Tag Archive for: BSAS

Behavioral Finance – A Three-Part Model for Client Relationships

Behavioral finance can deepen your client relationships during market turmoil, if you recognize your clients’ emotional right-brained reactions before you offer insights based on your analytical left-brained analysis. By applying a three-pronged process of Recognize-Reflect-Respond, you can adapt to new information in a thoughtful and effective framework.

Gayle H. Buff, president of Buff Capital Management, proposed this model in “Behavioral Finance: So What?” her June 15 presentation to the Boston Security Analysts Society (BSAS). Buff has 20 years of experience working with individual investors and is a past president of the BSAS. As a member of the CFA Institute’s Speaker Retainer Program, she has spoken about behavioral finance to CFA societies around the world.

Continue reading my article, “Behavioral Finance – A Three-Part Model for Client Relationships,” in Advisor Perspectives.

Behavioral finance can deepen your client relationships

Understanding behavioral finance can improve your client relationships. That’s the lesson I took away from “Behavioral Finance: So What?”, a June 15 presentation by Gayle H. Buff, president of Buff Capital Management, to the Boston Security Analysts Society (BSAS). Buff has 20 years of experience working with  individual investors and is a past president of the BSAS.

Like financial advisors, clients of investment and wealth managers don’t act with complete rationality. They react with their emotional right brain in addition to their rational, reflective left brain. However, Buff said, to optimize our ability to make informed decisions, we need to use both sides of our brains. Advisors who understand this, can tailor their interactions with clients to take advantage of this. 

Behavioral finance experts have identified loss aversion, uncertainty aversion, and overconfidence as a few of the key investor tendencies that reflect the influence of the right brain. During the past year’s financial crisis, Buff observed many instances where fear of uncertainty trumped fear of loss. Some of her clients wanted to sell their investments, even if that potentially meant locking in losses.

Behavioral finance helped Buff respond effectively to her clients who wanted to sell. Understanding that clients’ “sell” requests were intensely emotional, “I don’t take it personally or as them telling me I’ve done something bad,” she said. Instead of arguing with them, Buff listened to her clients’ fears. “Talking about what makes us afraid makes us less fearful,” she said.

It isn’t easy for most advisors to follow Buff’s strategy. “We often want to rush in with facts,” she said. However, advisors need first to acknowledge their clients’ feelings. Only after doing that does it make sense to give clients an alternative perspective on the issues. The advisor who takes this two-step approach will find their clients more receptive.

In fact, if advisors and clients can work through a financial crisis, they may end up with a much deeper relationship. One of the big advantages may be enhancing clients’ understanding of risk. Prior to the past year’s financial crisis, most clients overestimated their risk tolerance said Buff.

Buff listed five areas that advisors should explore with their clients, including clients’
1. Capacity to tolerate market volatility and economic risk
2. Characteristic defensive posture in the face of anxiety and uncertainty;
3. Vulnerabilities, passions, strengths, weaknesses, and dreams
4. Ability to process, integrate, and adapt to new information a new experience
5. Commitment to working collaboratively and synergistically as one-half of the advisor–client relationship

This blog post only touches on a tiny portion of Buff’s material, which included a bibliography on complexity theory and adaptive systems, behavioral finance and investor psychology, and the intersection of theory and practice. However, she speaks on behavioral finance to CFA societies around the world, so she may come to your area.

By the way, it has been my pleasure to get to know Gayle through volunteering with her on the BSAS’ Private Wealth Management committee. I’ve seen her dedication to financial education.

Fidelity expert: "CMBS Challenges & Opportunity: Are CMBS Securities Mispriced?"

By some measures, commercial mortage-backed securities (CMBS) are in good shape, according to Mark Snyderman, portfolio manager and CMBS group leader, Fidelity Investments, who presented on “CMBS Challenges & Opportunity: Are CMBS Securities Mispriced?” to the Boston Security Analysts Society on May 5. Still, he answered “No” to the big question posed by his title.

Good news: New construction and cash flow growth
Commercial property is not overbuilt, said Snyderman. In fact, in recent years, new construction has lagged the 2% growth rate needed to keep up with population growth and replacement of obsolete buildings. So, commercial property rents and occupancy should fare relatively well.

Commercial property growth has fallen from its peak. But even in 2009, Snyderman expects it will be flat or perhaps down by single digits. So, cash flow isn’t much of a problem.

Problem: Lack of debt financing to squeeze mortgage borrowers
CMBS delinquency rates could rise to roughly 20 times their current level, which is below 2%, said Snyderman. Commercial real estate is suffering as debt financing becomes less available for highly leveraged properties purchased at historically high valuations. The disappearance of cheap debt financing and concerns about cash flow growth suggest that CMBS delinquencies will increase dramatically.

Pessimism will create opportunities
Investors must approach CMBS cautiously, said Snyderman. They can’t rely on ratings because the ratings agencies haven’t adequately reformed themselves. Instead, investors must do old-fashioned, bottom-up credit analysis on a property-by-property basis. It’s also helpful to consider the “vintage” of a CMBS deal, even though there are deal-by-deal differences. 

Right now, we’re in a wave of market optimism, said Snyderman. But, he predicted, a wave of pessimism will bring attractive opportunities in CMBS.

"The Current Financial Crisis: Why did it happen and what is being done?"

Look at a typical investment bank’s balance sheet and you can understand how the collapse of housing prices took down those banks. 

That’s the message I took away from “The Current Financial Crisis: Why did it happen and what is being done?”,  an April 16 presentation by John Haigh, executive dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, to the Boston Security Analysts Society. Haigh said it didn’t take much to explode the investment banks’ model of highly leveraged balance sheets with lots of short-term debt.

I liked his simple diagram of the progress of the financial crisis.
“Home prices fall –>mortgages reset –> delinquencies –> foreclosures –> prices fall further –> mortgage equity withdrawals decrease –> consumer spend falls –> job market erodes –> recession”

Haigh made several statements that stuck with me.
* People are wrong about the rating agencies. “These are such fundamentally new financial instruments tht they don’t know how to rate them.” That’s because ratings agencies typically rely on historical data–which didn’t exist for the new financial instruments–to build models for rating.
* There’s a “hot potato theory” that investment banks tossed the hot potatoes off to pension funds. But, in fact, pension funds that got AAA notes got the better assets. Investment banks were left holding the worst assets. They thought they had insured against losses in those assets through credit default swaps. That turned out to be wrong. “That why they went overnight from being investment banks to being commercial banks.” Given their exposure, they needed the liquidity and support of the federal government.
* People tell me credit default swaps are like Las Vegas, except Las Vegas is regulated and credit default swaps aren’t.
To fix the near-term crisis, Haigh said, we must
1. Recapitalize banks
2. Restart interbank lending
3. Absorb “toxic” assets
4. Prevent bank runs

More regulation of financial services is coming. Haigh is concerned that the pendulum may swing from too little regulation to too much. He referred to an April 6 presentation by Barney Frank at the Kennedy School that discussed regulation.  However, Haigh said, “You have very smart, thoughtful people in the Obama administration. I don’t think you’ll get insane regulation unless Congress gets out of control.” 

You can email John Haigh for a copy of his slides, if you’d like to learn more.

Harvard Management’s Mendillo grapples with challenging environment

Even Jane Mendillo admits she had awful timing in becoming president and CEO of Harvard Management Company (HMC) on July 1, 2008. As she said in her presentation on “Endowment Management in a Changing World” to the Boston Security Analysts Society on March 25, she assumed her post
* Two days before commodity prices peaked
* Six weeks before the beginning of a massive rescue of financial institutions
* Just before six to nine months of the most challenging markets that most investment professionals have seen
Nonetheless, Mendillo showed a cheerful face to the friendly audience containing many fellow CFA charterholders.

Mendillo is cautious about investments because “At this point, uncertainty is a big factor in markets and economies. The short-mid term may be challenging,” she said. It could take many years, she acknowledged, for the size of the Harvard endowment to return to its $37 billion level of June 30, 2008. Still, she noted, the endowment has posted excellent gains since its beginnings, including its growth from only $19 billion five years earlier.

Mendillo’s caution is reflected in the endowment’s actions. “We’re not rushing for the exits. Nor are we rushing to get back into the markets,” she said. Mendillo took pains to correct what she called misperceptions that HMC has sold private equity holdings for “pennies on the dollar.” The firm has made some transactions in secondary markets, but hasn’t taken major chunks out of its private equity holdings, she said.

HMC is taking a more conservative tack under Mendillo. It has cut back its -5% cash weighting to -3% for the first time in decades. Moreover, the portfolio is “seriously in cash,” she said, because she wanted to create more flexibility in the portfolio and make room for new investments.

Where is HMC heading? Mendillo gave some clues, saying
* We continue to be cautious about deploying cash.”
* “If we don’t think we have an edge in a market, we stay out or we index.”
* External management is significantly more expensive than internal management, so if external management doesn’t pay off, HMC will hire a team that can deliver
* The failure of the illiquid portion of the portfolio to be self-funding has “impacted our appetite for further illiquid assets”
* She expects to see very attractive opportunities in real estate, but they may lie a couple years ahead.
* She is very excited about what the firm’s natural resources team has uncovered.

"James Grant: A Positive Lesson from the Great Depression"

Great price tags on a number of investments are the silver lining of the current recession, according to James Grant, founder of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer

Grant shared his “Thoughts on the Financial Markets and the Current State of the Economy” with the Boston Security Analysts Society on February 11. He spoke at length about the virtues of value investing, as exemplified by the Depression era strategies of Floyd Odlum of Atlas Corporation. Today’s investors can learn from Odlum’s strategy of underpaying for assets, Grant said.

Continue reading “James Grant: A Positive Lesson from the Great Depression,” my article in Advisor Perspectives.

Top 10 tips for CFA charterholders considering freelance writing

If you’re a CFA charterholder considering a freelance writing career, here’s advice from Omar Bassal, CFA. Omar is the head of asset management at NBK Capital, a freelance writer, and the author of Swing Trading for Dummies

I’m posting Omar’s article as part of my preparation for a panel on “Alternative Careers for CFA Charterholders” to be presented to the Boston Security Analysts Society on January 14, 2009.

Here’s Omar’s advice.

1. Choose your work carefully: Part of being a good writer is choosing the right businesses and people to work with. There are a lot of fly-by-night operations that want text to fill space. While they might pay the bills, they won’t further your professional development.

2. Get a proofreader: No one is perfect—not even CFA charterholders. Having a second pair of eyes before you submit your work is always smart. Find a reasonably priced person via Craigslist.

3. Know your audience: Be able to differentiate between unsophisticated audiences (where “standard deviation” is too technical a term to use), semi-sophisticated audiences (where “standard deviation” needs no further explanation) and sophisticated audiences (where “standard deviation” is an incomplete view of risk).

4. Get paid by work, not by hour: Firms will want to pay you by the hour. But you should push to be paid a flat rate for your work. This doesn’t always mean you’ll get more. But over time, you’ll be more efficient and productive as a result. Plus, you won’t need to keep tabs on every minute you’re working versus checking e-mail.

5. Seek contracts: Monthly and quarterly newsletters and reviews are an excellent way to get your hands on steady income.

6. Network with other writers: There are many fish in the sea and writing as a CFA charterholder doesn’t mean you’re taking away business from a fellow CFA charterholder. Sometimes clients will come to you with requests that you’re unwilling or unable to do. Being able to pass that work onto other contacts means your client feels his/her needs are being met by you. Do it often and others will return the favor.

7. A CFA charter does not mean you know everything
: If you’re an expert in equities, you may find navigating fixed income waters tough. Make sure you thoroughly understand what you’re getting into before you agree to do a job.

8. Have a contract: Approach writing as you would any other business. Have a contract in place for every writing job which explains  your responsibilities, your contractor’s expectations, delivery schedules, terms of cancellation and prohibition of passing your work on to other parties. Besides protecting your interests, a contract will flash a signal that you’re a professional writer.

9. Seek out non-traditional clients: Realize that your easiest business may come from non-traditional clients. “Traditional clients” may be mutual funds, financial advisors and institutional asset management firms. Non-traditional clients include trade groups with pension plans, foundations, endowments and other less sought after institutions.

10. Punctuality is everything: Don’t view your text as the finish line for your contractor. Your work will likely be checked by senior staff or formatted for e-mailing or printing—all things based on firm schedules. Treat your work as a business. Being late means being unreliable—no matter how great the final text may be.