Life Lessons from an Unexpected Source

UntitledThe week after Thanksgiving, feeling remorseful after all the gluttony that ensued over the holiday weekend, I decided to drag myself to my favorite spin class. I expected to feel energized and accomplished from a nice, intense workout, but I didn’t expect that I would also come away reminded of some of life’s most important lessons.

Jogging on that bike jogged my memory of four key life lessons!

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Investment commentary numbers: How to get them right

UntitledInvestment commentary calls for lots of numbers: benchmark and portfolio returns, economic data, and more. When you get those numbers wrong, you undercut your credibility and embarrass yourself.

I have some ideas about how you can avoid mistakes by proofreading and checking your facts.

My expensive mistake

A bad experience impressed me with the importance of checking numbers. Reading the professionally printed copy of my employer’s third-quarter commentary, I noticed a goof. It referred to the second quarter, instead of the third quarter, in one spot. This happened even though four of us had read the piece before it went to the printer. However, the eye tends to read what it expects to see. We all glossed over my error. Oops!

That was an expensive mistake because we had to get the piece reprinted. However, at least we avoided the embarrassment of clients seeing our mistake. Also, it spurred me to develop techniques for catching numerical errors. 

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The Great Mismatch: Addressing Barriers to Global Capital Flows (Part V)

PART V: Ideas for Navigating Capital Flows 

To succeed in the evolving global capital landscape, long-term institutional investors will need to be at the forefront of re-thinking long-standing assumptions and re-shaping markets. Enough success factors have already been identified to serve as a rough guide for investors to navigate the growing opportunities in emerging markets, while mitigating risks, in both the near term and beyond. (See Exhibit below.)

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The Great Mismatch: Addressing Barriers to Global Capital Flows (Part IV)

PART IV: The Barriers to Efficient Capital Flows (continued)

Efficient cross-border capital flows—allowing investors to search for reliable returns, and in the process, meet legitimate capital needs wherever they are—would be a more effective way to finance the global economy than today’s system. In theory, few dispute this. In practice, many barriers have been erected that hamper efficient flows. The deliberate or inadvertent barriers to efficient global capital flows have been erected by a unique combination of regulators, governments, historical conventions and path-dependencies, investor mindsets and capital-seekers themselves (see below exhibit).

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Three Critical Steps for Extracting Great Insights (Step 3: Entice a Thorough Response)

Insights1Have you ever found yourself going into a store or making a call for something you need only to be disappointed by the salesperson? As soon as the experience began to deteriorate, you probably had little interest in sharing your needs because you thought “let me just end this pain and find a better option.”

The problem here is the salesperson hadn’t developed good influencing skills which are required to entice the customer to share his or her needs.  As analysts, we’re “salespeople” because we need to sell the person we’re interviewing on the idea they will benefit by giving us the information we need. This post continues a 3-part series covering our ICE™ framework for effective questioning. Step 3 focuses on the “E” of the ICE™ framework, “entice a response.”

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Donald Trump, grade level, and your financial writing

TrumpDonald Trump’s appeal has surprised many observers of presidential elections. Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore his presence. Part of his appeal rests on his use of plain language, according to a recent article. That’s something financial professionals should note because of its implications for your writing.

Trump speaks at a fourth-grade level, according to “For presidential hopefuls, simpler language resonates,” which appeared in The Boston Globe. The newspaper calculated the grade level of presidential candidates’ announcement speeches. Lower grade levels use fewer characters and syllables per word, as well as shorter sentence lengths.

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Three Critical Steps for Extracting Great Insights (Step 2: Calm Their Concerns)

Meditate“I can’t believe you would be so insensitive!”

“How could you say something like that?”

Have you ever heard these statements directed at you? What was your initial reaction? A voice in your head probably said, “Be very, very careful what you say next.” It’s human nature to raise our defenses when we feel attacked, which is an important concept for equity research analysts to internalize when interviewing or emailing information sources (including management of the stocks under coverage).

In a prior post, I made the case that by using best practices found in journalism and the legal and law enforcement professions, analysts can elicit more thorough answers from their information sources.  Using my ICE™ framework, I discussed the “I” for identifying parameters as the first step for success. In this post I cover the “C” to calm their concerns.

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The Great Mismatch: Addressing Barriers to Global Capital Flows (Part III)

PART III: The Barriers to Efficient Capital Flows (continued)

Efficient cross-border capital flows—allowing investors to search for reliable returns, and in the process, meet legitimate capital needs wherever they are—would be a more effective way to finance the global economy than today’s system. In theory, few dispute this. In practice, many barriers have been erected that hamper efficient flows. The deliberate or inadvertent barriers to efficient global capital flows have been erected by a unique combination of regulators, governments, historical conventions and path-dependencies, investor mindsets and capital-seekers themselves (see below exhibit).

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Mastering ’Metrics: The Path from Cause to Effect

The authors provide an easy-to-read overview of key concepts in econometrics for anyone desiring a strong intuitive description of how to conduct analysis using simple techniques. Covering a limited number of topics with practical examples of each, they offer a useful framework for conducting fundamental econometric analysis. Although the book does not directly discuss financial issues, it provides a good foundational review for the financial empiricist who wishes to better structure econometric tests.

Statistics is second only to accounting among the technical skills necessary for engaging in modern finance and is fundamental for anyone who considers quantitative work a core element of finance. Unfortunately, practitioners’ actual statistical and econometric knowledge and intuition may be more limited than their level of academic exposure would suggest. No one willingly reads a book on econometrics to close this knowledge gap, so technical skills atrophy rather than advance with money management experience.

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Elections and Financial Stability

When Hillary Clinton unveiled her proposals to assure financial stability earlier this month, few people bothered to notice. Nonetheless, one central piece of legislature Clinton proposed to increase trust of the everyday investor in our financial markets, a “tax on the high-frequency trading that makes our markets less stable and less fair,” has potentially far-reaching consequences. The Clinton proposals elicited 550-something comments on Bloomberg, with criticism coming from the usual suspects. We are all acquainted with a contemporary practice whereby political operatives stuff “comments” sections with their talking points and completely flood the exchange between the readers.

Heretofore, I took notice only when Larry Harris, a highly respected expert on market microstructure and the author of a seminal textbook, Trading and Exchanges: Market Microstructure for Practitioners, suggested that “any tax on high frequency trading firms’ trading activity will increase the cost of trading for retail investors and for pensions that serve retirees.” In the preface to my 2009 book, Microstructure and Noise in Financial Markets: Rigorous and not-so rigorous results in market microstructure, I quoted his testimony to the US Congress as a model explanation of market microstructure to the laypeople.

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Three Critical Steps for Extracting Great Insights (Step 1: Identify Parameters)

Icepic1Think of your favorite CNBC journalist and ask why he or she is likely to get more information from a CEO than a typical analyst. If you don’t have an answer, it’s because the top journalists have been trained to use best practices for interviewing (or even “interrogating”) which can make them incredibly effective.

Throughout my career as an equity research analyst, I observed some analysts were much better than others at extracting insights from information sources (e.g. proprietary industry sources, company management, etc.), but I didn’t know exactly why. Now in the role of training analysts, I’m routinely asked, “How do I get more insights from others?” In my effort to answer this question and determine why some analysts are better than others in getting insights from others, I identified the best practices in this area, which primarily come from journalism, the legal industry and law enforcement (yes, some of the most sophisticated interviewing practices are used by law enforcement).

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Not game over for China

If popularity has its price, then major investors in China are now paying those consequences. Chinese stock markets have taken a plunge and continue to face a roller-coaster path of sorts. There’s no telling how long the ride is or what turns lie ahead, which means investors have been increasingly concerned over the uncertainty.

But it’s not the time to panic. It never really is. The foundation of investing isn’t and never was based on making flash gains. It’s always been about making strategic decisions for a potential haul in the long term.

We still believe in China’s potential because many companies still have attractive long-term growth prospects, in our opinion. The challenge for us as stock pickers, of course, is what to buy.

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The Great Mismatch: Addressing Barriers to Global Capital Flows

Executive Summary

Cross-border capital flows are at an inflection point. While in aggregate they
have not returned to pre-crisis high watermarks—primarily driven by a significant decline in bank lending—they are increasingly varied in their scope and direction. More countries around the world are seeking and providing capital across borders than ever before. And asset managers and asset owners—not just governments, corporations and banks—are becoming increasingly influential in determining the scale and stability of global capital flows.

Yet capital around the world is being deployed inefficiently—large pools are not getting the returns they should, even as many needs for investment, both public and private, go unmet. This “great mismatch” is driven by a confluence of governments focused on near-term electoral cycles and rent-seeking, emerging-market financial institutions lacking investment management expertise and depth, and investors prioritizing short-term gains over sustainable long-term investment priorities.

Correcting this mismatch represents one of the most significant opportunities for global growth over the next decade. Success will require both long-term institutional investors and policymakers re-thinking long-standing assumptions and re-shaping their role in global markets. This report provides the backdrop and lays the case for six key recommendations over both the nearer and longer term:

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Credit sources fairly in your financial blog posts

IntegrityYou want to do the right thing when you find an interesting idea, statistic, or quote that you use on your blog. That means crediting your source. How much information must you provide?

Citation rules for blogs aren’t as clear as for books, where sources such as The Chicago Manual of Style lay out rules. I’ve developed suggestions for you based on my experience, Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes: Your Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content, and other resources.


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Positive Psychology: Assessing Personal and Professional Performance

Applied psychology has historically focused on the treatment of emotional/behavioral disorders and the remediation of conflicts and life problems.  This focus has been enshrined in the reimbursement system, as insurance entities require Diagnostic and Statistical Manual codings of illnesses to justify reimbursement. 

In spite of this “medically necessary” emphasis, a parallel industry has sprung up around self-help, coaching, and work with normal populations.  Much of this work stresses the enhancement of positives rather than the elimination of negatives.  Until recently, very little research guided this positive branch of applied psychology.  With the pioneering work of Seligman, positive psychology—the study of optimal functioning and well-being—has become a legitimate research focus in academic psychology.  A health-based classification system has gained traction and a wealth of resources, including validated psychological tests, are now available.

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Decomposition of Total Volatility: How Important is Idiosyncratic Risk?


In recent years there has been a lot of debate about volatility, and the components of volatility. A lot has been said about the risk-on, risk-off market with a focus on macro and factor risks. There are many dimensions to volatility, and this paper uses the methodology of Campbell et al. (2001) to break down the total volatility in US equities into the three components of Market, Industry and Firm (idiosyncratic risk), and analyzes the trends in their share over time. We look at the time period January 2005 through December 2014, incorporating the years prior to, during and post financial crisis, and use S&P 500 as a proxy for the US equities, with the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICs) sector classification. The main conclusion is that there is a strong payoff to stock selection even in the post-financial crisis era where market participants often think of risk only in terms of risk-on and risk-off. The share of idiosyncratic risk indicating benefits of stock selection decreased a lot during the crisis. It is now at the highest level since the start of the financial crisis, though still much lower than in the pre-crisis years.   

Active stock selection can make the greatest contribution when idiosyncratic risk becomes a bigger component of total volatility. Campbell et al. (2001) laid out some important reasons for decomposing aggregate volatility into its sub-components of market, industry and firm. Aggregate volatility, important in any theory of risk and return, is the volatility experienced by holders of aggregate index funds. But aggregate market return is only one component of an individual stock’s return, with industry-level and idiosyncratic firm-level shocks being two other important components. Some reasons to be interested in volatility of the sub-components include holding portfolios that may not be diversified enough, or arbitrageurs trading stock mispricings facing risks related to idiosyncratic volatility. The optimum number of portfolio holdings needed to make it well-diversified is itself a function of the level of idiosyncratic risk.

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Operational Due Diligence: The Forgotten Part of Due Diligence

FPPpicThe evaluation and selection of investment managers is dominated by an Investment Due Diligence process focused on strategy, performance, and client objectives. Often overlooked and considerably undervalued is the Operational Due Diligence process
which looks into the quality of a firm’s operations. As a necessary component of a complete due diligence process, it can be considered as the part of the process that confirms the validity of the findings resulting from investment due diligence. Comparatively, the operational process is more focused on the qualitative aspects of an investment firm and looks at areas such as people, processes, products, policy, and providers.


The overall objective of looking at the people who are employed within a firm is to verify whether their experience, qualifications and compensation are appropriate with respect to the portfolios managed, strategies employed and clients’ needs. Most investment firms can be broken down into three units: that is, a Front Office, a Middle Office and a Back Office.

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Living in the Outlier

The past few years can only be described as one of the most unusually serene periods in history for the U.S. equity market. While over time it began to feel normal, we have been living in the outlier. Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane. 

The DiMaggio Streak of Markets

We’ll begin with the historic run from November 2012 through October 2014, what I have called the “DiMaggio streak of markets.” At 475 consecutive trading days above the 200-day moving average, we have never seen such a steady advance and lack of a meaningful pullback in the history of the S&P 500.

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7 Ways to Manage Writing by Committee

The best way to manage writing by committee? Avoid it. As Ann Handley says in Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content,

Having a buddy by your side is helpful. Having an entire committee on your back? Not so much. 

However, writing in a regulated industry means that many of you must get your materials reviewed by compliance. Also, if you’re a financial marketer, your subject-matter expert will want to check your work. 

I have some tips, based on my experience as director of investment communications for an asset management firm.

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Avoid Turning your Investment Firm into a Technology Company

As information technology’s development accelerated, the investment industry took notice and began developing systems that would automate formerly manual tasks. Over time these systems have evolved into something more. While their benefits are continually vaunted by vendors and end users alike, the processes of ensuring that these systems are properly implemented and maintained belong, first and foremost, to the firm.

It is easy to become seduced by the technological attraction
that systems offer but if an investment firm does not clearly
and thoroughly understand the purpose of a system, the
technological dream will quickly turn into a nightmare. In
general, systems are there to facilitate tasks, such as data
management, analysis and reporting. Once that is known, a
system must be properly “placed” within a firm. That is, it is to be maintained by the operations team, supported by IT, managed by specialists (performance, risk, etc.), used as a feedback tool by the front office and fund sponsors, and as a means of communications to the clients.

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How to Select the Optimal Valuation Method to Build Better Price Targets (Part 3 of 3)

Flow chart (as featured image)This 3-part post is all about following best practices for selecting the optimal valuation method…namely the one that’s going to derive a price target more accurate than consensus.

As noted in Part 2 of this 3-part series, there are limitations to every valuation method, but some are better than others. For years I had been looking for an information source that quickly summarized the best method(s) to use under each circumstance, but couldn’t find one. So I created the flow chart below.

The idea is to start at the top of the flow chart and work your way down as far as possible, to get closer to the methods that measure free cash flow. Note the blue shapes are single-period multiples-based methods whereas the tan shape, DCF, is a multi-period cash flow method.

Callout: The further you can go through the flowchart, the closer you are to valuing the company’s free cash flows.

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Why Fund Sponsors Are Failing

AnswersI was in the process of working on an article
 about why fund sponsors were failing the 
funds and their pension beneficiaries. The
 article was going to focus on the role
 sponsors take in the management of the
 fund, identify their shortcomings and
 propose solutions. Coincidentally, I
 was watching The Daily Show with Jon 
Stewart one night while his guest, Wall Street Journal reporter Ellen Schultz, was promoting her new book. “Retirement Heist” talks about the deliberate mismanagement of pension funds for the benefit of the sponsor and their executives. The next day I stopped by the bookstore and picked up her book. Once I began reading, the focus of my own article shifted from solely looking at the role of fund sponsors in the management of pension funds to also consider the sponsors’ place in society and the long-term consequences of their short-term focus.

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Don’t Overlook Benchmarks

ChartInvestors are presented with a barrage of marketing material from funds and
 managers trying to raise capital, and
 what all these reports have in common is 
that they all focus on performance. That
 is not surprising considering the 
relatively large number of funds available with the few strategies being 
used, managers feel they can only
differentiate themselves through performance. Attend enough sales presentations and you will have heard how “my long-short equity strategy has consistently outperformed the market and that is why you need to invest with us.” By the way, the “Past performance is no indication of future results” is usually said with much less gusto.

This is not to disparage managers and funds alike but rather to help investors identify the good managers whose past performance is more than likely a good indication of their future performance. Although a thorough performance evaluation requires the skill set of a performance specialist, any investor can begin such an evaluation by questioning one simple and important component of the performance marketing material, which is the benchmark.

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Are financial predictions too risky for investment commentary writers?

CrystalballIs it a bad idea to make predictions in your investment commentary because clients will slam you when you’re wrong? Whenever you make predictions, you run the risk of being wrong. But being wrong isn’t a problem, in my mind, if your prediction reflects good thinking.

Lesson from my winning prediction

Accurate predictions alone don’t make you seem smart. I remember the time I participated in a betting pool with members of an investment policy committee. I had to predict where a certain number—probably the 10-year Treasury rate—would be one quarter later. 

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How to Select the Optimal Valuation Method to Build Better Price Targets (Part 2 of 3)

Pros & Cons SmallIn my prior post I discussed the importance of identifying the optimal valuation method, which includes researching the valuation method used by most other equity analysts who cover the sector and stock being researched.

In this entry, I delve into the pros and cons of the most popular valuation methods. To ensure I wasn’t missing one of the more popular valuation methods, I researched the topic and came across two studies, one from the U.S. and one from the U.K. Given that buy-side analysts don’t publish their reports, these studies relied entirely on sell-side analysts and therefore they may not be representative of buy-side analyst’s work. The studies were conducted independent of one another and therefore shouldn’t be viewed comparatively. Instead, they provide an idea of the top 5 valuation methods used by equity research analysts in their respective markets. Having been based in London for part of my career, I can verify DCF is more extensively used in Europe than in the U.S.

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How to Select the Optimal Valuation Method to Build Better Price Targets (Part 1 of 3)

Buy-and-Sell-300x166In a prior post I noted all stock picking best practices (or “tips”) can be put into one of the four elements of our TIER™ framework (see image below).

If you’re asking “why should I care?”, I’d reply that the best stock pickers have a consistent philosophy and methodology for picking stocks. If you already have one, that’s great, but if you’re looking for one, you might want to start here and make modifications to fit your style or investment philosophy. This 3-part series focuses on the “T” of the TIER™ framework shown below.

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The Stewardship of Wealth: Successful Private Wealth Management for Investors and Their Advisors

StewardshipofWealthIn his latest book, The Stewardship of Wealth: Successful Private Wealth Management for Investors and Their Advisors, Gregory Curtis goes beyond a traditional study on investment policy, asset selection and monitoring, and risk management of and the fiduciary issues involved in wealth management by thoroughly investigating the aspects of stewardship of the wealth of prosperous families. Curtis is the chairman and founder of Pittsburgh-based Greycourt & Co., a wealth advisory firm that serves high-net-worth families and select endowments on a global basis. This book builds on his Creative Capital: Managing Private Wealth in a Complex World. It provides a moral, ethical, economic, and investment compass for the wealthy.

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When Fear of Bonds Exceeds Fear of Stocks

Worried about your bonds? You’re not alone.

In speaking with our investors in recent weeks, the most universal theme by far was concern over their bond holdings. Historically low interest rates coupled with the prospect of the first Fed rate hike since 2006 (“rising rates”) were causing anxiety. And most importantly, the average bond fund was down in the first half of the year. There’s nothing more fear inducing to investors than short-term losses.

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Going Beyond GIPS

GIPSGlobal Investment Performance 
Standards, better known as GIPS, are a 
voluntary set of standards established to
 create transparency in the calculation and
 presentation of performance. From 
improving the credibility of compliant investment firms to providing clients the ability to fairly evaluate the performance of these firms, GIPS has arguably become the gold standard in investment performance. As client awareness has risen, demand for GIPS is pushing investment firms in becoming compliant in order to maintain their competitiveness. While this is a positive in an industry that sorely needs standards that encourage fairness and credibility, it would be short sighted for firms to stop at GIPS when it comes to their performance. We must remember that performance is not a part of GIPS but rather it is GIPS that is a part of performance. Meaning that, in the ever-growing field of investment performance, stopping at GIPS would rob a firm of maximizing the benefits of performance that go beyond GIPS.

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Can YOU simplify investment commentary better than this?

I am not perfect. I don’t have all of the answers for how to best simplify the complex sentences that abound in investment commentary and related publications. However, we would all benefit if the smart investment professionals could communicate more clearly and economically.

To spur conversation, I’m posting some before-and-after versions of sentences inspired by what I’ve read in online and printed investment pieces. Most of my tweaks are minor. They don’t dramatically ratchet up the sentences’ effectiveness. However, their simplicity means that they demonstrate techniques that would be easy for anyone to implement.

If you’re trying to improve your writing skills, I hope that you’ll find some inspiration. If you’re a veteran writer or editor, perhaps you can suggest better alternatives.

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Growth of Large Companies May Be Driving Wage Inequality


The global trend toward wage inequality may be driven by a rise in the share of people employed by the world’s largest companies, suggest Professor Holger Mueller and his co-authors, Paige P. Ouimet of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and Elena Simintzi of the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, in their new working paper, “Wage Inequality and Firm Growth.”

Using a proprietary data set of employee pay at a broad cross-section of UK firms (both private and public) from 2004 to 2013, the researchers examined how the wage differences between jobs of differing skill levels within a single firm (“within-firm skill premia”) varied between firms and over time. They found that the wage differences between high-skill and low- or mid-skill jobs increased with firm size. As company size grew (measured by either number of employees or sales – both had the same results), the wages paid for high-skill jobs increased significantly, while the wages paid for low- or mid-skill jobs remained the same or decreased slightly. For example, the highest-level job at a company in the 75th percentile of company size carried a wage 280 percent greater than the highest-level job at a company in the 25th percentile. The result of this phenomenon is that as firms grow larger, a divide widens between the high-level and both the mid- and low-level job wages, driving greater wage inequality.

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11 Things Ultra-Productive People Do Differently

When it comes to productivity, we all face the same challenge—there are only 24 hours in a day. Yet some people seem to have twice the time; they have an uncanny ability to get things done. Even when juggling multiple projects, they reach their goals without fail.

Time is really the only capital that any human being has, and the only thing he can’t afford to lose. —Thomas Edison

It feels incredible when you leave the office after an ultra-productive day. With the right approach, you can make this happen every day. You don’t need to work longer or even do more—you just need to work smarter. Try these 11 productivity hacks that ultra-productive people rely on:

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How 30 Minutes Wasted Could Cost You $5,000

By James Valentine, CFA


We all have the same 24 hours in a day, but I find some analysts use it much more effectively than others. Based on my experience I don’t sense the level of a person’s time management skills has anything to do with their intelligence, professional experience or even their degree of ambition. It comes down to their level of self-discipline for staying focused.

To help get your attention, let me pose the issue this way: If an analyst is being compensated $100,000 per year, and he wastes just 30 minutes of a typical 10-hour day, that amounts to a loss of $5,000 per year. What would you do with an extra $5,000 a year?

To help frame the issue, let’s take a quiz.

Beware! These Toxic Thoughts are Success Killers

No matter who you are or what you do I am willing to bet that if you are having any of these thoughts below, then you are holding yourself back from achieving great success. As an executive coach, I am fortunate to work with and get into the brilliant minds of the brightest and most successful executives on Wall Street and beyond. Like the rest of us, my clients have insecurities that we work on recognizing and banishing from their minds. Here is the list of thoughts that are surprisingly common and are the greatest offenders to our success.

Beware of these toxic thoughts.

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Are Equities Overvalued?

MspenceBy Michael Spence

Since the global economic crisis, sharp divergences in economic performance have contributed to considerable stock-market volatility. Now, equity prices are reaching relatively high levels by conventional measures – and investors are starting to get nervous.

The question is whether stock valuations are excessive relative to future earnings potential. The answer depends on two key variables: the discount rate and future earnings growth. A lower discount rate and/or a higher rate of expected earnings growth would justify higher equity valuations.

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The Seven Challenges That Hold Back Great Stock Picking

By James Valentine, CFA

Imagine picking up your car after it’s been supposedly repaired and discovering it’s still not fixed. Then, after a second trip to the shop the problem is still not resolved. What if this issue was an industry-wide phenomena? How would you feel about auto mechanics?

According to the most recent SPIVA report, 60% of large-cap managers and 73% of small-cap managers in the U.S. under-performed their respective benchmarks for the prior 12 months. Furthermore, over 70% of domestic equity managers, across all capitalizations, failed to beat their benchmarks over a five-year period. 

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Should We Outlaw Advertising?

Megan McArdle, a libertarian-oriented commentator on economics, recently recalled her reaction to a proposed class-action suit of the early-2000s dealing with fast-food companies’ impact on public health.[1] McArdle challenged an author involved in the anti-obesity cause to point to any research demonstrating that the restaurant chains’ advertising induced children to increase their consumption of fast food. 

The question confused the author, who simply assumed that corporations would not spend millions of dollars on advertising unless it increased sales.  McDonald’s does not, however, advertise with an eye toward convincing kids to eat more fast food.   The goal is rather to persuade them to eat it at McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) instead of Burger King or some other chain.  In general, advertising is better at stimulating specific demand (brand selection) as opposed to primary demand (the decision to consume).

This point was emphasized in the mid-20th century by critics of advertising, which at that time was mired in political controversy, much as the financial industry is today.  It became an article of faith among many economists that because advertising did nothing to increase overall consumption, it represented a waste of resources. 

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How Finance Can Help Save Our Planet

The following post was adapted from a chapter I wrote for John G. Taft’s new book, A Force for Good,  published just this past week by Palgrave Macmillan.  John is the CEO of RBC Wealth Management, and I am proud to be in the illustrious company of individuals like Mary Schapiro, Robert Shiller, Sheila Bair, Roger Martin, and Dominic Barton, who were invited by John to contribute to this book.  I think you will find A Force for Good a fascinating read as it explores, from a variety of experienced perspectives, how the financial industry can marshall, for the long-term public good, the creative energies and brainpower it has deployed in the past to develop derivatives, high-frequency-trading technologies, and other engineering complexities.  

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Insider Trading Law After the Newman Decision: What Does It Mean to Financial Industry Professionals?

In December 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued what has been described as a landmark decision in United States v. Newman.  In its decision, the Court vacated the insider trading convictions and sentences of Anthony Chiasson and Todd Newman, two hedge fund professionals convicted of insider trading after trial in federal court in Manhattan.  The decision has been greeted by the white collar defense bar as an important repudiation of the Government’s heavy handed pursuit of insider trading. 

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Should Your Investment Commentary Be Different?

“Should your investment commentary present a distinctive point of view?” That’s the great question posed by a participant in one of my presentations on “How To Write Investment Commentary People Will Read.”

My answer? It depends.

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China: Ecological Civilization Rising?

Returning to China for the first time in a quarter century this month was equally awe inspiring and terrifying. The observation deck of the truly gorgeous Shanghai World Financial Center is breathtaking, a fitting testament to China’s rise. But it was the unexpected sense that we might be experiencing history at DeTao Group’s summit in Shanghai, “Future New Economy: Sustainable Model Toward an Ecological Economy,” that left an indelible mark on me.

I had the honor to address the DeTao Group summit on the topic of regenerative investing in natural capital. Inspired by the vision and leadership of DeTao Chairman George Lee, it was an extraordinary experience. The warm hospitality and genuine appreciation and respect extended to all the visiting “experts” was quite exceptional. As George told me, “in Chinese culture, we honor our teachers.”

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

In Part I of my article, I described how the decision of an obscure federal judge promises to transform world debt markets. I planned in Part II to describe the Argentinean debt deal, but in the interim Bloomberg published an article that elucidates this matter in sufficient detail (Levine 2014). Furthermore, the document describing the debt settlement is available online (Securities and Exchange Commission 2005). I cannot claim to have read the entire document—219 pages of prospectus and approximately 150 pages of supplement—but I gleaned enough by browsing. It contains interesting information on how international debt is settled, and if I were to teach international finance, I would make a case study out of it.

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

Mongolia Investment Outlook

Mongolia is one of the world's fastest growing economies, with a year-on-year real growth rate of 7% in 2014. Recent growth has been primarily driven by development of new mining projects, growth in the real estate and agriculture sector, and an expansionary fiscal and monetary policy.

Mongolia's economy is highly dependent on trade with China. Economic growth has been negatively affected by a slowdown in the Chinese economy, which accounted for 94.1% of Mongolia's exports in 2013. In addition, Mongolia is dependent on Russia for all of its fuel and some of its energy needs, which makes Mongolia vulnerable to price pressure from Russia.

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Life After the CFA Charter

I still remember the feeling of happiness, relief, and complete sense of accomplishment when I received a congratulatory email from CFA Institute on August 6, 2013 letting me know that I passed the Level III CFA exam.  I officially became a CFA Charterholder in November 2013. The certificate is very big, and I feel proud every time I look at it.  It reminds me that hard work and determination will help me overcome any challenges that I am currently facing, or will face in the future, as they did when I embarked on the CFA journey.

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It Is Time for a Cyber FDIC

In today’s modern frictionless economy, the principal requisite for growth and order is the free flow of sensitive information, banking transactions, and private data on a global scale.

With this shift brought on by the unrelenting growth of e-commerce and mobile platforms comes the nagging reality that cyber risk is here to stay. It is the sort of drag on the market that needs to be priced into the system rather than treated like something that can be eliminated or perfectly controlled. Market and consumer expectations need to be adjusted accordingly and in the age of hyper transparency, people would be wise to remember that anything can be exposed to sunlight.

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Four Reasons You Should Not Write a White Paper

White papers can be great marketing tools. Done right, they give web surfers reasons to join your email list and persuade them that you understand—and have solutions to—their problems. However, done poorly, white papers waste your time—and your readers’ time. To help you avoid pointlessly sinking your energy into white papers, I’m sharing four reasons you should not write a white paper.

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How About a "Not-So-Fast" Track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potentially historic trade agreement being aggressively pursued by the Obama administration, represents a cornerstone in its strategic pivot to Asia. If ratified by all 12 Pacific Rim countries currently engaged in the negotiations, it would create the largest free-trade zone in the world, accounting for some 40% of global GDP and a third of global trade.

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NYSSA TV™: A Fireside Chat with William Thorndike and William Cohan

Authors William Thorndike and William Cohan share a “Fireside Chat” about the challenge for management to create value in a climate of rising shareholder activism and increased M&A activity.


MONEYBALL: Reinventing the Game of Capitalism Using a New Scientific Model

There is an epidemic failure within the game to understand what is really going on. And this leads those who run major league teams to misjudge their players and mismanage their teams… Baseball thinking is medieval. They are asking all the wrong questions.

People see this new way of thinking as a threat, and not just to a way of doing business, but, in their minds, it’s a threat to the game itself…

But anybody who is not tearing their team down right now and rebuilding it using your model − they’re dinosaurs.

- Dialog from the movie Moneyball

Continue reading "MONEYBALL: Reinventing the Game of Capitalism Using a New Scientific Model" »


The Club of Rome’s Next Act

The Club of Rome was founded in 1968 but really came into the public eye with the publication of Limits to Growth in 1972. The controversial book, which sold 12 million copies in 37 languages, first called attention to the systemic limitations of the exponential expansion of the human population and the related material inputs and waste outputs of its economic system on a planet that is fixed in scale.

The concept is not complicated. Sooner or later, the endless expansion of the metabolism of a system within a finite body will cease.

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NYSSA Market Forecast™: Investing In Turbulent Times
January 7, 2016

Join NYSSA to enjoy free member events and other benefits. You don't need to be a CFA charterholder to join!


CFA® Level I 4-Day Boot Camp

Thursday November 12, 2015
Instructor: O. Nathan Ronen, CFA

CFA® Level II Weekly Review - Session A Monday

Monday January 11, 2016
Instructor: O. Nathan Ronen, CFA

CFA® Level III Weekly Review - Session A Wednesday

Wednesday January 13, 2016
Instructor: O. Nathan Ronen, CFA

CFA® Level III Weekly Review - Session B Thursday
Thursday January 21, 2016
Instructor: O. Nathan Ronen, CFA

CFA® Level II Weekly Review - Session B Tuesday
Thursday January 26, 2016
Instructor: O. Nathan Ronen, CFA