Commentary

10/29/2014

How to Manage a Tough Job Environment for Equity Research

The job market for equity research in 2014 is highly competitive. What with across-the-board consolidation, tightening regulation, and a slimmed down banking sector, how can a candidate stand out given the crowded, narrow space?

Increasingly, specialization is sought after. Sector focus—rather than a generalist background—is more favorable, be it in biotechnology, insurance, or any niche.  

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10/20/2014

What Happened to the U.S. Constitution? Effects of Changing Interpretations on International Debt and Banking—Part I

Contrary to the wishes of originalists, the U.S. Constitution evolves. However, it evolves in strange, almost incomprehensible ways.

For instance, the reach of the First and Second Amendments has increased drastically. The “freedom of speech” clause in the First Amendment, once admitting restrictive Comstock obscenity laws, now has extended to freedom (and anonymity) of money spent by corporations on political advertising, thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United. The Second Amendment entitles every citizen, age and mental state notwithstanding, to obtain firepower on the scale of a post–Revolutionary War battalion—and much more accurate at that.

Continue reading "What Happened to the U.S. Constitution? Effects of Changing Interpretations on International Debt and Banking—Part I" »

10/15/2014

The Courage to Lead

This post previously ran on the Huffington Post as part of the “Plan B for Business” series to help articulate a Plan B for Business.

Henrik O. Madsen joined Norway’s DNV, the world’s leading ship and offshore classification company, in 1982.  Thirty-two years later, as Group CEO of the recently merged DNV GL, now a Euro 2.5 billion global enterprise, Henrik made a speech few CEOs will ever have the opportunity to attempt.

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10/07/2014

Plain Language: Let’s Get Parenthetical

Plain language makes your documents more appealing and easier to understand. But circumstances may require you to use jargon. For example, you may be a financial marketer or professional working for bosses or departments that insist on using technical or unfamiliar terms. You can help reader comprehension by explaining the term in the sentence where it first appears. Parenthetical explanations are useful, whether you literally enclose the explanation in parentheses or set it off using some other technique.

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10/05/2014

What Type of Financial Advisor Advises You?

For individual investors seeking advice, the world they enter can be a confusing place. I’m thinking here of the different types of financial advisors that offer to help investors deploy their capital.  Non-finance people shouldn’t need to bother themselves with subtle elements of the investing regulatory landscape, but there are some things they’re better off knowing. Financial advisors don’t all operate with the same set of objectives. Some, who work for investment advisory firms and are Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) are bound by the 1940 Investment Advisors Act to conduct themselves as a fiduciary, meaning they’re legally obliged to put their clients’ interests first. It seems like a sensible standard, but it’s not the only standard. There’s another class of financial advisor who work for broker-dealers rather than investment advisory firms. Their activities are bound by a lower standard of suitability and disclosure.

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08/05/2014

John Lennon Said It Best: “Living is Easy with Eyes Closed"

I was floored by this* Saturday’s New York Times article, “Seeing a Supersize Yacht as a Job Engine, Not a Self-Indulgence.”  I was amazed not only by how the subject of the article, Mr. Jones, rationalized his extraordinary consumption habits, but also by the mere fact that the article was published.

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06/25/2014

The Central Contradiction of Capitalism that Piketty Overlooked

It is instructive to observe the reaction to the Piketty phenomenon — a 700-page treatise on political economy that became an overnight Amazon bestseller deserving, according to Larry Summers, of a Nobel Prize. It is similarly instructive to note the spectacle of the viral Russell Brand interview with the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman in which Brand pretty much shreds Paxman and calls for revolution. I can’t claim to have actually read Piketty’s tome, but I’ve read a lot of the reviews, and I have watched the Russell Brand video. Regardless of where you come down on their arguments, the response to Piketty’s book and the wide appeal of Brand’s rant taken together tell us that trouble is brewing.

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06/23/2014

Forward Thinking on Collateral Management

Most financial firms in the present day would need an overhaul of their current collateral management practices. This comes in the midst of the burden being experienced by an already intensely regulated financial industry and the new measures of regulation on OTC derivatives in the post financial crisis world. The costs of regulation are near-crippling to some firms. Big dealers are planning to exit or divest certain lines of business that will face huge operational costs as a result of regulation, and are no longer deemed profitable.

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06/04/2014

When Markets Fail: Part Two

There are five main reasons for market dysfunction:

  •  Transaction costs and market frictions;
  • Information asymmetry and adverse selection;
  • Market externalities;
  • Existence of public goods (bads), nonexclusivity of consumption, and Pigovian markets (activities that reduce society’s welfare, or marketing bads); and
  • Problems of collective action (e.g., arms races).

In Part I of this article, I discussed the first two reasons. Below I cover the remaining three.

Continue reading "When Markets Fail: Part Two" »

05/05/2014

High-Frequency Trading Is a Blight on Markets. Tobin Tax Can Help.

This blog post previously ran in The Guardian's Business section.

The dark side of the world of algorithmic trading in financial markets has twice been in the spotlight this week. First was the release of Michael Lewis' explosive new book, Flash Boys: Cracking the Money Code, which highlights many worrying practices in a sector that accounts for about half of all trades on the New York and London Stock Exchanges. Second was the FBI's announcement on April 2 that it would begin a criminal investigation into wrongdoing in the sector.

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04/10/2014

Five Reasons to Consider Mongolia As Your Top Investment Destination

Mongolia submission

It's the second fastest growing economy in the world: Strong economic growth is expected for the mineral resource–rich Mongolia, with rising mining output from world-class mining projects such as Oyu Tolgoi—a copper and gold mining operation, where Rio-tinto owns 66% and the government owns 33%. This project is expected to contribute 1/3 of Mongolia GDP alone. The Economist Intelligence Unit has projected that Mongolia will be the second-fastest growing economy in the world in 2014 with gross domestic product rising 15.3% thanks to the first full year of operations of Oyu Tolgoi. And, though IMF predicts that growth will slow down to 9.5% (owing to a slow-down in China, the main export destination for Mongolian minerals), the economic growth is high even by regional, let alone international, standards.

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03/24/2014

Yellen’s 2.25% Target for 2016 May Be a Huge Mistake

Janet Yellen surprised almost everyone on March 19 by speaking off-script and providing forward policy guidance that can undermine the Fed’s credibility, at best, or cause another crisis, at worst. If the economic data comes in weak by the end of tapering and the markets swoon, the Fed will have no choice but to implicitly admit it was wrong and keep interest rates close to zero indefinitely. However, if the Fed continues with its plan to raise rates in the face of a weaker economy and declining market, the actions may cause another violent crash.

Zero short-term rates and the first round of QE were essential to avoid a complete financial meltdown. Subsequent rounds did little for the real economy yet unintentionally produced high leverage and asset bubbles in various places by providing cheap financing for companies, investors, and speculators alike. The policy also resulted in a massive transfer of wealth from labor to asset owners leading to the largest wealth and income inequality in recent history.

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03/17/2014

Don’t Sabotage Your Website’s News Page

A news page featuring your firm’s mentions in the media can boost your credibility as long as you avoid one financial advisor’s mistake.

“Wow! This advisor hasn’t gotten any press since 2006.” That was my first thought when I looked at this advisor’s news page earlier this year. I immediately thought, “He should delete his news page.”

But then I scanned the rest of the page. I realized that the advisor had listed his media coverage in chronological order. He started in 2006 and continued up to the present day way, way down the page.

Unfortunately, most readers won’t scan the entire page. They’ll stop with the misperception that the advisor is a dud at getting the attention of the press.

The lesson for you? List your news coverage in reverse chronological order, putting the most recent items at the top of your page. For an example, see my “In the News” page.

Using the proper order is a small step with a big impact.

 


Financial-Blogging-book-by-Susan-Weiner

–Susan Weiner, CFA, is the author of Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients, which is tailored to financial planners, wealth managers, investment managers, and the marketing and communications staff that supports them. Read her blog or follow her on Twitter, Google+ or the Investment Writing Facebook page.

03/10/2014

Can We Escape Bank Regulation by Lawsuit?

When I worked at JPMorgan in the 80s and 90s, even in the context of deregulation, the concept of “self-regulation” in the financial industry was discussed with a straight face. 

Last week, Better Markets, a sophisticated civil society non-profit organization, run by former Skadden attorney Dennis Kelleher and committed to protecting the public interest in the government’s regulatory response to the financial crisis, filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder.  The suit seeks to block what Better Markets calls an “unlawful” $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase & Co. over bad mortgage loans sold to investors leading up to the crisis.  We now have lawyers suing the United States Attorney General on the public’s behalf for failing to properly prosecute a record $13 billion settlement on the nation’s most powerful and flagrant abuser of the self-regulation ethic.

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02/17/2014

Transcending the Tension between Climate Change and Inequality

This year’s gathering of the World Economic Forum at Davos was kicked off with the reading of a letter from Pope Francis, which ends: “I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it.” One can almost feel the squirming.

I recently participated in a roundtable among leading thinkers, activists, and social entrepreneurs on the need to put "system change" not just problem-solving on the agenda in places like Davos. This discussion is not about capitalism versus socialism. No existing system, not social democracies nor communist states, operate sustainably. As is often the case in these discussions, the inevitable and emotion-packed debate on priorities emerged.

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01/27/2014

How I Passed the CFA Level I Exam with Just 2 Weeks' Studying

My name is Scott, and in the summer of 2011, I passed my CFA Level I with just 2 weeks worth of studying. <

I started two Saturdays away from the actual test having done no more than a cursory glance at my books beforehand. And somehow, incredibly, I managed to pass. Zee wrote to me one day asking if I'd like to share my story with 300 Hours readers, and over the course of the Christmas holidays, I wrote my experience down.

Here is my story.

An Important Success Factor: My Job and Education

I believe a significant factor that allowed me to pull this off was my background, both in work and education

I read Economics at Oxford and did pretty well - that helped me save time in some of the basics of CFA Level I. I was also a management consultant for investment banks and wealth managers. Consultant projects range from several weeks to several months, and having 3 years experience at the time, I had a wide range of knowledge and expertise across several financial sectors.

Without a relevant background in work and education, I don't think this would have been possible for me.

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

I didn't choose to attempt to take CFA Level I with only two weeks' prep - I basically had no other choice.

My biggest mistake was to underestimate how little time and drive I would have for the exams. I always did well in exams in the past and thought that this would be just like the others. Although the exam itself was probably not too different in difficulty, balancing it with work was the problem.

I was rammed with a high-pressure project about 3 months before the exam, working 80-100 hour weeks. This meant that I didn't have any time to do anything else, never mind think about studying for the CFA exams. As the exams approached, I had two choices - either forgo the exam and waste the money I paid for the signup fees and materials, or try and pass with by the skin of my teeth.

Two weeks before E-day, I chose to push for it and see what happens.

My Two Weeks of Studying Hell

I took a full 10 working days off to study for the CFA Level I. That was already a very painful sacrifice, but nothing compared to what I had to endure in the following two weeks.

Through the entire two weeks, I dedicated all of my time to studying. I didn't leave my flat and lived off takeout meals. I had told my friends, girlfriend and parents that I would be incommunicado for two weeks so I didn't speak to any of them either, save for a few online chats here and there. Basically I became a hobo for two weeks in my own home.

And what did I get done? I'd say there were 3 important things that I got right, given my situation.

I started with practice exams, and did as many as I could
Starting with exam papers allowed me to roughly understand what areas I would need more studying in and what areas I could go light on. By the end of the two weeks, I managed about 4 papers under proper exam conditions, and speed-read about 6 more - reading the question and immediately going through the model answers. Practice exams really helped tune my studying - I would recommend it regardless of whether you're time constrained or not.

I outright binned a few topics.
Apart from doing the practice questions in the exams, I skipped these 3 topics:

  • Economics: light weighting in exam, and I could wing it a little based on what I learned in school
  • Corporate Finance: light weighting in exam, and I had a bit of experience from my job that helped me
  • Derivatives: light weighting in exam, and I also found the exam questions very confusing and not worth the time

 

–300 Hours

This exerpt was reposted with permission from 300 Hours, a site dedicated to CFA candidates and charterholders.

Continue reading "How I Passed the CFA Level I Exam with Just 2 Weeks' Studying" »

12/16/2013

Harvard and Brown Fail Moral Leadership Exam

At a time when institutions of business and government continue to fail society, two of our leading academic institutions missed the opportunity to provide essential moral leadership on the most pressing challenge ever faced in the history of human civilization.

Harvard President Drew Faust issued her October statement first: She and her colleagues on the Board do not believe “that university divestment from the fossil fuel industry is warranted or wise.”

Brown President Christina Paxson followed three weeks later with her own statement: “Our consideration of divestment [from coal] is over.”

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12/02/2013

Will the Fed Need a Bailout? Nonsense!

“As stimulus tab rises for Fed, worries grow it may require a bailout” is the title of an article published in Los Angeles Times and blogged in CFA Institute's "Future of Finance."

I'll say it bluntly: This is nonsense. The logic goes that as interest rates rise, the value of the bonds on the Fed's balance sheet lose value and the central bank will be bankrupt—requiring the taxpayers to bail it out. This is wrong on many different levels.

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10/02/2013

The Wisdom of Stupid Questions

One Eastern fable tells of animals that want to build a bridge to greener pastures. The elephant proposes to build a wide, strong bridge, the bunny wants to build a light one, and so on. The jackass says that the group should decide whether to build the bridge across or along the river.

Sitting in the midst of the Marcellus shale, considering the debates between energy companies and environmentalists about the costs and benefits of fracking, I develop a feeling similar to the donkey’s. The proponents of fracking emphasize the supposed contribution of a cheap “natural” gas to the national economy. Environmentalists concentrate on the emission of greenhouse gases and the pollution of streams and water tables. Yet I have not been able to find an answer to a simple question, one that I formulated long ago: is fracked gas (a product of underground gasification of hydrocarbon-saturated shale—I call it “shale gas” below) a complete substitute for natural gas that comes from traditional sources (“wellhead gas”)?  

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09/30/2013

Are We Not All Jasmines Now?

What is it about a Woody Allen film that leaves us always with a discomforting feeling of identification with its most abysmal character? This is certainly true with his latest film “Blue Jasmine,” which initially disappointed me, Kate Blanchett’s hauntingly brilliant performance notwithstanding. But given a little more time and reflection, its deeply disquieting meaning slowly seeped in.

I began to realize that it was more than an overdone cliché about a greedy Wall Street huckster who lavishes “everything one could want” on his attractive and well-kept wife “Jasmine,” who never asks or wants to know the true source of all that “success.” Easier to shop and party on Park Avenue and in the Hamptons as a socialite dripping platitudes about responsibility for “helping poor people.” Her husband “Hal” is a younger and flashier Bernie Madoff, higher up the Wall Street food chain perhaps, but nothing more than a sociopathic shyster, serially cheating on his complicit wife whom we cannot help but associate with Ruth Madoff.

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09/23/2013

The Yield Famine: Discovering Income Opportunities in a Zero Interest Rate Environment

OVERVIEW

Fed’s response to the financial crisis created winners and losers. Ultimately it produced a massive transfer of wealth from savers and conservative investors to financial intermediaries, corporations, and risk takers. Retirees and others who traditionally relied on modest and reliable interest received to generate cash income or grow their wealth have suffered an extended period of zero returns while the value of cash is eroded by inflation. Moreover, losses experienced during the crisis removed the risk-taking ability of many investors forced to move to safety.

The “yield famine” represents years of lost returns for savers and investors unwilling or unable to take risk. With the economy still operating below potential, and unemployment being reduced only slowly, short-term interest rates are likely to remain exceedingly low well into the future. Add massive government debt comparable to levels after World War II and “financial repression” is virtually guaranteed for decades. Low rates will continue to keep savers hungry while subsidizing the government, the financial system and the corporations. Meanwhile, profits at the largest US banks are now the highest they have been in history.

Institutions and individuals holding assets in banks and low-yielding funds would be wise to invest directly in the same way that banks do. Cutting out the middleman would provide them with a similar level of safety that banks enjoy, yet generate substantially higher returns. However, doing so requires, first and foremost, the knowledge to find the right opportunities coupled with the courage to move out of the comfort zone and take a modest level of risk. Investors with diversified portfolios across the risk spectrum might also find it rewarding to reallocate both ultra low−risk and very high−risk assets into moderate-risk assets with superior risk-adjusted returns.

The Conference, hosted by NYSSA Private Wealth Management Committee on October 1st, 2013, presents a menu of choices available for generating income from various sources. Topics of presentations include: expanding outside the US into the global bond market, using equities for income and growth, a look at the advantages of preferred stocks, visiting synthetic bonds, evaluating the risks and returns of muni bonds, and sampling Master Limited Partnerships and Business Development Companies.

ZIRP

Federal Reserve and its Chairman are often praised for the swift and forceful response to the financial crisis, which helped avoid a repeat of the Great Depression. Both conventional and unconventional monetary policy actions were used to increase liquidity, shore up the financial system, stimulate the economy, and reduce the high level of unemployment. Reducing the overnight borrowing rates is a standard conventional policy response and the Fed, unlike other central banks, took the bold step of reducing this rate to near zero.

The zero interest rate policy (ZIRP), along with infusions of cash, saved the financial system from imminent collapse in 2008. Since then, “too big to fail” institutions along with their thousands of smaller brethren were able to borrow at infinitesimal rates. Such ample liquidity and low rates propagate through the system, and  determine the rates of all other ultra-safe, short-term lending and borrowing such as Treasury bills and commercial paper. In turn, these rates determine the interest paid on so-called Money Market funds and bank accounts as well as interest on short-term Certificates of Deposit or Bank Savings Accounts.

LONG LASTING

Short-term interest rates are unlikely to rise by any substantial amount in the near future for  a few reasons: continued quantitative easing, massive government debt, and demographics. Quantitative easing (QE) is an extension of the conventional monetary policy using interest rates. Most likely, an increase of the Fed Funds Rate would have to be preceded by the complete stop of Fed’s asset purchases. There should also be a reasonable belief that no further QE would be needed. Since the Fed is just beginning to consider a “taper” from the $85 billion per month in purchases, a lasting and complete QE stop may be a long way off. It is also possible that the Fed may wish to unwind at least a portion of its balance sheet before raising rates. This would push the time to raise rates further into the future.

Government debt has more than doubled since the crisis and now stands at 16.7 trillion or about 100% of GDP. Such high levels of debt-to-GDP have not been seen since the end of the Second World War. Government’s massive borrowing gives it a strong incentive to keep the interest rate it pays as low as possible to avoid piling on even more debt. With most of the government borrowing concentrated in short-term securities, it is in its best interest to have short-term rates close to zero. Fed’s independence would not be a barrier if it acted in the interest of the country and kept rates low. In the 1940’s and 50’s, interest rates well below the rate of inflation amounted to what is now known as Financial Repression. History appears to be repeating.

Lastly, demographic changes in the US, as a result of retiring baby boomers, present serious economic challenges. Lower consumption levels reduce the rate of growth while future promises in entitlements are estimated at a gigantic $200 trillion, according to some . The economy is unlikely to have such hypergrowth to support those levels of spending. Thus, the government debt is likely to start increasing massively by the end of the decade. Larger debt is likely to extend financial repression much further into the future while inflation is likely to rise.

FAMINE

The objective of yield-oriented investors is to generate a steady cash flow from a moderate return with a high degree of safety of the principal capital invested. This applies primarily to retirees who need a relatively fixed income for living expenses. It is well known that a loss of principal account value, especially in the early years of retirement, can have very negative or even devastating consequences in one’s ability to fund future needs. This is because assets get depleted quickly at low valuations and can no longer recover from a low base.

Years of missed returns cause serious setbacks and greatly increase the risk of running out of money during lifetime. Many institutional investors such as endowments, foundations, and pension plans have substantial assets in safe investments. An extended period of near zero returns impairs the ability to meet their objectives and in some cases can even threaten their long-term viability.

Ultra-safe investments caused investors to experience a yield famine. The Great Irish Famine in the mid-nineteenth century caused a massive death toll, disease, and misery because the majority of the population became almost entirely dependent on a single source of food: the Irish Lumper potato. Ironically, even during the famine, the country overall produced enough food to feed its people. Starvation occurred because the food produced within the country did not get to the people,  for various political and economic reasons,. Likewise, there appears to be a sufficient amount of yield in the investment universe today. However, for different reasons, it is not getting to a large category of investors.

FEAST

While depositors are starved for yield, the financial industry continues to feast. Profits at big banks and financial institutions have recovered quickly after the crisis and are making new highs again. This is in spite of the fact that banks are quite inefficient and have high costs. Running a large bank is an expensive operation that includes rents for headquarters and branches, expensive internal systems, regulatory overhead, and large salaries and bonuses paid to senior staff and executives.

Ironically, after having been one of the principal causes of the crisis, the financial sector is now reaping 30% of all domestic corporate profits while contributing only 8% to GDP. As the chart below shows, on a percent of GDP basis, the Financial Profits are at all-time highs. Clearly, financial institutions are having a profit bonanza and getting more than their fair share from the income pie. Largely because of the Fed policy, their profits are subsidized by depositors who lend money at zero interest.

Yield-Famine

Source Atayant Capital

Based on these facts one would deduce that investing in banks should produce outstanding results. Nonetheless, experience shows that stocks of the financial companies have not been on par with the expectations. Why the difference? One explanation is that a large part of the profits since 2007 has gone to fight alleged misbehavior. According to Bloomberg, the six largest banks in the US paid $103 billion in legal costs and settlements with the regulators for selling shoddy mortgages, misleading investors, or manipulating the LIBOR rate. By comparison, their total payout in dividends to shareholders of common and preferred stock amounts to $98.6 billion during the same time.

OPTIMIZING BALANCE SHEETS

Given the dire state of affairs for savers, one would assume that a large part of them would revolt and vote with their feet. However, paradoxically perhaps, the amount of money on deposit with the banks has increased by 70% from $4 trillion to $6.8 trillion between 2008 and 2012. It appears that businesses, institutions, and individuals are making this voluntary decision because they either too scared, don’t fully understand the consequences, are unaware of other choices, or are simply complacent.

Most people automatically associate investing with the stock market. This is an incorrect view since every held asset type and liability (such as mortgage or credit card debt) should be considered. For example cash in a bank account is an investment losing value because of inflation. Business or personal debt is an investment choice that can earn the interest rate currently being paid to the lender. For example, a business paying 7% interest on a loan can “invest” in its own debt by paying it off. Importantly, this is a risk-free rate of return for that business.

Mental accounting biases are likely responsible for viewing investment accounts separately from cash and from debt. Instead of thinking in terms of managing investments, both advisors and investors should be thinking of managing balance sheets.

Typical balance sheets tend to be suboptimal. Investors holding cash and low-yield assets while simultaneously having debt are subsidizing the financial system.  Some low-yield assets may be hidden in the portfolio inside money-market funds or diversified bond funds. Investors may have much higher allocations than they are aware of in such assets. Well-diversified portfolios also tend to have a portion of assets in high-risk investments or strategies. The high-risk part of the portfolio tends to underperform more conservative investments on a risk-adjusted basis. (Reasons for such underperformance can be the object of another analysis.)

Both low-yield allocations and high-risk allocations can generate a serious drag on the balance sheet performance. As a general rule, investors should avoid extremes and reallocate these types of holdings to value investments with moderate risk and positive expected real rates of return. Investors may be surprised to find that the overall risk of their balance sheet may remain nearly the same, while long-term returns could be substantially higher.

Because of the highly profitable nature of the banking business, investors can learn a great deal from the way these financial institutions are managing their own investment portfolios. Moreover, by understanding that the principal role of the Fed is to deal with financial crises and protect the banking system investors can have a higher degree of confidence in their investment strategy of following the model of financial institutions.

Astute investors are able to find opportunities for attractive yield and returns from different sources:

  • Bypassing banks and investing in similar ways by lending to consumers, governments, municipalities, and businesses.
  • Implementing strategies used by financial institutions, including capturing the spread between short term and long term interest rates, insuring risk, purchasing securities at a discount, and capturing premiums for illiquid investments.
  • Lending to banks by investing in the bonds or preferred stock issued by banks and other financial institutions.
  • Identifying investments with solid collateral and attractive cash flows such as commercial properties and master limited partnerships.

The “great rotation” that many speak about does not have to be from fixed income to equities but rather from a yield famine to real return.

–Robert Andriano, CFA is the Chief Investment Officer of Pure Investment Advisers, Inc., a boutique investment management firm specializing in portfolio management and comprehensive balance-sheet optimization. For more information please visit the company website at www.pureinv.com

As an impartial, nonprofit forum for the finance and banking industries NYSSA encourages discussion and debate among its member and other professionals. Commentaries, however, should be taken as the sole opinion of the author(s) and not of NYSSA. If you would like to submit a commentary to the Finance Professional's Post, send your article to the editor.

08/28/2013

Commodities Are Different (In a “Full World”): Part 3

(This post is the third in an occasional series on why stronger oversight of commodity markets must be a public policy priority.)

JPMorgan has announced that it plans to exit the physical commodities businesses, while remaining committed to its historic roots in commodity financing and risk management, and to the precious metals business.  Is this Jamie Dimon recognizing an unstoppable paradigm shift now taking place in the financial sector as policymakers finally find the political will to reign in the power of too big to fail banks?

Continue reading "Commodities Are Different (In a “Full World”): Part 3" »

08/21/2013

My CFA Experience (Level III): Vy Bui

What better way to close my CFA exam journey than by sharing my Level III study strategies, which helped me pass the June 2013 exam?

My first two articles talked about my CFA Level I exam experience and my third article talked about how my study strategies changed from Level I to Level II. So, this article focus on the changes (in detail) I made to surmount the difficulty of Level III materials and the essay exam format of the morning section. Hopefully, this will inspire current and/or future CFA candidates to pay special attention to their study strategies.

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05/16/2013

"You're Fired!" Now What? Survival Strategies

Chances, are, you saw it coming.  You no longer have a job.  Technology, globalization, and fierce competition have created a tough job market. Downsizing. Re-aligning. Right sizing. Regardless of the cold corporate rhetoric, to protect yourself you must have an action plan.

Here are survival strategies to help put you back in charge of your career.

Continue reading ""You're Fired!" Now What? Survival Strategies" »

04/24/2013

Photonics: The Prospects of an “Old” High-Tech Market—Part II

In Part I of this article, I discussed cutting-edge research in nanophotonics from the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience Delft in Holland, the University of California, Berkeley, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In Part II, I review more practical achievements, which I have placed into two categories: Lab-to-Fab, for research in need of commercialization, and Prêt-à-Porter, for currently available commercial products. I have chosen most of the technologies and devices from among Laser Focus World magazine’s list of the top 20 photonics innovations of 2012 (Wallace 2012), and from the highlights of the SPIE Photonics West 2013 conference in San Francisco. Despite the diversity of the technologies, they can be further classified according to three recurring themes: multispectral and broadband applications; terahertz technologies; and green, bio-optical, and acoustic engineering. 

Continue reading "Photonics: The Prospects of an “Old” High-Tech Market—Part II " »

04/17/2013

Photonics: The Prospects of an “Old” High-Tech Market—Part I

In 2010, I reviewed six companies recognized by The Wall Street Journal in its Technology Innovation Awards (see Totty 2010 for awards and Lerner 2010 for review).

Most of these companies were in the field of optics and photonics. Since then, I have rarely touched domestic equity markets, but it is time to return to them. The defense sector is the largest consumer of electro-optic devices, and with significant cuts to the US defense budget looming in 2013, investors would be wise to look at alternative applications of photonic technology.

This time, again to avoid personal bias, I have chosen technologies from Laser Focus World magazine’s list of the top 20 photonics innovations of 2012 (Wallace 2012). I have had to omit some developments from my review due to my inability to understand the underlying technologies and the magazine’s inclusion of purely manufacturing-related advances that hold little new technological content. Laser Focus World’s list is divided into four sections: Looking around Corners, Controlling Light, Sensing Redefined, and the Photonics Toolbox (the last section deals mainly with manufacturing techniques). I have used a different classification: Cutting Edge, Lab to Fab, and Prêt-à-Porter.

Continue reading "Photonics: The Prospects of an “Old” High-Tech Market—Part I" »

04/10/2013

Leaders (Desperately) Wanted: Bad Bosses Need Not Apply

People today don't trust banks, Wall Street, or government. We need men and women with the leadership skills necessary to fill the leadership vacuum of our times. 

Many bosses think they're leaders. But they're wrong. They're merely bad bosses.

Continue reading "Leaders (Desperately) Wanted: Bad Bosses Need Not Apply" »

03/11/2013

How Your Work and Education Background Correlates to Your CFA Exam Performance

If you don't have a finance-related background, are you disadvantaged when it comes to the CFA exams?

In the December 2012 exams, we set out to find some clues to shed some light on just that. In our Analyze Results tool, we now include a question where candidates can input their work and education background, indicating whether their backgrounds were finance-related or not.

Given enough of a sample size, we could then compare the various background profiles with pass rates, and see how pass rates varied across candidates that had different backgrounds in work and education.

The results were quite surprising.

Continue reading "How Your Work and Education Background Correlates to Your CFA Exam Performance" »

03/04/2013

Why I Marched Against the XL Pipeline

My daughter and I joined an estimated 50,000 demonstrators in Washington, D.C. marching against the XL Pipeline that would connect the Canadian Tar Sands to American refineries.  After a half century on this planet, I took to the streets.  Here’s why.

Continue reading "Why I Marched Against the XL Pipeline" »

02/27/2013

Book Review: How to Win Friends and Influence People

NYSSA CDC Monthly Reading Recommendation

It is with great pleasure that the Career Development Committee announces a monthly reading recommendation as our newest offering. To fulfill NYSSA’s mission to foster the interchange of ideas and information, we will recommend books, journals, and scholarly articles that we believe will support you in your career advancement. We hope that you will enjoy these readings and find them as beneficial as we do.

Continue reading "Book Review: How to Win Friends and Influence People" »

02/11/2013

What JPMorgan's Recently Released Internal Reports Unintentionally Say

After apologizing at Davos—but only to his shareholders—according to William Cohan on the Bloomberg View, the JPMorgan Chairman and CEO hastened to add about 2012, “We did have record profits. Life goes on.”

It is true; JPMorgan reported a strong financial performance in 2012, “London Whale” trading fiasco notwithstanding. I must admit that despite my 18 years inside the firm (when it had a meager $300 billion balance sheet), I struggle to comprehend $100 billion of revenues, and a $2.3 trillion balance sheet, with an “off-balance sheet” managed by a few handfuls of mostly male, mostly 30-something traders that is many orders of magnitude larger. Maybe I’m a dinosaur. Life goes on.

Not so fast.

Continue reading "What JPMorgan's Recently Released Internal Reports Unintentionally Say" »

02/07/2013

Of Guns, Whales, Freedom, and Justice

After visiting an awe-inspiring women’s empowerment program at work in several rural villages north of Delhi, our host at the Ashram, scanning his Blackberry, related the news: a horrific shooting…assault rifle…children slaughtered…in a school…in Connecticut (my son’s school is in the state)…and then after what seemed like an endless pause as I grew more anxious…Newtown.

Continue reading "Of Guns, Whales, Freedom, and Justice" »

01/21/2013

Limericks Économiques: Punitive Measures


Limericks Économiques

A six-billion loss dealt a blow
To the name of a bank's CEO.
To atone for this trade,
He merely was paid
A paltry ten million or so.

Continue reading "Limericks Économiques: Punitive Measures" »

12/10/2012

The Courage Deficit: Why Regulators Must Act More Decisively in Equity Trading Markets

Public confidence in the integrity of equity trading markets appears to be at a once-in-a-generation low. The flash crash, the 45-minute path to near-insolvency at Knight Trading, and the large losses for investors in Facebook have not instilled confidence that the public can engage fairly in US equity markets.

Continue reading "The Courage Deficit: Why Regulators Must Act More Decisively in Equity Trading Markets" »

12/05/2012

Great Famines: Lessons from the Nineteenth Century

Of all horsemen of the Apocalypse, Famine has the most connection with economics. The final death toll in most famines is mostly determined by another horseman, Pestilence, which follows famines through many obvious and less obvious channels. My purpose is a study of economic, not medical, history, so I’ll refer to “famine,” although most excess deaths can be attributed to epidemics.

Continue reading "Great Famines: Lessons from the Nineteenth Century" »

12/03/2012

Wall Street Survives One Storm but Now Faces Another

Now that Wall Street’s huge bet on presidential candidate Mitt Romney has failed, banks face four more years of a less than sympathetic ear in the Oval Office.

The world’s major capital market banks are in bad shape. They are trading well below book value, were recently downgraded and the majority of them have failed for more than two years to earn a return on equity greater than its cost.

Seven of the top 10 banks have had chief executive changes since 2009, three of these being made “effective immediately.”

Continue reading "Wall Street Survives One Storm but Now Faces Another" »

11/28/2012

Will Sandy Trigger Our Great Transformation?

We are now a couple of weeks into the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy, and no one has yet improved upon the analysis of Bloomberg Businessweek’s November 1 cover story: “It’s Global Warming, STUPID.”

In 1944, the famous political economist Karl Polanyi explained the root cause of WW II when he wrote in The Great Transformation, “The true nature of the international (economic) system under which we were living was not realized until it failed.” Similarly, mainstream economists and finance theorists still do not get the vital interconnection between the true nature of the (economic) system under which we are living, and healthy ecosystem function. What will it take?

Continue reading "Will Sandy Trigger Our Great Transformation? " »

11/19/2012

No Security in Book Value

Limericks Économiques

Said a banker: "The Crisis revealed,
In investments we carried for yield,
How extreme fluctuations Affect valuations,
So better to keep them concealed."

Said investors: "It's better to trust
In the price you could fetch if you must,
And the equity value
Which, hopefully, now you'll,
Accordingly, have to adjust."

Continue reading "No Security in Book Value" »

11/05/2012

Investment Beliefs

What are your investment beliefs?

Such a simple question—and so hard for most market participants to answer. Go ahead, take a shot at making a list of your beliefs and see what you end up with.

Continue reading "Investment Beliefs" »

10/16/2012

More than the Mainstream: Mish’s Global

More than the Mainstream

Last month, the Dow, S&P 500, and Russell 2000 were all up 4-6%. After that round of QE, everyone in the financial markets and mainstream media seemingly cheered.

“It’s clear that the global leaders are doing all they can to combat the slow economy…we look forward to a strong year-end rally,” Ryan Detrick, chief technical strategist at Schaeffer’s Investment Research said on CNBC.

Continue reading "More than the Mainstream: Mish’s Global" »

10/02/2012

Social Feedback

Last month, Robert Frank began his column in the New York Times with this sentence: “There may be no topic that more reliably divides liberals and conservatives than the relationship between success and luck.” The first few paragraphs of the piece—and the last few—had a political flavor to them. Like an Oreo cookie, the good stuff was in between.

I suppose you might find it hard to believe that the “good stuff” was academic research by three sociologists. The researchers had participants in their study rate the quality of songs that they previously had not heard. The bottom line: Their judgments were distinctly different depending on whether they received information about how others had already rated a particular song.

Continue reading "Social Feedback" »

09/26/2012

Do You Have a Responsible Borrowing Strategy?

It is almost inevitable that at some point in your life you will have to borrow money to make necessary purchases. Items that are synonymous with the phrase, “We need a loan,” are typically major financial obligations such as a home, car, or college education.

According to the Federal Reserve System, there was $12.9 trillion in household debt outstanding at the end of the first quarter of 2012. Meanwhile, as of August 2012, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports household indebtedness at $11.38 trillion. The bank also reported that student loan debt rose to $914 billion last quarter.

Continue reading "Do You Have a Responsible Borrowing Strategy?" »

09/24/2012

Maximize Your CFA Status on Your CV & LinkedIn

By now, CFA candidates know whether or not they have passed or failed. If you didn't pass this time, don't take it too badly. If you retake, use the hundreds of pre-preparation hours as an advantage. 

Of course, after results day, there's a shift in terms of candidacy statuses. For those of you who either passed or are retaking level I this December, you may be thinking about how you can best leverage your CFA status to spruce up your CV. However, one very important factor to bear in mind are the ethics and professional standards set up by CFA Institute on stating such things on your CV. Without knowing it, many candidates are in violation of these bylaws and could be sanctioned by CFA Institute.

Continue reading "Maximize Your CFA Status on Your CV & LinkedIn" »

09/20/2012

When Should I Practice Item Sets?

AskInstructorLogo

I wanted to get started on my preparation for June 2013 Level II and saw you had recommended doing the CFA curriculum readings (with exception to Ethics) post–Labor Day through December. Do you also recommend doing the accompanying problem sets with the readings or saving those for later (i.e. Jan–May) when I would also use the prep provider materials (i.e. Schweser)?

–Alfred M., Level II Candidate

Continue reading "When Should I Practice Item Sets?" »

09/17/2012

Three Must-Know Tips to Nailing Ethics

CFA Exam Prep

If you're new to the CFA exams, hopefully by now you're aware of how important mastering ethics is to your CFA studies. In an effort to help, here are three steps to ensure you are on the right path to nailing the ethics section in the exam.

Continue reading "Three Must-Know Tips to Nailing Ethics" »

09/12/2012

What's Going to Happen to the Euro?

The Eurozone has changed; it’s very apparent. In the last year or so, the playing field has been tipped with mountainous debt problems that Greece, and now Spain and Italy, are experiencing. Of course, all of Europe will experience a huge knock-on effect from the problems in Greece and Spain—but the question is, by how much? If the Euro fails, will all hell break loose? This article outlines some of the possible outcomes of the current Euro crisis.

Continue reading "What's Going to Happen to the Euro?" »

09/11/2012

Limericks Économiques: Watch That Denominator

Limericks Économiques

A fall in the joblessness rate
Would normally seem to be great,
Excepting, of course,
When there's less labor force,
Deflating the weight of that rate.

Continue reading "Limericks Économiques: Watch That Denominator" »

09/10/2012

Should I Give Up on the CFA Exam?

AskInstructorLogo

I got a band 4 in CFA® level 1, should I give up or continue? I've also started studying for CPA.

–Nikita P.

Continue reading "Should I Give Up on the CFA Exam?" »

08/29/2012

Video: Regulatory Insights from Eliot Spitzer

Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer recently joined NYSSA for an interview with Bloomberg Television anchor, Pimm Fox. Spitzer gave his observations and opinions about the top regulators of the current economic recovery effort—Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

On Ben Bernanke:

  • Bernanke is "the last man standing." He is the only one who has been willing to make the hard economic decisions as policymakers have remained in gridlock.
  • He has used monetary policy to the fullest extent, but now there is little more that he can do.

On Timothy Geithner:

  • Geithner did not have an adequate understanding of the structural failures that existed in the financial services sector.
  • After the financial crisis of 2008, Geithner did not request enough from the banks in return for being bailed out. He simply did not comprehend how much reform was actually needed.


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08/23/2012

Dealing with Failure

CFA Exam Prep

The CFA® exam is no ordinary exam, so the high failure rates generally mean that there is significantly more disappointment than the average qualification. Also, CFA candidates tend to be overachievers—i.e. not used to failing. I had my own bittersweet experience in this once in Level II.

Here are the steps you should take if you didn't manage a pass this time around:

Continue reading "Dealing with Failure" »

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