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.

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: James D. Shilling, DePaul Department of Real Estate

The Evolution of Modern Real Estate and its Role in a Multi-Asset Portfolio

CFA Society Chicago gathered in the Vault at 33 North LaSalle to hear Professor James Shilling from the DePaul Department of Real Estate discuss the evolution of commercial real estate and its increasing role in a diversified portfolio. Shilling was the James A. Grasskamp Professor of Real Estate and Urban Land Economics at the University of Wisconsin and currently holds the George L. Ruff Endowed Chair in the Real Estate Center at DePaul University.

Professor Shilling began his presentation by showing that the value of diversification has been recognized since the days of King Solomon (circa 970 BC). He then goes on to discuss how Nobel Laureates Harry M. Markowitz (1952) and Robert C. Merton (1973) quantified the concept of diversification for the portfolio.

Harry M. Markowitz is known as the Father of Modern Portfolio Theory. His work set the stage for the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) and a two-fund theorem. This theorem holds that for diversification purposes investors should hold a combination of the risk-free asset and a market portfolio of risky assets.

Robert C. Merton extended the Markowitz framework by allowing for multiple sources of uncertainty. In this framework commercial real estate can now assume a critical role as investors require another “hedge” against risk. However, real estate was slow to enter portfolios as there were only a few indices that could track performance. Beginning in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the development of appraisal-based commercial real estate indices ameliorated this problem.

Professor Shilling pointed out that during prolonged periods of low economic growth and low interest rates the inclusion of commercial real estate is of great benefit to any investment portfolio. He argued that the current US economy continues to reflect this “secular stagnation”. The persistence of low interest rates has incented portfolio managers to leave fixed income and increase their investments in real estate. Current pension portfolios average around a 10% exposure to commercial real estate. If recent trends continue, this exposure will only increase.

The present state of the US commercial real estate market reflects the continuance of a slow growth economy. With portfolio managers searching for yield, the vehicle of choice has in many instances been commercial real estate. Professor Shilling argues that this influx of money has continued to compress cap rates, which for some properties approach 3%.

Professor Shilling pointed out that during prolonged periods of low economic growth and low interest rates the inclusion of commercial real estate is of great benefit to any investment portfolio.

Increasing correlation between asset classes due to lower interest rates and the trend towards a flat yield curve has produced a scenario for portfolio managers where there is “nowhere to hide”.   It is increasingly difficult to achieve diversification using only developed market assets. He argues that more effective diversification can be achieved through investments in emerging markets assets.

Starting Your Own RIA Firm (Part 3): Infrastructure and Regulatory Requirements

The final event of this three-part series was to explore the infrastructure and regulatory requirements new RIA’s need to satisfy. The two previous events focused on the initial personal challenges of starting your own firm and the marketing and business development challenges.

The four speakers featured for this event included:

Carson BoorasMr. Booras is vice president of Institutional Sales for TD Ameritrade. Booras has over 20 years of experience working within the Financial Industry and has been working directly with Financial Advisors for over nine years. Prior to joining TD Ameritrade, Booras built a fee based advisory practice working with Charles Schwab.

GJ KingMr. King is President of RIA in a Box. RIA in a Box currently helps nearly 1,500 RIA’s overcome the compliance and technical challenges of starting a firm. Prior to RIA in a Box, Mr. King held positions at Goldman Sachs serving advisors to high net worth entrepreneurs, families and foundations.

Joseph Mannon Mr. Mannon is an attorney with Vedder Price Investment Services Group, a legal firm with 35 attorneys serving independent advisors. He focuses his practice on legal and compliance matters for investment advisors, mutual funds and vehicles such as hedge funds.

Ravi Wadhwani – Mr. Wadhwani is the Illinois regional sales director for Morningstar’s Advisor Solutions Group, responsible for building relationships with startup and established RIA’s. His focus is on helping advisors build their practices by leveraging research, data aggregation and practice management technology.

Shannon Curley, CFA, began the event with a brief introduction of the speakers followed by a short presentation from each addressing how their firm helps newly formed RIA’s. King provided event participants with a presentation entitled “RIA Registration 101”, which outlined the steps needed for registration and licensing of an RIA. Wadhwani provided a questionnaire entitled “Taming Your Technologies” which helps evaluate the effectiveness of technology.  Carson stated that TD Ameritrade is a fast growing custodian with dedicated transition teams for RIA’s. As an attorney in his firm’s Investment Advisory group, Mannon has a wide range of experience aiding both new, and experienced, RIAs.

The four speakers spent the remainder of the event responding to questions from the audience, summarized below:

What is the biggest mistake new RIA’s make?

  • Mismatch between the advisory contract and the services you provide to clients.
  • Failure to make clear how your new firm will provide a better experience for clients and result in a better outcome.
  • Unexpected delays due to the ramifications of non-compete clauses with a previous employer. You may not be able to take data with you.
  • Technology does not provide the support envisioned resulting in “biting off more than you can chew”.
  • Using an attorney not experienced with this type of work, or not experienced in working with custodians.
  • Neglecting to create a detailed balance sheet for your new business.

 

What registration is required for trading in alternative assets such as real estate, bitcoin or private equity?

  • Real Estate is not a security, so registration is not a requirement.
  • Private Equity is usually done deal by deal using Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV’s) for each. Registration is not required until the aggregate value exceeds $150 million.
  • Educating clients about bitcoin, does not require registration, but participation in an ICO would require registration.

 

What would be the typical cost of setting up an RIA?

  • If there are no prior employment issues, a bare bones cost could be as low as $2,000.
  • Cost increases dramatically if there are prior employment issues concerning non-solicit and non-compete. In the extreme, costs could exceed $300,000.

 

What are the basics for effective cyber-security?

  • It is important to recognize that typically you are the owner of the data, not the custodian.
  • Ownership of professional business level security software is critical.
  • Stay on top of your vendor’s security practices.
  • If your data center goes down, where do you go? Log on to back-up sites.
  • Consider cyber security insurance and know what is specifically covered.
  • Quick reaction is critical if you suspect the worst. Train staff to deal with situations promptly.
  • Payment of ransom is not recommended, reputational issues may result.

 

What is the most effective way to calculate performance?

  • Use one system to generate ad-hoc reports and fees.
  • Reliance on custodial statements is more common.
  • Clients should have access to all their reports at any time.
  • The trend is for fewer reports (less is more). RIA’s are now involved in more holistic tasks for clients that typically do not require performance reporting.

The brief questions at the end focused on the different requirements for short-only RIA’s or those RIA’s that specialize in hedging or options. These activities are acceptable as long as they are spelled out in the advisory contract.

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

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

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

 

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

Marketing and Business Development

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

Targeting Institutional Clients

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

Methods to grow the business

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

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

 

Water’s Impact on Investing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vault Series: Doug Ramsey, CFA, CMT, The Leuthold Group, LLC

Playing the Market Melt-Up

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The CFA Society Chicago gathered in the Vault Room at 33 North LaSalle to hear Doug Ramsey, CFA of Leuthold Weeden Capital Management discuss the likely future direction of the equity market. Ramsey is the CIO of The Leuthold Group and co-portfolio manager of the Leuthold Core Investment Fund and Leuthold Global Fund. .

Ramsey is both a CFA charterholder and a Chartered Market Technician (“CMT”). Holders of the CMT have demonstrated expertise in the theory, practice and application of technical analysis. He maintains Leuthold’s proprietary Major Trend Index, a multi-factor model that utilizes mainly technical data. The model contains a long history of market data going back to 1930. The data and subsequent market behavior discussed in the Vault Room included data up to May 12th of this year.

The Major Trend Index is comprised of 130 indicators that roll-up into 5 categories. The categories are comprised of quantitative and qualitative factors that influence the direction of markets. A plus and minus figure is computed for each category and a ratio that includes all the data is computed. The Major Trend Index yielded a ratio of 1.14 as of May 12th,  a ratio over 1.00 is considered bullish.

The age of the current bull equity market has many speculating that the bull market is nearing an end. Ramsey spoke at length as to how his model can be used to forecast a market top. The Major Trend Index concludes that the current bull market has more room to run. He believes that the equity market sell-off in early 2016 has set the stage for another leg-up in the current bull market.

The model used by Ramsey uses seven (7) stock market indices to monitor the health of the equity market.  They are as follows:

  • Dow 65 Composite
  • Dow Transports
  • Dow Utilities
  • Russell 2000
  • S&P 500 Financials
  • S&P 500 Cyclicals
  • NYSE Advance/Decline Line

Negative performance in at least 5 of these 7 categories has foretold a market top. Ramsey characterizes a market top as a “lonely” one. The bull market is propelled at its end by only one or two sectors before a bear market begins.

DSC_3744Ramsey then spoke at some length about the market sell-off that occurred at the beginning of 2016 and its effect on the current bull market. In May of 2015 six (6) of the seven (7) categories were in negative territory which is a strong indication of a market top. The equity market was essentially flat in 2015 and the beginning of 2016 a market correction occurred. A bear market did not occur as the index only fell 14%, by definition a bear market does not begin before a 20% sell-off.

The fact that a bear market did not occur after the 2015 signal does not necessarily negate the usefulness of the model. The year 2015 coincided with a trough in corporate earnings and the market reflected that. Ramsey believes that the 14% pullback that occurred in early 2016 has given new life to the current bull market which in his opinion does not look to have reached its top.

Following his presentation Ramsey spoke with a group of attendees on a number of topics including:

  • Momentum investing works, investing in sectors or companies that have already experienced price appreciation can still yield profit.
  • Tech valuations are not in bubble territory. Several slides in his presentation illustrated the strong earnings that are now being realized by tech companies.
  • You can make an argument that low volatility (higher dividend)  stocks may have reached bubble territory since investors appear to be drawn to these.

Distinguished Speaker Series: Richard Driehaus, Driehaus Capital Management LLC

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The Distinguished Speaker Series hosted Richard H. Driehaus at the Metropolitan Club Oak Room on March 1st, 2017. Mr. Driehaus is founder, chief investment officer and chairman of Driehaus Capital Management LLC. In 2000 he was named to Barron’s “All-Century” team whose players were deemed the most influential in the mutual fund industry over the past 100 years. Mr. Driehaus aim was to divide his presentation into three sections: Early Years, Investing, and Industry Trends.

DSC_3548He began his presentation by referencing the difficulties his father had in developing a residential lot his family owned. Although his father had a steady paycheck as a mechanical engineer, he was not able to afford his goal of developing the land for his expanding family. Mr. Driehaus at that point began thinking about how he would make sure to achieve his goals.

When he was 13, Mr. Driehaus spotted the NYSE quotes in a local newspaper. DSC_3533When informed about what the NYSE quotes meant, he became fascinated and soon found that his calling was the investment industry.

Mr. Driehaus argues that the principals of Taoism are applicable to the stock market. Taoism stresses living in harmony with the universal laws of nature. Nature has given man both a creative and analytic side to his brain. You must be able to use both sides of your brain to understand the market.

Mr. Driehaus shared the following market insights:

  • Stock price will almost always never equal a company’s intrinsic value. The valuation process is flawed.
  • It is better to concentrate in sectors as certain sectors will have better outlooks than the market as a whole.
  • More money is made by buying high and selling higher (positive relative strength).
  • Hit home runs, not singles and avoid striking out (cut your losses).
  • High turnover reduces risk; take a series of small losses but not a big loss.
  • Standard deviation is a poor measure of investment risk.
  • The greatest long term risk is not having enough exposure to risk.

Mr. Driehaus emphasized that continuous observation is needed for investment analysis.  Knowledge gained must then be applied in the context of a rapidly changing environment. You must maintain belief in your core principles for the long-term to succeed.

DSC_3541Mr. Driehaus had the following observations of the industry and current equity market:

  • A 60/40 equity/bond allocation will not be aggressive enough for retirees due to longer life spans.
  • As inflation becomes hotter bonds will be less attractive than stocks.
  • Active managers have been losing assets due to the lower fees associated with indexing.
  • Meaningful alpha generation is not easy in this environment but still doable.
  • Active management will outperform when interest rates normalize as equity dispersion will be greater.
  • Expect a greater shift to international equities.

Following his presentation Mr. Driehaus fielded questions on a number of topics:

  • Investing in growth stocks allowed him to prove himself more quickly.
  • Hedge funds are paralyzed because they want safety; they are not taking on enough risk to differentiate themselves.
  • Look closely at volume when you’re thinking about selling one of your winners.
  • His philanthropy emphasizes that architecture is very important. Big box retail has killed a number of small communities and failed to protect the “sense of place”.

Starting Your Own RIA Firm

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Many talented professionals some day dream of having their own business. In the financial industry this usually means being the trusted advisor and investor on behalf of individuals and small businesses. The CFA Society Chicago and its Professional Development Advisory Group assembled a panel to offer insights for people who are considering exploring this possibility.  This panel of experts was composed of the following RIA professionals:

Jenifer Aronson, CFA – Ms. Aronson, moderator of the panel, is managing partner with Mosaic Fi, LLC. Ms. Aronson is a member of the Steering Committee for the CFA Women’s Advisory Group. She works with family offices and high net-worth individuals. Prior to Mosaic, Ms. Aronson has over 20 years of experience with Northern Trust and Brinson Partners.

Chris Abraham, CFA – Mr. Abraham is founder of CVA Investment Management. Prior to founding CVA, he held positions at Nuveen Investments, Anderson Tax, Mercer Investment Consulting, Intel Corporation, and Ariel Investments. Mr. Abraham left Ariel to found his own investment firm.

Gautam Dhingra, CFA – Mr. Dhingra founded High Pointe Capital Management. Prior to founding High Pointe he spent most of his career at Hewitt Associates. Mr. Dhingra has served as a Lecturer of Finance at Northwestern, Chairman of CFA Society Chicago, and on the Board of Regents for CFA Institute. Mr. Dhingra left Hewitt to found High Pointe.

Robert Finley, CFA, CFP – Mr. Finley is Principal of Virtue Asset Management. Prior to founding Virtue, he held positions in wealth management at LaSalle Bank and at TIAA-CREF’s Trust Department. Mr. Finley founded Virtue after leaving TIAA-CREF.

GJ King – Mr. King is President of RIA in a Box. Prior to RIA in a Box, Mr. King held positions at Goldman Sachs serving as an advisor to high net worth entrepreneurs, families, and foundations. RIA in a Box currently assists nearly 1,500 RIA’s in helping to overcome the compliance challenges of having your own RIA firm.

Ms. Aronson began the discussion by asking a series of questions of the panel members. Below is a list of those questions and the responses of the panel.

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Why did you start and what was your biggest concern about starting?

The panelists were certain that they could provide a better investing experience for their clients. The people they were recommending on behalf of their employers appeared to add little value. Their corporate jobs were becoming more demanding, but their salaries were not reflecting the added responsibilities. They expressed a fascination with the markets and a drive to obtain upper quartile performance for clients who would put their trust in them.

Their biggest concerns revolved around their families and the fact that they would not have a reliable paycheck for some time.

How did you develop your firm?

Panelists talked about a wide range of service providers that can be utilized. Interviewing managers and hiring the right legal help is critical. It is important to determine what fee structure will be needed given your costs. If you need a Bloomberg machine, that is a significant cost.  You can find firms that can provide all the services you need, or you can parcel it out.

What is a day in the life like?

The panelists stressed that there are two separate but critical roles, marketing and investing.  People with investing talent tend to spend too much time in that role. More time is needed in marketing which means finding potential clients amenable to your sales pitch. You must be able to separate cold leads from warm leads. Traveling is also essential to meet clients and evaluate companies you are thinking of investing in.

What questions should people ask themselves before starting an RIA?

Do you want to be an entrepreneur? You must be motivated to sell and be willing to hustle to accumulate assets. Has your family bought in? The few years will be difficult; can you handle the ups and downs? There is a leap of faith to leave an established firm.

What would you do different?

Look for partners, mentors and advisors, don’t be afraid to engage others. A trusted partner to share the burden would be a valuable asset. Don’t be afraid of compliance, but keep it lean. The client is trying to evaluate if he can trust you, you must be able to show responsible reporting and compliance.

What was your biggest surprise?

Institutions can be more short-sighted than individuals. Retail clients will be more loyal. The ups and downs were tougher than the panelists first thought they would be. People will be more helpful than you think. You must be disciplined in spotting bad deals and being able to say no.

How did you build your book?

The panelists stressed that you must be adept at marketing, or find someone who is. Friends, family, ex-colleagues, and people you have had relationships with over the past five years are potential clients. Walk-ins must be able to find you. How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors? If you have an edge in substance and style they will remember you. Can you get to the point where you can withstand a 50% hit in a bear market?

Current Market & Regulatory Environment

GJ King of RIA in a Box pointed to three regulations that directly impact this industry and that may see significant modification in the near future.

  1. DOL Fiduciary Rule. This rule will require that most advisors must be in a fiduciary role for their client. If implemented this should have little effect on RIA’s, but may be more disruptive to broker/dealers. This rule is facing delay and possible modification.
  2. Repeal of Dodd Frank. Modification may include that funds that previously were required to register with the SEC may be relieved of this burden.
  3. A new Form ADV will be required by October 1st. RIA’s will be required to reveal more about their company.

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Mr. King also spoke briefly about the need for a chief compliance officer (CCO) for every RIA firm. Typically the CCO is also the principal of the company. Companies with over $500 million in assets under management are required to have a full time CCO.

There was a brief Q&A session following the panel’s presentations that touched on the following topics:

  • CFAs are exempt from passing the Series 65 exam in Illinois.
  • Liability insurance is relatively cheap and does make sense.
  • Disgruntled clients can be avoided by doing quality control on prospective clients. Agree up front on what is expected of you.
  • Robo Advisors have not been disruptive to this industry. They have affected the brokerage industry.
  • Although the target market may be 60 years of age or above who have the most accumulated assets who are 60 years of age and above, do not leave their children out of the discussion as they are future clients.

Preserving Alpha through Successful Execution

Alpha is the ability to generate superior risk-adjusted returns compared to the return of an appropriate index. The purpose of most equity trades for managed portfolios is to hopefully create alpha for that portfolio. The hidden costs of not obtaining the best execution can destroy that alpha.

How does the trader know his trade is being treated fairly with respect to other trades being placed at the same time? Is the trade being shown to the right people? The SEC website lists 20 exchanges approved for securities trading. What drives the decision by a trader to use one exchange over another?

CFA Society Chicago’s Education Advisory Group hosted a panel discussion on insights on market structure in the equity market and how this structure affects equity trading today. The moderator was Michael Thompson, CFA. The panelists were Haim Bodek, Nanette Buziak and Larry Harris, CFA. Their backgrounds are as follows:

Michael Thompson, CFA – Mr. Thompson is a Partner and Head of Domestic Equity and Derivatives Trading for William Blair Investment Management. Mr. Thompson began his career in the late 1980s as a securities trader associate with Principal Financial.

dsc_3238Haim Bodek – Mr. Bodek is a Managing Principal of Decimus Capital Markets, LLC a tactical co nsulting and strategic advisory firm focused on high frequency trading (“HFT”) and U.S. equities market structure. Mr. Bodek is the author of two books on market structure and is known as a whistleblower that brought attention to the questionable practices of HFT.

Nanette Buziak – Ms. Buziak is Head of Equity Trading at Voya Investment Management. Ms. Buziak manages a team of equity traders and is responsible for all facets of equity trading and related operations at Voya.

Larry Harris, Ph.D., CFA – Dr. Harris holds the Fred V. Keenan Chair in Finance at the USC Marshall School of Business.  Dr. Harris addresses regulatory and practitioner issues in trading and investment management in his research and consulting.

Mr. Thompson began the panel discussion by briefly speaking about his background and introducing each panelist. Mr. Thompson provided a brief history of the changes in equity trading since the late 1980s. When Mr. Thompson began his career, there were only two exchanges and orders were brought to brokers who announced the bid or offer on the floor of the exchange. There were only two recognized equity markets, the NASDAQ and the New York Stock Exchange. By his estimate there are now 13 well known exchanges and 40 dark pools that can trade, with all trades done electronically. Each panelist made a brief presentation which is summarized below:

Dr. Larry Harris

  • The need for speed critical, you need to be the first in line for execution or the first to cancel if you don’t want to get hit.
  • A buyer grants a “put” option to the market and the market will move away from a buyer over time.
  • Brokers can hide orders or search for hidden orders. Dark pools will not show orders.
  • Limit trades often come with price discretion. Someone with a limit order of 23 might accept a price of 21; however this fact is not shared with everyone.
  • “Maker-taker” fee structures have become more common. The broker will typically extract a fee from the taker and rebate part of that fee in the form a liquidity rebate to the maker.

Haim Bodek

  • There are basically two worlds in equity trading, HFT and non-HFT. Firms that specialize in HFT exploit the structure of the market to take advantage.
  • HFT is not really a quant strategy.
  • The two biggest HFT firms paid substantial fines to the SEC in 2012 due to the work of Mr. Bodek in exposing the unfair advantage of firms using HFT when competing with traders not using HFT.
  • HFT comprises around 40% of equity volume and is still legal to use as long as those firms use proper disclosure.

Nanette Buziak.

  • Her team is composed of traders, analysts and portfolio managers who are all cognizant of trading costs. The team strives to limit the implicit costs of trading.
  • The average print size of an equity trade is around 217 shares; her typical trades at Voya are in the millions of shares.
  • Need to assess what venue is appropriate for what trade. Does the name trade in dark pools?
  • HFT is not an issue as long as she feels her positions are not compromised. Some venues can be more toxic than others.
  • Liquidity appears to be coming out of the market at this time since the dwindling amount of IPO’s are not able to replace firms lost to M&A.

There was a brief Q&A session following the panel’s presentations that touched on the following topics:

  • There was some frustration expressed on how slowly the SEC responds to complaints. Since the SEC must follow due process, it is up to institutions to do their own due diligences on these venues and brokers.
  • Firms that do large equity buybacks in many cases use minority brokers.
  • In assessing what algorithm to use when trading it’s important not to use those that are repeatable and can be used against you.
  • Voya’s portfolio managers know what names are not liquid and they will not build a large position in a thinly traded stock.

In response to where they see the market in 5 years, most participants felt there would be little change in that time. With the new administration, Dodd-Frank might be in jeopardy