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What Jason Zweig does right–and wrong–in his inaugural column

Stop Worrying, and Learn to Love the Bear.”

I love the title of Jason Zweig’s inaugural “The Intelligent Investor” column for The Wall Street Journal. With this title, Zweig follows advice I give to writers of investment commentary. He takes something that’s viewed as negative and finds the positive side. That’s a great way to grab your reader’s attention.

Zweig says, “…if you are still in your saving and investing years, a bear market is a gift from the financial gods — and the longer it lasts, the better off you will be. Instead of running from the bear, you should embrace him.” So that’s his thesis. 

But Zweig falls short in explaining how the bear market will help investors, other than offering the opportunity to buy good stocks cheaply. He gives the example of how the last long bear market—1969-1982—set the stage for stocks to return 18.5% a year for the 18 years following the bear market’s end.

Let’s assume—and it’s a big assumption—that scenario will repeat. Then, sure, folks who are just starting their saving and investing would end up better off. But what about those who are in the midst of their saving and investing? Will they ever make up their losses?

Time to invest in frontier market stocks

“If you remember China 20 years ago, you get a sense of the potential for frontier markets today.” 

This quote from Larry Speidell, chief investment officer of Frontier Market Asset Management, kicks off my article on “Time to invest in frontier market stocks?” in Advisor Perspectives.

Are YOU ready to invest in frontier market stocks? Leave your comments here. 

SRI: A new requirement for fiduciaries?

Ten years from now, a fiduciary may feel bound to consider the tenets of socially responsible investing (SRI), predicted Peter Kinder, president, KLD Research & Analytics.

That may sound crazy. But back in the early 1800s, it seemed crazy for prudent investors to use common stocks in pension funds, noted Kinder.

Kinder co-presented with Cheryl Smith, executive vice president of Trillium Asset Management, on “The History and Future of Socially Responsible Investing” to the Boston Security Analysts Society on June 5.

Kinder qualified his remarks later, writing:

What I intended to say is that fiduciaries may have the duty to consider much the same factors as Social Investors have.

It is highly unlikely that fiduciaries will have to consider them as values (as social investors traditionally have). Rather, they will apply them among the data they bring to bear in an investment decision. This distinction also implies that fiduciaries may decide that other considerations outweigh the ESG criteria.

Put differently, analysis of social criteria by fiduciaries will not have the status of, say, fundamental analysis. Rather, it will take its place alongside cash flow analysis under the tenets of an analytical approach.

Smith noted that SRI’s role is growing in investments by foundations, pension funds, 401(k) plans and individuals. About 6%-7% of high net worth investors use SRI methods. That number rises to 9%-10% for the ultra high net worth. She suggested that the trend toward SRI will trickle down to the less affluent.

The time will come when not evaluating a company in terms of SRI’s criteria will be as inconceivable as not checking the company’s balance sheet, said Smith.

P&I picks best financial blogs

According to the staff at Pensions & Investments magazine, the top three financial blogs are:

  1. The Big Picture
  2. DealBreaker
  3. Infectious Greed

That’s according to to “Pensions & Investments’ Best Blogs and how they got that way,” which also lists some other top blogs.

But blogs get mixed reviews from P&I’s audience. “Turns out some tout the virtues of having fresh and sometimes entertaining voices and unique perspectives not found in typical Wall Street research, while others eschew blogs as unnecessary,” reported Drew Carter in “Ranking the blogs.”

What do you think? Are blogs useful to you?

Investment industry in denial about ethics

There’s a disconnect between what investment managers say about ethics and what they actually do, said Jim Ware of Focus Consulting Group in his presentation on “Ethical Leadership in the Investment Firm” to the Boston Security Analysts Society.

Investment firms ranked ethics as one of their top five values in surveys conducted by Focus Consulting. That’s good. “We believe that ethics and integrity should be the spine of your organization for it to be sustainable,” said Ware.

But, in practice, investment firms don’t always take the high road when confronted with ethical challenges, both routine and extraordinary. In his presentation, Ware listed nine common ethical challenges that investment firms may fail. Many of them concern marketing, such as “putting the best spin on personnel changes” or “hiding the salient features of a product.”

I wonder if there’s an investment firm on earth that hasn’t tried to spin personnel changes.

Read more about ethics in Ware’s article, “Ethical Leadership in the Investment Firm.”

Podcasts from CFA Institute Annual Conference

The CFA Institute’s Annual Conference in Vancouver attracted record attendance. Now, you can listen to podcasts of some of the speakers, if you’ve paid for a Total Access membership in the CFA Institute.

As of May 29, you can listen to:

  • Building a Global Equity Portfolio by Lawrence S. Speidell
  • Prediction Markets: The Collective Knowledge of Market Participants by Justin Wolfers
  • From Beta to Exotic Beta to Alpha Behavioral Finance: What Good Is it? by Meir Statman, Arnold S. Wood, and Jason Zweig
  • Investment Opportunities in Energy by Henry Groppe
  • Investment Strategies to Exploit the Growth of China by Burton Malkiel
  • The Neuroeconomics of Surprise: How the Investing Brain Handles the Unexpected by Jason Zweig
  • Economic Prospects for the U.S. Economy from a Monetary Policymaker’s Perspective by Janet L. Yellen
  • Nurturing Innovation in an Asset Management Firm by Blake R. Grossman

How to get a portfolio manager’s attention, and other email tips from an investment marketing consultant

It’s not easy getting portfolio managers to open your emails. That’s why investment marketing consultant Jen Dunning sometimes writes her email subject lines completely in capital letters.

“INVESTMENT COMMENTARY – PLEASE APPROVE BY JUNE 30” grabs the reader’s attention where a meeker “Please approve by June 30” would not. Note that she puts her key action verb, “approve,” and its object, “investment commentary,” in the subject line. That also boosts her emails’ effectiveness.

But limit your use of all-capitals subject lines to rare instances of pressing need with people who work for your own organization. You risk irritating your recipient if you use all-caps too often. It flouts the rules of email etiquette and is considered “shouting.”

Some additional email tips from Dunning:

  • Save your pleasantries for the end of your email because busy readers want to get to the point right away
  • Before you attach an Excel file, name it and insert page breaks and headers and footers, including page numbers and total number of pages

 

Producing investment pitch books without losing your mind, and other advice from Margaret Patterson

Designer Margaret Patterson’s posts about investment management pitch books were among the most popular on my previous blog. Her tips can make producing these important marketing materials less stressful.

Here are links to her posts.

Contact Margaret by posting a comment on this blog. Or, if you’re a potential client, call her at 617-971-0328.

Did this New York Times columnist listen to me?

In “Passions Run High On Indexing,” New York Times columnist Joe Nocera writes about the conflict between traditional and fundamental indexers that has been running in the Financial Analysts Journal. He does what I suggest in my investment commentary workshop. He picks a controversial topic from a professional journal, then explains it in non-technical terms.

Nocera’s article is more about what he calls “an old-fashioned academic cat fight” than the indexing debate. If you tackle this topic for your clients, I suggest you focus on the latter rather than the former.

But Nocera does eventually express an opinion on the substance of the debate. He agrees with Jack Bogle that fundamental index funds are a form of active management. “… they ain’t index funds, and they shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement for index funds. Mr. Arnott and his allies would better serve investors by saying so out loud,” writes Nocera.

Morningstar Market Barometer, 2003-2007

Want to show your clients how equity styles and sectors perform differently over time?

The newly released 2-page Market Barometer from Morningstar can help.