The Globe and Mail, Report on Business
Published December 23, 2011
By Tom Bradley
I came out of the “me” generation (have I told you about my latest injury?), so even though this time of year is about giving, I’m mostly into receiving. In our household, my wife Lori goes for quantity at Christmas, while I’m all about quality. When I wrote Santa this year, I asked for both.
Dear Santa, I’m running a small, growing investment firm and need better markets. I’m not asking for another 2009. That would be too greedy, even for me. Your help with my U.S. stocks last year was much appreciated and it would be great if you focused on my value plays in Japan and Europe for 2012. I know they aren’t growing very fast and have a few warts, but they won’t break your budget. They’re really cheap.
In the past I’ve asked for lower interest rates, but you can stop now. Indeed, they’re hammering the pension plan I serve on, not to mention our retired clients, and my readers are starting to doubt my view that rates are going back up. Your lovely present has turned into a lump of coal.
Santa, I’d like a book, or some divine insight, that helps explain why the reasons for buying gold don’t change, no matter whether the price is $800, $1,600 or $2,600. Doesn’t valuation factor into my decision somehow?
Boxing Day prices
It’s not all about me Santa. I also want you to help my young friends chill out and become less petrified of stocks. They need to embrace the opportunity they’ve been given by politicians in Washington and Brussels. Investors with a time horizon of more than 10 years, let alone 30, should be trying to scratch together as much money as possible to invest. I know they’re scratching now, but it’s for a down payment to buy an overpriced house. My generation hasn’t been too good at managing the fear/greed thing, but there’s hope for our children.
I want provincial governments to give more funding to their regulators. (Did I just say that?) There is so much to do and more urgency than ever. Investors desperately need proper performance and fee reporting. They need to know how they’re doing and what they’re paying for advice and investment management. The current state of affairs is beyond ridiculous, but most companies won’t act until they’re forced to. Please Santa, use your charm to halt the perpetual public consultations, and get the regulators to just ram the rules down the industry’s throat. It’s time.
(I’m not usually this blunt Santa, but I feel I can talk to you.)
Investors are screaming for someone they can trust – investment-oriented firms that have clients’ best interests at heart. Santa, can you deliver to these disillusioned investors the stewardship grades that Morningstar has worked so hard to create? Their research is the best measure we have of alignment between client and manager, but nobody is paying any attention to it, including the media and bloggers. It’s been shown that, in general, firms that rate highly on stewardship generate better long-term returns.
Santa, there are a few little things I need. I’d like more stocks, less bonds. More Vanguard, less closed-end funds. More no-load, less load. I desperately need more Wealthy Barbers and fewer economists. More Lang, less O’Leary. And more dividends, less “Premium Enhanced Protected Tax-Efficient Deceptively Expensive Dividend Income” funds.
And finally Santa, if you have any time and energy left, I have one more request, although it’s a toughie. I want you to make “small” cool again. How about working your magic so people remember what it was like when their investment firms were personal and investment driven. Santa, it’s not that much of a stretch. Scale makes it harder for fund managers to do their thing, so when it comes to managing a portfolio, help spread the word: “Small is the new big.”
If you’re not able to deliver on all this stuff, I’ll understand. More than anything, I want Canadian investors to be excited about the opportunities ahead and the options they have. And Santa, when you’ve planted these sugar plums in their heads, make sure you use my strategy, not Lori’s – quality over quantity.