NIRI annual conference: Monday roundup

Jun 05, 2012
<p>The conference held panel discussions with CFOs and global portfolio managers on its second day</p>

For early risers, Monday offered a yoga class at 5.50 am. That was a tough ask, however, for delegates who partied into the night on Sunday at venues across Seattle.

The first general sessions of the conference kicked off a couple of hours later, with a welcome address delivered by event committee co-chairs Felise Glantz Kissell, vice president of IR at HSN, and Andrew Kramer, Interactive Data’s director of IR.

They were followed by Jeff Morgan, president and CEO of NIRI, who was quizzed by current NIRI chair Derek Cole on the state of the association and the profession.

Reflecting on the public markets, Morgan said he was keenly aware that the number of listed companies has been in decline. But the recent change allowing private companies to have more shareholders could offer hope. ‘We may see a full cycle of IR from private to public,’ said Morgan.

CFO panel

The conference this year is titled ‘Great expectations’ – a play on the fact that expectations for IR continue to rise among the profession’s varied stakeholders. On Monday morning, NIRI addressed two of these groups: management and shareholders.

The management session made the most of the Seattle location by inviting the CFOs of local companies Microsoft, Costco and Starbucks to sit on a panel. The CFOs started off by explaining how much time they spend on investor relations: the response was 10 percent-15 percent across the board.

Later, the conversation turned to the huge amounts of cash US companies are sitting on. This is a ‘major topic of conversation’ with investors, said Microsoft’s Peter Klein, whose company has $50 bn in cash, the second largest pile among US companies after Apple.

The important point is to get across your philosophy toward cash, he explained. ‘The reason the philosophy is so important is because what investors are trying to do is predict the future.’

Investor panel

Next, a panel of five global fund managers took to the stage to answer questions from moderator Tobias Levkovich, chief US equity strategist at Citi.

George Maris, portfolio manager at Janus Worldwide, was asked about his investment approach. ‘It's almost trite the question we ask for getting in the portfolio: what's happening that's cool?’ he said. ‘What's going on that the market itself isn't factoring into valuation?’

At the end of the session, each investor was asked what IR could do beyond the basic provision of information. ‘The most important thing is… to prove you are a trusted representative of management,’ said Mark Lehmann, executive director of international wealth management at UBS. ‘If I know you’re part of the management team, your thoughts count.’

At lunch, an invitation-only event featured Baruch Lev, author of the popular book Winning Investors Over, discussing his work. The lucky attendees said it was a great event. Lunch was followed by a host of industry breakout sessions.

Deals workshop

The afternoon also saw a number of educational workshops covering topics from communicating deals to the outlook for raising capital and how to win the proxy vote.

In the deals workshop, Jim Buckley of IR and comms consultancy Sharon Merrill, explained an interesting fact about Fidelity’s research tactics. He said the firm has been known, particularly in deal situations, to ask companies a question and write down the answer, and then ask exactly the same question a couple of weeks later and compare the two responses word for word.

‘If they see some sort of shift in the wording, as simple as you used to say 'very' and now you don't, that can sometimes signal things,’ he said.

The day rounded off with NIRI’s signature evening event at the Grand Hyatt, featuring food, drink and a live band made up of NIRI members. Later that night, a conference sponsor threw a party where part of the entertainment was a flash mob. For some, it was another late night.

Read a round up of Saturday and Sunday at the NIRI conference.

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