For investment firms, sleepy summers are a thing of the past
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Toby Hoden was on vacation early last August when he got the assignment: interrupt his firm's chief market strategist's beach vacation and get him into a studio 30 miles away as quickly as possible for an interview on CNBC.
Standard and Poor's had just downgraded the U.S. credit rating, sending global financial markets into one of the most volatile stretches in recent memory. Hoden, the chief marketing officer at ING Investment Management, spent the next two weeks arranging a flurry of conference calls with financial advisers who were clamoring for insights they could pass on to clients.
The stretch from early June to late August now seems as busy as any other time of year - and in the last few years, more volatile. Nearly four years since the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression began, world events - from elections in Greece to economic reports in China to the minutes of the latest Federal Reserve meeting - continue to move markets in broad sweeps, overshadowing fundamentals like revenue growth and price-to-earnings ratios.
But this summer, Hoden and many other executives at financial firms are not waiting to be called back. Instead, they are being proactive, increasing their marketing efforts, holding additional investor meetings and prepping extra strategy notes in order to stay in constant communication with clients.
"The summer is not what it used to be," said Seth J. Masters, chief investment officer of Bernstein Global Wealth Management, a division of AllianceBernstein LP.
AllianceBernstein, whose clients were asking what they should do given the market volatility, decided to host a media luncheon and put out a paper explaining why equities still make sense. Asset manager BlackRock stepped up its outreach to advisers and scheduled a summit next week with its head of global fixed income and the chief investment strategist of its BlackRock Investment Institute.
Michael Abelson, a senior vice president at Genworth Financial Wealth Management, is in the middle of the firm's first-ever summer road show. He expects to meet more than 900 financial advisers on an eight-city trip that includes stops in New York, Boston, Chicago and Denver.
"We don't typically introduce new ideas or showcase new solutions as dramatically as we are this summer," he said.
In the last five years, some event has caused volatility during the summer, said Fran Kinniry, principal at The Vanguard Group's investment strategy group. From the summer of 2007, when two Bear Stearns hedge funds collapsed, through last August's credit downgrade, Vanguard has ramped up its summer efforts, putting out papers, holding web casts and talking to clients, he said.
"I have been in the business for 25 years and usually July and August is the time to go to the beach and the markets are quiet," Kinniry said. "But for the past few years it has not felt like summer.
ING is holding more web casts and other events to communicate with advisers than it has in the past, and there are no more two- or three-week vacations without interruptions, Hoden said. "We don't do that anymore. Advisers don't do that anymore."
Advisers have noticed the change. Michael Pomerantz, president of Pomerantz Financial Associates, a Cherry Hill, New Jersey-based financial adviser, said he has never received as many summer invitations to lunches, dinners and meetings from investment management companies as he has this year.
Of course, part of that has less to do with easing concerns and more to do with the bottom line. A number of representatives for various firms have told advisers like Pomerantz that product sales were slow in the second quarter.
"They are really trying to ramp it up now," said Pomerantz, whose firm manages $50 million in assets.
But it's not clear whether the avalanche of invites and research notes is effective.
Mal Makin, president of Professional Planning Group, a Westerly, Rhode Island-based financial adviser, said he is being inundated with white papers and invites this summer.
"I think a memo must have gone out for everyone to hit the road and start trying to get investors involved again," he said. "I have a little callus on the finger next to the delete button from deleting all of them."
(Reporting By David Randall and Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Jennifer Merritt and Dan Grebler)
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