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Jun 01, 2015

CIRI in the Rockies: Day one roundup

Canada’s IROs get together to talk oil and politics 

Excuse the obvious metaphor, but as CIRI’s 28th annual conference got going here amid the snow-covered peaks in Banff, Alberta, it was a day of highs and lows.

Shirley Chenier from Bombardier and Brian Ector from Baytex Energy

Conference co-chairs Shirley Chenier from Bombardier and Brian Ector from Baytex Energy

First the high: 209 registrants, more than predicted, clearly happy to be in this stunning mountain resort with likeminded IR folks from across the country. And the low: according to most of the high-caliber buy-siders and sell-siders on the stage today, Canadian equities are out of favor globally, especially oil stocks from western Canada. The result is a schism between cheerful personal catching up and woeful work stories.

Sometimes a corporate blow can also be a professional triumph. The opening keynote speaker, Baytex Energy’s CEO, Jim Bowzer, gave the perfect example. In December 2014, after oil prices had crashed and producers had had to slash their 2015 budgets, most of them sat on the details until January. But Baytex’s head of IR, Brian Ector pushed management hard to go on the road and show their new budget to the Street within a matter of days. Only a very few companies were as forthcoming.

Baytex Energy CEO Jim Bowzer

Baytex Energy CEO Jim Bowzer

‘It was one of the most strategic moves we’ve made and a competitive advantage,’ Bowzer said of Ector’s initiative.

Bowzer showed off a deep knowledge of the oil business while explaining it all in terms anyone could understand, and fielded questions on IR, sustainability reporting and politics with equal acuity.

Sustainable goals

Having to make hard choices about which breakout session to go to was another low, though CIRI has created a new Ideas Exchange (ie bulletin board) to help alleviate the problem. I chose a session on CSR led by Wesley Gee from the Works Design Communications.

The highlight was Marie-Josée Privyk from Innergex Renewable Energy, who gave the clearest explanation I’ve heard of how CSR reporting doesn’t just explain a company’s operations, it improves them. ‘Materiality is increasingly important in sustainability reporting. You want to be managing what’s important to your company, and you want to be talking about managing what’s important for your company,’ she described.

Privyk said her goal is to move toward integrated reporting, while her co-panelist, Algonquin Power’s Kelly Castledine, said she’s planning stakeholder engagement while working toward a third-party audit of her sustainability report.

Yvette Lokker, CIRI's president and CEO

Yvette Lokker, CIRI's president and CEO

Investment pro POV

Hearing from the buy side and sell side is a perk of CIRI’s annual conferences, especially considering the investment pros usually have to trek from Vancouver or Toronto. ‘In conversation with the Street’, moderated by Scotiabank’s head of global equity capital markets, John McCartney, covered the spectrum from buy-side portfolio manager to sell-side analyst, but with two more rare species between them: an energy sales specialist from Scotiabank, Derek Wheatley, as well as a liability trader from RBC, John Cole, whose role in pricing blocks of stock demands contact with IROs, which is unusual for traders.

The nugget in this session came with Wheatley exhorting IROs to ‘understand the ledger’ when they work with the sell side. ‘You need to pay the firms that influence your stock, even those that aren’t supportive,’ he said, emphasizing he meant access and roadshows, not cash.

Honoring the founders

Another high was an awards lunch including an inaugural group of CIRI Fellows, who have earned the designation F.CIRI for having ‘made significant contributions to the advancement of the investor relations profession and to CIRI throughout their careers.’ It was a rare treat to have most of these pioneers present.

Joey Brown, founding president of CIRI

Joey Brown, founding president of CIRI

CIRI’s CEO, Yvette Lokker, also presented the Belle Mulligan Scholarship for the 2015-2016 CIRI/Ivey Investor Relations Certification Program to Monica Hamm from Entree Gold, and the Belle Mulligan Award for Leadership in IR to Paul Carpino from Telus.

Lokker revealed that Carpino, who completed the Certified Professional in Investor Relations (CPIR) program the first year it was available, will be CPIR in residence during the coming year’s course, attending classes and sharing his wide knowledge. Carpino himself gave the program a rave review in his acceptance speech.

The final award, the CIRI Award for Excellence, was presented to George Kesteven from Sterling Resources, who declared himself ‘gobsmacked’ in an endearing speech.

Award of excellence winner George Kesteven

Award of excellence winner George Kesteven

What’s the point?

The last session of the day, before conference-goers went to change for a ‘country-chic corral’ party, was both a high and a low. The conference organizers expected a debate when they put the TMX Group’s Kevin Sampson on the same stage as Jos Schmitt, CEO of Aequitas Innovations, who is notoriously critical of Canada’s main exchange.

Though there were glimmers of a duel, the key players mostly danced around the issues. Even Victoria Pinnington from the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC), which has been studying high frequency trading, seemed to filibuster, and there was time for just one pointed question from ex-TSX executive Matt Fireman, which began to stir up the discussion just as it ended.

After everything, the audience was still left wondering: does Canada have a problem with predatory HFT? Does the TSX help facilitate it? Does Aequitas’s just launched Neo Exchange stop it? Sampson and Schmitt joked they would carry on the discussion at the party. Yee-haw!

exchanges panel
Pondering the future of Canada's capital markets