in order to think about what might be good things to ask him or her. One of Somal’s favorite questions to ask is “What is giving you positive energy lately?” This question tends to get a smile on people’s faces and get them to remember you in a good way.

When reaching out to execs with mentoring and networking requests, Somal said that it’s best not to ask for anything right away, but to simply say that you’d like to build a relationship with them over time and earn their trust. After you connect with someone you met at a conference, wait about a month and then send another quick note telling them a little more about yourself. Here are three tips Somal recommended to prepare for meeting people at an event:

  1. Prepare a memorable 30 second elevator pitch about yourself
  2. Create relevant and thoughtful questions
  3. Focus on quality, not quantity

If you read an article by someone you liked, send them a note that says “I loved your article and would be delighted to invest in this friendship over time”. Going along with his digital reputation mindset, Somal will often encourage prospects and networking targets to Google him on voicemails he leaves.

In terms of methods of following up, you can use social media, email, text, phone or a handwritten note. Somal said that it’s important to use all of them. Many people he speaks with, particularly younger people, hate using the phone, yet it’s still important to have good phone skills despite all of us being better at in-person interaction.

Somal finished his speech with a quote that summed up his philosophy on networking: “Give without remembering and receive without forgetting”.

Reading List

  1. The Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey
  2. Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
  3. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  4. Give and Take by Adam Grant

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.