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Toronto Hedge Funds Summit: Investment Research Panel

I’m enjoying visiting Toronto this week at the http://www.worldhedgefundssummit.com/ . Here are my notes on today’s Investment Research Panel, preceded by the speaker biographies.

Moderator: David Weild IV

The National Research Exchange (The NRE) is the originator of Intermediated ResearchSM, which helps public companies to secure greater visibility and liquidity in the public markets and research providers to establish new sources of sustainable revenue. Their proprietary analytical tools enable users to evaluate the competitive strengths of research providers and the equity capital markets performance of investment banks.

David Weild IV served as vice chairman of The NASDAQ Stock Market and spent fourteen years at Prudential Securities, where he served as president of PrudentialSecurities.com, head of corporate finance, head of technology investment banking, and head of equity capital markets. He also chaired Prudential’s Equity New Issues Commitment Committee.

Doug Atkin

Majestic helps investors gain an independent perspective of companies and their sectors based on our exclusive relationships with proprietary data sources. We are experts in identifying and securing industry data licenses and turning that information into meaningful research. Doug Atkin was previously President and CEO of Instinet Group, where he conducted the IPO (NASDAQ: INGP), developed Instinet’s research, international trading and correspondent clearing businesses, and led a consortium of nine global brokerage firms that took a majority stake in the virt-x stoc exchange. He served on both the Trading Committee and Market Structure Committee of the SIA. Doug was selected one of the Top New Yorkers of 1999 by New York magazine for his leading role in redefining the financial marketplace. In 2000, Institutional Investor profiled Doug as one of the top 10 individuals making the greatest impact on e-finance, and was presented with The Travers Bell Memorial Award of Distinction sponsored by the SIA. Doug serves as a member of the Board of Directors of Starmine and WR Hambrecht. He is a graduate of Tufts University.

Scott Lichtman

Nitron Advisors, Inc. is an independent research firm, specializing in providing institutional investors and law firms with real-time, frontline information through our proprietary Circle of Experts. Our clients learn from our experts through one-on-one consultations, customized surveys, and interactive events. Our clients include investment banks, hedge funds, mutual funds, private equity firms, and law firms.

Scott Lichtman has nearly twenty years of experience in financial services, technology and consulting companies. Among his previous positions were oversight of Messaging/Collaboration Product Management and Marketing at Communicator Inc — a provider of communications, compliance and operations-related information services for institutional investors and brokers; Senior Director of Marketing at InterWorld, the e-commerce software provider that drove the online growth of firms including Nike, Disney and GTE; Senior Director of Strategic Marketing at Oracle Corporation — where he managed pricing, e-commerce sales support and business development; and IT & Strategy consultant at Deloitte Consulting. Mr. Lichtman also ran his own online-collaboration consulting firm, Vitaltouch Consulting, and in that capacity guided operations for a firm that provided banking services to low-income individuals. Scott has written analyst reports and articles on topics ranging from pricing strategies in the technology industry to online communities. He received an MBA from Harvard Business School, a Master of Economics from the London School of Economics and a Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Paul Spillane

Through experienced sales and trading professionals, Soleil Securities Group connects institutional investors with an expanding network of accomplished independent research providers. They gather and filter insightful, actionable research ideas and deliver them to portfolio managers, buy-side analysts and trading desks. They also provide trading services through which asset managers can direct order flow as payment for the ideas and services they value. Paul Spillane has been in the securities industry for over 25 years. He started his career at Goldman Sachs, where he worked in fixed income, foreign exchange, commodities, futures, and options products. He then moved to Deutsche Bank, serving as managing director and head of global market sales for the Americas. Spillane subsequently transferred to global equities as a senior member of the executive team responsible for building the global equities businesses. Most recently, he was responsible for establishing Deutsche Bank’s Global Relationship Management program.

Paul Warme

Lusight is an independent investment research firm, with a focus on Global Emerging Markets. They have taken a unique approach to the production and distribution of investment research by developing a web-based Open Research Platform that allows clients to access our research reports, plus all of the inputs and tools we’ve used to produce our research, including company data, interactive financial models with base case forecasts, and a powerful analytical tool. Lusight conducts much of its operations in Toronto, leveraging an international research staff that has emigrated to Canada. Paul Warme is a co-founder of Lusight, and currently serves as Managing Principal and Head of Research. Paul has 15 years of international banking, M&A and capital markets experience. He began his career with Scotiabank’s strategic investment group and was involved in evaluating and executing acquisitions in Latin America and Asia. He also spent two years in Chile advising Scotia’s local affiliate on banking best practices, and one year in Mexico restructuring a distressed bank. Most recently Paul spent five years in New York as a senior analyst covering emerging markets financial institutions at Paribas and ING Barings, where he was also head of Latin America research. A Canadian citizen, Paul holds an MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

PANEL

Doug Atkins: Majestic is a data-intensive research firm. Very technology- and data-based. Just like technology augmented the trading model, we’re augmenting research through technology. We scrape 100m websites/month: number of eBay listings, what people are paying for keywords on Google, what 3500 doctors are prescribing, what they’re offering as samples. Our team brings these multiple data sources together to give another perspective to investors on the companies and markets they have holdings in. The goal is to either track, confirm or refute their hypotheses.

Scott Lichtman: Nitron helps institutional investors increase their returns by providing direct access to senior industry experts. The experts we provide are used via phone and in-person consultations. These industry executives have highly specialized expertise and are provided on short notice, to comment on questions ranging from likely customer response to a new technology, to means of estimating production from an oil or mineral deposit, to predicting the impact of regulation impacting healthcare service providers.

We serve hedge funds, bulge-bracket prop desks, mutual funds, private equity and venture capital investors in the US, Canada and Europe. Our clients particularly find our service useful in two situations: a) a quick take on a situation for opportunistic investors that are scanning across sectors and continents for opportunities, and b) specific due diligence on an investment target by long-hold and private equity firms.

Paul Spillane: Our goal is to be the premier aggregator and distributor of intellectual content, providing a range of services to our clients. We do specialty dinners, bringing management on the road, etc. Our analysts only get paid if you, the consumer of research, value their insights and choose to pay them. We are a virtual research organization, partnering with outside, 3rd-party providers.

Paul Warme: announced as the “Canadian representative” on the panel, as Lusight and all its analysts are based in Toronto. They not only serve BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) but other countries such as Kazakhstan, Colombia, etc. We have both dedicated and opportunistic emerging market investors as clients.

David Weild: What does your firm do that investors value most?

Paul Warme: We focus on mid-caps/small-caps in those emerging markets. The companies usually are not covered at all, or only by local brokers. We deliver not only research product, but also all the models and raw inputs that went into that research. We do this with a proprietary research platform we developed—a workflow tool.

Paul Spillane: Some hedge funds like our anonymous trading desk, some like our recommendations, some like our access to management. Each and every client can use us as a virtual research dept.

Scott Lichtman: Clients value that Nitron’s industry experts are (1) senior, (2) specialized and (3) have fresh insights.

1) Senior. We seek the most senior experts to validate investment hypotheses of our clients. Example: a Senior EVP of Operations for one of the largest automotive firms; a chief strategist of a major group at Microsoft; the former chief of exploration for one of the world’s largest oil & gas firms.

2) Specialized. One client recently asked for an expert on the specific extraction costs and political conditions surrounding a proposed mining project in the Andes mountains. Only a small number of people in the world are qualified to answer that question.

3) Fresh. Because the questions posed to us are so specialized and because we reach over 100,000 experts to address requests, we’re careful to use experts sparingly. This means that the same opinion is often accessible to only one or two firms rather than the many that may receive typical published reports.

Doug Atkins: Majestic’s customers are looking for info that tracks, confirms, or blows out their investment thesis.

David Weild: What specific services are you focusing on now?

Paul Spillane: We’re looking at 3-5 new research models/week that come out. Moving into fixed income—recently signed with partner that covers 350 fixed income issuances. Will soon expand into international services.

David Weild: I’ve heard of funds saying, "I’ll be your 12th customer, but I don’t want you to take anyone else." How do you balance their desire for limited access, with your desire for growth?

Paul Spillane: Every client wants to feel like your #1 client. We spend a huge amount of time understanding our clients. They all want to be treated as individuals. In our model, we’ll just provide best service to the funds who pay us the most—-which is often not the largest company.

Doug Atkins: The traditional Wall Street model is hard to fathom. As an analogy, I’d love to get a car, drive it for a year, then tell the auto salesperson how much I’ve decided to pay for it. And maybe say, "I didn’t use the car so much; I don’t want to pay." We have 90% client renewal rate. Cover 110 names in 9 sectors. We also do a lot of custom work.

The way we address the challenge of balancing exclusivity with growth is through tiered access. We also will Dutch auction off our ‘silver-bullet’ data to 2-3 people.

David Weild: How do you all price?

Scott Lichtman: We provide more help when customer shares more about their strategy. We charge a quarterly retainer, or occasionally charge on a by-project basis.

Paul Warme: We’re primarily a commissions-based model, which is what clients prefer. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to charge for our services.

Paul Warme: Subscription model. A lot of custom/bespoke work, priced on an ad-hoc basis. For clients who have formal internal voting processes, we’re on the voting list for about 10 firms, and usually generate additional votes that mean clients pay us more than their base subscription price.

David Weild – It’s a sign of the dynamic nature of the research business that each firm here is using a variation of pricing models.

David Weild: How do funds measure value?

Doug Atkins: First, some thoughts on the regulatory backdrop:

+ Big issues are soft dollars. SEC just says there needs to be more disclosure.

+ Reg FD.

Paul Warme: A lot of Asian Emerging Market IPOs are taking place in London, partly to avoid the Reg FD/Sarbox issues.

David Weild: Good news: the SEC is very sensitized to the issue of over-reactive regulation, and trying to make US environment more friendly to attract more listings. I expect this legislation to be right-sized to be more accommodating.

David Weild: What are the biggest changes you expect to see in the research product or industry over the next three years?

Paul Warme: You’ll see a proliferation of research models. Some of the innovations will be completely unexpected from today’s standpoint.

Paul Spillane: There will be a lot of consolidation. This is the most exciting time to be in the research industry. Next 3-5 years will be a cornerstone of next 25 years.

Scott Lichtman: Certain trends are evident though it’s hard to time the future. The New York State Criminal Code used to state that persons "Pretending to Forecast the Future" shall be considered disorderly and liable to six months in prison. But in terms of trends, traditional/background research is becoming a commodity—can be delivered quickly and thoroughly by PhDs offshore who are paid $25,000-$50,000/year (e.g., Evalueserve).

What you will see as one response to research commoditization is the aggregation of different forms of research in tools that aggregate multiple viewpoints on a market or issue. For example, with a research aggregator, we’re now piloting the capability to pull up a ticker, review related research reports, then click on a ‘talk to a relevant expert’ button with professional biographies to review, all from one screen/one interface.

With the commoditization of traditional research and the decline of that economic model, I think we’re also seeing a significant reduction in coverage of smaller cap firms. The economics just aren’t there for the sell-side to provide as broad coverage as before. So instead people will come up with new economic models to address the “long tail of coverage”. In fact, we are announcing today a unique partnership with the National Research Exchange. They serve companies that want to deepen their coverage by facilitating research coverage, and we provide the experts who are readily available to analysts and investors to comment on markets. The experts are chosen and accessed independently from the covered companies, providing greater independence to their commentary.

Doug Atkins: The analog is what happened to trading platforms. Customers will be able to take fundamental data from Majestic, and combine it in-house with their own research.

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