Survey Shows Concerns About MiFID II

December 10th, 2014

A recent Extel survey showed that while a majority of asset managers felt that the proposed MiFID II ban on paying for research with client commissions would reduce coverage of UK small cap stocks, they minimized the importance of external research relative to corporate access and in-house research.  Surprisingly, a majority of asset managers did not believe MiFID II would change the competitiveness of European asset managers relative to their non-European counterparts.

A recent survey, “Unintended Consequences- The impact of the UK equity market of proposed research payment changes in MiFID II”, was commissioned by Peel Hunt, a broker specializing in UK mid- and small-cap stocks, and executed by Extel WeConvene.  The survey was conducted in October and November 2014, and included 161 participants from 137 asset managers.  Copies of the report can be obtained by emailing Peel Hunt at marketing@peelhunt.com.

A resounding 84% of respondents felt that MiFID II proposals would decrease analyst coverage of UK small caps and 74% believed that they would affect liquidity of UK small-cap stocks (presumably for the worse).

At the same time, asset managers do not believe high levels of analyst coverage are necessary.  Approximately 30% felt that 1-3 analysts was the minimum coverage necessary to make research useful, while 45% felt 4-6 analysts sufficient.

Moreover, asset managers did not seem wildly supportive of the overall value of external research.  46% ranked corporate access (which is no longer payable with client commissions in the UK) most highly, followed by 35% that ranked in-house research most highly.  Only 22% ranked research reports most highly and 2% ranked access to external analysts highest.  Over 50% said they valued internal research more highly than sell-side research.

Nearly half believe research coverage of FTSE 100 stocks add value to their investment process either infrequently or not at all.  Only a third felt that way about small-cap coverage.

86% felt that the MiFID II proposals would affect small asset managers more than large asset managers and 84% felt that a ban would raise barriers to entry in the investment management industry.  However, 54% did not believe the proposals would change their competitive position relative to non-European asset managers.

Over 60% believed that a research commission ban would not impact their fund charges.  While obviously very concerned with the impacts of a potential research commission ban, fewer than 5% felt that their clients should pay for research.

Our Take

As we have discussed previously, we believe it unlikely that MiFID II will end up banning the payment for research with client commissions.  The FCA has said it will abide by the MiFID II guidelines even though it could go further than the guidelines require.

Nevertheless, the survey highlights the complex relationship that asset managers have with external research.  Asset managers clearly like the status quo, in which research is subsidized by client commissions, yet are not enthusiastic about the relative value of external research, especially when compared with internal research and corporate access.

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Wall Street Jobs Picture Brightens in November

December 8th, 2014

Layoffs at Wall Street investment banks and brokerage firms plunged in November 2014 after surging the previous month, according to a recent private jobs report.  In addition to the drop in layoffs, new hiring surged in November to the highest level seen in the past few years as Wall Street firms started expanding their investment banking payrolls as the M&A boom continues.

November Challenger, Gray & Christmas Report

According to the Challenger, Gray & Christmas monthly Job Cuts Report released last week, the financial services industry saw a 61% drop in planned layoffs from 1,673 layoffs announced in October to 657 layoffs announced in November.  The November layoff total was 59% below number of announced layoffs reported in November of 2013, and was the lowest level of layoffs seen in November since 2010.

On a year-to-date basis, Wall Street firms have announced 26,953 layoffs during the first eleven months of 2014, 54% less than the 59,189 layoffs announced during the same period in 2013.  The decline in announced layoffs on a year-to-date basis is a signal that the Wall Street employment outlook is continuing to improve, although slowly.

The most surprisingly aspect of the November Challenger Gray & Christmas report was the extremely strong new hiring data for the month.  According to CGC, financial services firms announced 4,620 new jobs to be filled during November – the highest monthly new hiring level seen in the past few years.  On a year-to-date basis Wall Street firms have announced plans to hire 7,349 new positions, 67% higher than the 4,411 new positions announced during the first eleven months of 2013.

Some Banks Continue to Shed Workers

Last month, in a bid to reduce expenses, JP Morgan Chase announced plans to slash another 3,000 jobs in its consumer and community banking division by the end of the year.   This is on top of earlier reports from the company to cut 7,000 jobs in its mortgage banking business and 4,000 positions in its consumer and community banking division.

This is part of the bank’s overall plans to reduce expenses in its consumer banking unit by $2 billion between 2014 and 2016.  Some of this cost cutting is expected to come from increased technology usage.

Scotiabank, also in the midst of a round of cost reductions, announced that it plans to cut 1,500 jobs in the next few months – 2/3rds of these cuts are expected to come from its domestic Canadian operations.

In addition, Capital One Bank announced plans to lay off more than 100 people in Houston early in 2015 when it moves responsibility for managing and processing account activity for its local branches out of Texas.

M&A Boom Prompting Demand for Staff

However, some bright spots are evident on Wall Street. According to data from Thompson Reuters, the value of mergers and acquisitions during the first three quarters of 2014 totaled $2.66 trillion – marking a 60% increase on a year-on-year basis.  This torrid pace of acquisitions continued in the 4th quarter as two of 2014’s biggest M&A deals – Activis’ $66 billion bid for Allergan and Halliburton’s $34.6 billion offer for rival Baker Hughes – took place in November.

The steady improvement in global M&A activity during 2014 is expected to result in increased M&A advisory fees for investment banks.  Some analysts suggest that the increased volume of mergers activity seen so far this year should result in a 12% jump in investment banking fees for the industry as a whole in the third quarter as compared to the previous quarter.

As a result of this increase in M&A volumes and resulting rise in investment banking fees, some Wall Street firms have felt it necessary to increase their staffing in order to meet the demands of the increased workload in their investment banking divisions.

Impact on the Research Industry

While it is difficult to forecast whether the surge in M&A activity will continue into 2015, many experts believe that the surge in activity seen in 2014 is not a temporary phenomenon, but rather the beginning of an uptrend as CEO’s and corporate boards become more confident about the future.

If this does in fact take place, we would not be surprised to see investment banks invest more heavily in its equity research division in order to better compete for juicy banking mandates and provide appropriate aftermarket support for these deals once they are secured.

However, this does not mean that the cash equities business, which provides the economic foundation for the equity research business, looks to be improving very much in the coming year.  In fact, weak equity commission volumes and increased regulatory pressures are likely to moderate hiring at sell-side and independent research businesses for the foreseeable future.

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Insider Trading 2.0: Hackers Stealing Corporate Tips

December 4th, 2014

Cybersecurity researchers revealed earlier this week that they have uncovered a computer espionage ring that has been stealing corporate secrets from dozens of pharmaceutical and healthcare firms.  They argue that the hackers seem to have been stealing data that would give them an illicit leg up making stock transactions.

Background of the Story

The publically traded computer security firm, FireEye Inc, disclosed that over the past eighteen months this group of hackers, dubbed FIN4, has been attacking the e-mail accounts at more than 100 U.S. healthcare and pharmaceutical companies that trade on the NYSE or NASDAQ.

Executives at FireEye explain that FIN4 has only targeted people at these firms who have access to material non-public information which the hackers could profitably trade on before the data was made public.  In addition, FIN4 seem to have attacked key advisers outside the companies including investment bankers, attorneys and investor relations firms.

The kind of information collected by the hackers include drafts of SEC filings, merger and acquisition documents, discussions of pending legal cases, key board documents, and the results of medical research.

FireEye management believes that members of the FIN4 ring were trained at Wall Street investment banks, enabling them to knowledgeably identify their targets and draft convincing phishing e-mails.  In addition, the security firm says that the hackers are likely from the US or Europe based on the language and sentence structure used in their phishing e-mails.

While FireEye says it does not know whether FIN4 traded on the information it stole, it has turned over what it’s learned about the hacking ring to the FBI.  Shares of FireEye were up more than 4% after the company disclosed that it had been tracking this hacking ring.

Integrity’s Take

What’s interesting about this story is that it marks the first significant case where potential insider trading activity could have resulted from a prolonged effort by hackers to steal sensitive corporate information.

Ultimately, this means that the DOJ and SEC will need to shift its focus from investigating insider trading activity at hedge funds to a new type of insider trading scheme – one engineered by computer savvy hackers.  While we suspect this won’t make it any easier on hedge funds, we do think it could make it more difficult for federal authorities who will need to investigate new types of criminal cases with limited resources.

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Harassing Short Ideas in India

December 1st, 2014

A former analyst for short-ideas researcher Veritas Investment Research Corporation was arrested by Indian police on Friday.   The arrest came as Indian regulators are finalizing new restrictions on foreign research firms.

Indian police reportedly arrested stock analyst Nitin Mangal after Indiabulls Real Estate Ltd. alleged that he demanded $50,000 to withhold an unflattering research report he wrote for Toronto-based Veritas in 2012, according to articles in the Economic Times and Bloomberg.  Mangal’s lawyer said the action was harassment.

Indian police are also reportedly seeking to extradite from Canada the co-author of the Veritas Indiabulls report.

Veritas published a report in August 2012 authored by Mangal and Neeraj Monga claiming poor corporate governance and lack of disclosure at Indiabulls group companies.  Indiabulls quickly responded by filing criminal charges against the two authors for extortion and forgery.

In August of this year, Veritas and Monga filed a claim in Canadian courts against Indiabulls Real Estate and Indiabulls Housing Finance Ltd. alleging libel, conspiracy and the infliction of economic harm and seeking C$11 million (US$9.7 million) in damages.  Veritas shut down its Indian operations in 2012 and no longer follows Indian companies.

Veritas shook Indian markets in 2011 with harsh reports attacking the financial reporting and governance of large Indian companies.  Veritas put out a report on Reliance Industries and Reliance Commuications in July 2011,  Kingfisher Airlines in September 2011, and DLF in March 2012.  Kingfisher subsequently reported large financial losses and the founder of DLF was banned from the company after regulators found financial reporting irregularities.

Veritas provides earnings quality, forensic accounting and fundamental valuation analysis on about 85 names.  Unlike Muddy Waters or Citron Research, which make money by front-running their research, Veritas relies on subscriptions from institutional investors.  The firm has been in business since 2000, and is primarily staffed with forensic accountants.

Mangal, who set up his own research firm Trudom Investment Research Corporation in 2012, is a chartered accountant who previously worked as an equity analyst at the Indian investment bank Edelweiss Capital.  Co-author Neeraj Monga left Veritas this summer to set up his own investment firm, ANTYA Investments.

As we noted at the time, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) announced it was considering regulating independent research analysts in March 2012, apparently in response to the Veritas reports.

In November 2013, SEBI issued a consultation paper on draft regulation requiring foreign independent research firms to set up Indian subsidiaries which would need to be registered with SEBI.  The comment period closed last December and SEBI is reportedly close to finalizing the regulation.

Our Take

It is not uncommon for companies to take legal action against authors of short-oriented research reports.  Gradient Analytics was harassed for years by Biovail and Overstock.com before the charges were settled.  Biovail’s successor firm issued a statement that the original litigation against Gradient was ‘regrettable’.  However, that doesn’t stop publicly-traded companies from trying to suppress negative research and retaliate against equity analysts who hold negative opinions.

What is particularly regrettable is SEBI’s indirect support for suppressing “foreign” research.  It is unclear what protections independent research firms registering under SEBI’s new regulations would have against aggressive actions similar to those taken by Indiabulls.  Firms like Veritas have no incentive to subject their analysts to the legal risks posed by companies such as Indiabulls, not to mention the legal costs.  The net effect of the new SEBI regulation will be to discourage research firms from uncovering questionable practices in Indian companies.  Firms like Veritas will shun the market, leaving the ground open to the “short and shout” firms like Muddy Waters, Citron, and others that make money by driving down prices.  SEBI’s actions designed to police bear cartels will in the end make those cartels more lucrative.

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The Slow and Bumpy Recovery in Equities Hiring

November 26th, 2014

The following perspective on equities staffing is from Oliver Rolfe, who heads Spartan Partnership, a London-based executive search firm specializing in equities recruiting.

Over the past 6 years the world of equities has taken a dramatic turn which has left hundreds, if not thousands of talented analysts, sales people and traders out of a job they loved so dearly. However in 2011 I had predicted that we would see an uptick in the equity world by September/October of 2013 that would spark the new, albeit slow beginning. This is has happened and the time is now to reorganise and structure any bank or broker to mirror their core values or fear the potential of being swallowed by the markets.

In the years following 2008 and the financial crash, equity markets have wanted to rebound as quickly as they had fallen. In 2009/10 we had a false dawn that had seen many firms either merge with one another, significantly reducing in size or shutting down altogether. With the global governments pumping in billions of dollars in to the financial system we had to see some improvement.

From the CEO’s and founders I know personally, the consensus view was one of crash to boom to bust, and finally to a settled level. The Wall Street Crash in the 1920’s took circa 15 years to recover and we now are 8 years down the road from our latest crisis.  Although we are on uncertain ground, with the likes of Espirito Santo more recently, we will continue to ride the curve both up and down until it levels off again. Throughout this time period you will see the cream rise to the top and hiring become more specialised and focused, but you will definitely see it.

Recruitment, since September/October 2013, has seen a real rise in opportunities both on the buy-side and sell-side. Whilst the buy-side has been happy to take talent of any age and sector, the recruits on the sell-side have been much more specific and reliant on seniority and a strong client franchise that would benefit the hiring company on revenues and client base.

Due to the pool of talent in the City of London dwindling dramatically in recent years, from those either leaving or being pushed out of the market, we will either see a rise in the cost of hiring and bidding up to secure talent or there will be a drive towards hiring individuals from consulting and accounting firms.

We have seen the likes of Oliver Wyman, PWC, Deloitte, Gartner & many other consulting firms be a hunting ground for asset managers, hedge funds & investment banks globally. This is driven towards hiring more sectorially focused analysts that would be in line with a banks strategy across their verticals or the buy-side across their funds. Additionally, the increase in hiring consultants will also come as a further service to clients on both the buy & sell side in a market that is screaming out for a full service.

Personally, I do not see how we can afford to increase costs in these markets but I do expect the best to get paid whilst banks and brokers look to hire the new breed of analysts outside of the market at a considerably lower cost.

We have seen a big jump in the number of US firms entering the European market and we have personally been building teams to attack the market share of JP Morgan, Citi, Morgan Stanley and BoA-ML as their service to clients worsen and they lose their way. The time is now for the mid-tier to gain market share and profitability, the market place; is Europe. We see Sterne Agee as an example of a firm which has been building it’s equities team, and is one to watch, now and in the future, for US Equities in Europe.

With the FSA, no sorry, FCA, let’s just call them the City Police banning the payment for corporate access with client commissions, we have seen some companies being heavily affected. None more so than Atlantic Equities, the US Equities broker famed for their strong corporate relationships. It is said that a number of Atlantic’s clients have halved the number that they can pay the firm, and in some cases more than half.  Atlantic has made some tough decisions and have cut two founding partners as well as individuals in sales and research, whilst losing some analysts to competitors – the world has changed and all companies must restructure and compensate for this loss, now and in the future.

Spartan Partnership offers an executive search capability within Global Equities, including Equity Research, Equity Sales, Equity Sales Trading and Equity Trading.   As a pure Equities search firm, Spartan provides a consultative approach, adding strategic advice, human capital growth and organisational development.  Founder Oliver Rolfe has over a decade experience in equities recruiting, assisting clients in building their global offices, departments and teams.   For more information on Spartan Partnership please visit www.spartan-partnership.com or contact Oliver Rolfe, Founder & Managing Director at +44 203 440 5885 or +1 646 688 2393, oliver.rolfe@spartan-exec.com.

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Dodilio Looking To Sell Business

November 24th, 2014

Dodolio, a custom investment research procurement platform, is now looking to find a strategic buyer to purchase the assets of its business, after spending the past few years building out its proprietary technology platform and proving its business model.

Firm Background

Founded in April 2011 and headquartered in Needham, Massachusetts, Dodilio was fully launched in April 2013.  Dodilio is a research procurement platform, bringing providers and consumers of custom research together to make it more accessible and affordable for both parties.  Dodilio’s competitive advantage comes down to process and technology – being able to deliver research better, faster and at a lower cost.

The Dodilio platform enables research consumers to make a request for a specific custom research project to numerous research providers that have expertise in delivering the needed type of work.  Dodilio’s competitive auction platform makes providers compete on both competence and price for every RFP promoting both price transparency and process efficiency.  Dodilio’s traditional customers are typically larger scale purchasers of custom research.  The Company is focused on three customer end markets:

  1. Financial Institutions – both public and private investors that need custom investment research including capital markets professionals in need of transaction due diligence;
  2. Corporations – companies requiring market research solutions which span business development, corporate marketing, and investor relations; and,
  3. Service Firms – includes consulting firms and universities.

Since Dodilio went operational in 2013, they have consummated close to 40 transactions on their platform averaging close to $20,000 per deal.  The company makes money in two ways, including charging a base level subscription to research purchasers to gain access to their database of providers; and a commission based on the value of the custom research project purchased over the platform.

Market Opportunity

According to Dodolio management, the global investment research and data marketplace totals approximately $20 bln per year.  However, Dodolio is focused on serving the marketplace for custom research mandates – which they estimate totals close to $2.0 bln per year globally.

Dodolio believes that the demand for custom research is growing rapidly.  However, they see significant barriers for consumers to engage custom research providers, including:

  • Providers are hard to find;
  • Quality is uncertain;
  • Pricing is difficult to assess; and,
  • Acquiring custom research lacks anonymity.

Today, custom research is purchased in one of three primary ways:  (i) an in-house analyst runs a one-off, infrequent process; (2) the request is outsourced to a specific large scale incumbent research provider (e.g., Gartner, Forrester); or (3) the request is procured from an expensive middle-man, often a large consulting firm.

Dodilio sees three primary types of competitors serving consumers who want custom research.  Full-service consulting firms sell a total solution, aggregating expertise from diversified providers, i.e. not direct.  Second, research platforms exist which distribute syndicated research, but they lack customization.  Third, expert networks offer custom solutions, but the projects are advisory based versus project based and are sourced by moonlighters and independent members, rather than institutional grade research providers.

Dodolio believes that their proprietary technology platform and their database of custom research providers solves many of the issues potential clients currently face.

Assets To Be Sold

As mentioned previously, Dodolio plans to sell all the assets necessary to operate and expand its business on a going forward basis.  This includes:

Software – Dodilio has created a system where an automated request for proposal (“RFP”) enables clients to efficient and transparent share requirements for potential projects and research firms can share their specific capabilities which line up with the project.  In addition, the Dodilio platform aggregates bids and cost-sharing opportunities transparently; and, matches research provider responses to enable the selection of the best provider.  All code for the system will be provided as part of the sale.

Patent – Dodolio has applied for a relevant patent regarding its system.  This patent is for a computer implemented system and method for conducting and disseminating financial research products and services among users in an investment community including a social network module configured to store electronic user files for each of the users.  Generates a network user interface configured to enable communication among the users via the users’ client computers in real time and/or asynchronously. U.S. App. No. 13/563,900, Filed on August 1, 2012, Status: Pending

Database – Critical to the Dodilio platform is its database of 4,000+ research providers, all of which are tagged and classified based on domain expertise.  Participating providers include expert networks (e.g., Maven and Primary Insights), broker-dealers (e.g., UBS, J.P. Morgan, Merriman, Wunderlich), data providers (e.g., ITG, Discern), and other institutional-grade independent research providers (e.g., HSI, Deloitte).  The database will be provided as part of the sale.

Management Team – Dodilio’s principals are integral to the operations and technology of the platform and are available to operate the virtual procurement exchange on behalf of the acquiring party or provide related consulting services.

Rationale for Sale

For the past year, Dodolio management has been looking to raise capital to fund the scaling of its business.  And while many investors were interested in the firm’s business model, platform, and competitive advantage, most felt the firm lacked one key asset required for an exchange like Dodolio to become successful – and that is access to a large universe of potential research consumers.

Consequently, in recent months, Dodolio management made the difficult decision to consider trying to sell the assets of the business to a buyer who might have the right distribution.  A few of these types of firms include:

  1. Trading firm / Agency broker – Any firm that provided execution services to institutional investors but who did not already have their own in-house research services.
  2. Market Data Vendor – Any firm like Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, or FactSet that was in the business of selling content to the institutional investor community.
  3. Social Media / Technology Vendor – Any firm like LinkedIn, Yahoo, Google, Seeking Alpha or SumZero which was in the business of building and serving a community and who might benefit from being able to commercialize these relationships by selling professional content to them.
  4. Startup FinTech Company – Any firm that was interested in adding investment content to their business and providing a way to make money from this content..
  5. Global Investor – Any large global investor like Bridgewater, Fortress, or Fidelity who might find the Dodolio platform useful to manage the internal process of finding and procuring external research among their staff of investment professionals.

Next Steps for Interested Parties

As part of this effort to sell the business, Dodilio has hired business advisor, Sherwood Partners, Inc. to identify interested parties and to manage the sales process.  If you are interested in learning more about the possibility of acquiring Dodolio’s assets, contact:

Mr. Kumar Singla
Sherwood Partners, Inc.
555 Fifth Ave., 14th Floor
New York, New York 10017
Direct:         212-994-8156
Facsimile:   650-454-8049
Email:          ksingla@shrwood.com

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Herb Greenberg Founding Short Ideas Research Firm

November 19th, 2014

Journalist Herb Greenberg announced he will leave TheStreet at the end of the year to set up a short-oriented research firm, GVB Financial Research.  He will be joined by Donn Vickrey, a founder of Gradient Analytics, and John Bossler, founder of C & L Research, a short ideas boutique.

Greenberg announced his decision in a post on LinkedIN.   Greenberg ran an independent research firm, Greenberg Meritz Research & Analytics, for two years prior to becoming a commentator on CNBC.

Donn Vickrey is a well-known forensic researcher, having been a founder of Camelback Research Alliance in 1995 which, after a name change to Gradient Analytics, sold its qualitative research unit to Sabrient Systems in 2011.  Vickrey recently left Sabrient to co-found Vickery-Brown Investments, which specializes in investment strategies which combine quantitative strategies, forensic accounting and volatility controls.

John Bossler also has an extensive research pedigree, having started as an analyst at Fahnestock in 1998, then moving to Dominick & Dominck.  He recently ran C & L Research, a provider of  proprietary short/long research for hedge funds.

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Singular Research Hosts Ninth Annual “Best of the Uncovereds” Investment Conference

November 18th, 2014

Small and micro cap companies often outperform the overall stock market.  Unfortunately, most investment banks focus on large and mid-cap names, resulting in a lack of high quality research on companies with market caps under $2.0 billion.  Fortunately, a number of independent research firms traffic in this type of research.  One such firm is Singular Research, who is sponsoring its Ninth Annual “Best of the Uncovereds” Investment Conference this Thursday, November 20, 2014, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Westin New York at Times Square. Refer below to the press release for this upcoming conference.

———————————

Singular Research invites press and analysts to attend our Ninth Annual “Best of the Uncovereds” Investment Conference on November 20, 2014, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Westin New York at Times Square.

We feature some of the best, uncovered companies with small and microcap market capitalizations. Learn more about the event here.

You will hear from over 20 specially selected top tier companies. Presenting companies will give a 30 minute presentation in a formal setting, followed by a group question and answer break-out session. We can also arrange one-on-one meetings with presenters upon request.

“The recent West Coast edition of this conference was our best ever with 25 company presenters interacting with over 200 financial professionals and we expect a similar event in New York,” said Robert Maltbie, President, Singular Research. “We are thrilled to feature presenters who are not typically covered and are ‘off the radar,’ but who also show great performance potential for investors. They truly are the best of the uncovered and positioned for explosive growth.”

A preliminary presenter list is below (we expect over 20 presenters):

ACETO Corporation (ACET)
Acme United Corporation (ACU)
Adaptive Medias, Inc (ADTM)
Advanced Emissions Solutions (ADES)
Axion Power International (AXPW)
Bacterin International (BONE)
Comstock Mining Inc. (LODE)
DXP Enterprises (DXPE)
Highpower (HPJ)
IntelGenx Technologies Corp. (IGXT)
INTL FCStone Inc. (INTL)
Manitex International (MNTX)
Midwest Energy Emissions Corp (MEEC)
Multi-Color Corporation (LABL)
Newtek Business Services (NEWT)
Prospect Capital Corporation (PSEC)
Seabridge Gold (SA)
Sparton Corporation (SPA)
Trecora Resources (TREC)
Youngevity International (YGYI)
* Presenter list is subject to change

Our audience consists of institutional investors with a specific interest in identifying attractive small and microcap companies. Their makeup includes portfolio managers, hedge fund managers, family offices, wealth managers, and analysts representing over $70 billion in assets and investing funds. Our attendees include leading banking, trading and brokerage firms and their clients, as well as prominent five star-rated small and micro-cap portfolio managers.

Singular Research, based in LA and NY, is one of the most trusted providers of unbiased, performance-based research on small and micro-cap companies to fund managers. Singular provides initiation reports and quarterly updates for approximately 60 companies. In many cases, Singular’s analysts research companies that are not often covered by any other firms.

Qualified editorial press are invited to request a comp pass to cover this event. Send an email with your name, title, outlet and link to articles or coverage to Bill Jones. wjones@singularresearch.com.

Contacts

Singular Research
William Jones, CFA
267-987-2082
wjones@singularresearch.com


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The Dog Ate My Alpha: Why Research Might Matter More in 2015

November 17th, 2014

We have all heard that most active investment managers tend to under-perform their relevant market benchmarks.  And while this trend seems to have continued in 2014, there are some studies which suggest that investment research aimed at helping portfolio managers pick stocks could be a big driver of performance in 2015 and beyond.


Poor Asset Manager Performance Continues

According to Standard & Poor’s regular report cards, actively managed domestic mutual funds have a rather dismal record when compared with investing in passive indexes.  In 2010 58% of all domestic mutual funds underperformed when matched against the S&P 1500, in 2011 84% lagged behind the market, and in 2012 66% did worse than the averages.

For this three year period, each of the thirteen mutual fund categories tracked by S&P, on average posted returns worse than their respective benchmarks.  During this period, only Large Cap Value mutual funds beat their benchmark once — in 2010 when 65% of this class of funds exceeded the S&P 500 Value Index.  Unfortunately, in 2012 Large Cap Value funds gave back most of their outperformance when 85% of these funds underperformed their benchmark.

According to a recent article published by Bloomberg Business Week, Bank of America Corp. strategist Savita Subramanian recently calculated that the number of mutual funds which have outperformed their respective indices during the first ten months of 2014 was a mere 18% — the lowest success rate in 10 years.


Buy-Side Excuses Proliferate

Of course, most investment managers have come up with numerous excuses for why their mutual funds have under-performed the market in 2014 for anyone who will listen.  The Bloomberg article highlights a few of these excuses.

Some managers argue that their underperformance was based primarily on the fact that they did not invest in one or two stocks, including Apple or Microsoft.  Apple rose 41% in 2014 while Microsoft rallied 33% during the year – counting for a significant portion of the S&P 500’s 30% rally.

Other managers contend that the Federal Reserve continued monetary easing led to tighter correlations and less dispersion between different industry groups, making it difficult to identify potential outperformers as all sectors were propelled higher.  Some argue that the boom in ETFs have created a similar circumstance.


Some Changes in the Offing

However, this rather difficult market for stock-pickers could be about to change says the Bloomberg article.  In a recent report titled, ‘‘Era of Active Investing Upon Us,” BMO Capital Markets chief investment strategist Brian Belski concluded that intra-stock correlations, or the tendency of stocks to rise or fall together, have dropped in recent months and are now at below-average levels after being above average for many years.

Tom Lee of FundStrat Global Advisors also argues that the narrow dispersion of returns among industry groups seen in recent years is actually cyclical and that this dispersion is likely to revert back to the long-term average – a development which would provide a boost to the performance of actively managed funds.


Consequences for Research Industry

If these analysts are right, then investment managers who are skilled at stock-picking should be rewarded.  The good news for participants in the research industry is that research that can help investors accurately identify winners and losers could have a greater impact on the alpha of their funds, thereby making this type of research more valuable.

In our minds, this could be a boon for fundamental sector specialists, short ideas providers, and other investment research providers that have deep industry expertise or a good track record providing specific long or short stock recommendations.  Clearly this would be a welcome development after the last few years where many buy-side firms have trimmed their expenditures on sell-side and independent research.

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MiFID II Will Not Ban Research Commissions

November 12th, 2014

According to an article the Financial Times, European legislators have decided not to ban the use of client commissions for the payment of research, as proposed by UK regulators.  During a presentation at a Financial Times event in London, a member of the European parliament said that the priority for European regulation should be commission disclosure not a ban on research commissions.

Kay Swinburne, the Member of the European Parliament (MEP) representing Wales, participates in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, which is involved in new financial regulation under MiFID II.

The FT quoted her as saying that a ban on paying for research through client commissions was off the table:  “The banning of dealing commissions was discussed in meetings and there was a clear decision taken to not ban the use of commissions,” adding “MEPs have subsequently made it very clear to ESMA [the European Securities and Market Authority] that disclosure of the use of commissions is sufficient and banning of commissions should be off the table.”

It is telling that a MEP representing the UK is opposed to regulation proposed by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).  Ms. Swinburne is Conservative co-ordinator for Economic and Monetary Affairs, having been elected to the European parliament after a career in investment banking.

Frustrated by its perception of a lack of industry progress on commission transparency, the FCA proposed a ban on research commissions in July, igniting a firestorm of opposition.  The FCA had hoped that the ban would be incorporated in pending European regulation under MiFID II.  However, its stance mobilized protests from a wide variety of industry participants, including asset managers, investment banks and independent research providers and their respective trade associations.

An influential advisory group to European securities regulators attacked the proposal and senior French regulators went public with their opposition to a ban.

Even though MiFID II regulation will now likely not ban payment for research with client commissions, there is nothing to prevent the FCA from taking a stricter stance.  As Ms. Swinburne noted, “The FCA, however, has the flexibility to go further under investor protection if they choose to do so, and we need to make sure they do not deviate too far away from the ESMA rules.”   She argued that separating costs could hurt the research market and efforts to bring companies to the market, concerns similar to those voiced by French regulators.

However, the FCA does not need to implement new regulation to shake up the industry.  The new guidelines it implemented in June are doing that already, as we have noted.  The new regulation banned the payment for corporate access with client commissions, required more rigorous valuation of bundled research, and prohibits payment for research which is not utilized.

As we predicted two months ago, MiFID II will not ban research commissions.  However, that does not mean the industry does not face significant reform.  European regulators seem disposed to use MiFID II to prod the industry for more commission transparency.  CSAs are well positioned to benefit.

We also suspect that European regulators will go even further toward replicating the current FCA rules, whether or not explicit language is incorporated in the MiFID II rules.  European regulators may not have the FCA’s detailed understanding of research commissions, but they can grasp the concept that research payments should not increase just because trading volumes increase.  It is even possible that the SEC might make a token effort in the interest of regulatory harmony.

While the industry might breathe a sigh of relief at averting a ban on research commissions, the prospect of broad regulatory acceptance of the new FCA regime will be more than sufficient to ensure major changes in the research landscape.

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