calling on customers
Two brokerage areas routinely call on corporations. They are:
–investment bankers. They’re somewhat like bank lending officers, in that they visits company to try to sell services. In the investment banking case, that’s typically the possibility of stock or bond offerings, mergers and acquisitions advice or general consulting.
–securities analysts specializing in the company’s industry. Analysts are members of the firm’s research department. For smaller and privately held firms, the analyst will want to gather information that may be useful in his reports on publicly traded companies. He’ll also want to set the stage for possible investment banking business with his firm as/when the company goes public. For already publicly traded companies in the analyst’s coverage universe, the visit will be for updates–usually right before the analysts issues one of his periodic reports to clients.
Prior to 2000, securities analysts usually reported to the head of investment banking. After the Internet Bubble-related scandals, where analysts were seen to have written inaccurate reports solely to stimulate demand for the stocks of companies their firms had brought public, that supervisory relationship has been broken. I’m not sure there is a general rule about who supervises the research department today.
calling on clients
Securities analysts also spend a lot of time interacting with the firm’s brokerage clients, in the expectation that the client will trade with the firm–thus generating commission/spread profits–in return for the information provided. This interaction may either be with the client’s own securities analysts, their buy-side counterparts, or with the client’s portfolio managers. Communication may be by phone or e-mail or in person.
Like any other brokerage service, the appropriate institutional salesman will control/advise the analyst about the quality (phone or in person) and quantity of time he spends with a given client. This will depend on the importance of the client to the firm, measured by the profitability of the relationship.
Analysts or their assistants create spreadsheets to forecast company earnings. They also write research reports that either analyze the company’s operations in detail, or highlight recent developments and their significance. As well, they make buy, hold and sell recommendations for the company’s stock.
In many cases, analysts will have worked in the industry they cover before moving to Wall Street. They may also have relevant advanced technical degrees, such as in petroleum engineering for oil and gas analysts, or in electrical engineering for analysts covering technology hardware firms. (In my experience, such technical training can be a mild positive. But it can also be a major hindrance, if the analyst mistakenly thinks this exempts him from having to do actual financial analysis of a company’s profit prospects.)
reliant on companies for information
No matter what their background, however, analysts remain very reliant on the companies they cover for industry and firm-specific information. They’re also dependent on the continuing attractiveness of their industries to investors, whose commission business with the broker influences the analyst’s compensation.
In my experience, therefore, analysts tend to be a bit like home town sports announcers. They’re highly reluctant to make negative assessments about their industries. After all, that puts them out of work. They also can be subject to considerable pressure from holders of large positions in a stock not to write anything negative about it. Also, some companies may demand that analysts not only make positive statements but also adhere closely to company-issued earnings guidance. Non-compliance can mean that the offending analyst is denied access to company management that’s routinely given to others.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But stuff like this happens. The case of bank analyst Mike Mayo is perhaps the most famous recent case of this type.
A possible response to this pressure is for an analyst to give a “base case” in print, but to supplement this with a “whisper” number that’s noticeably different. This will be disseminated to clients orally, with or without attribution to the analyst, but never put down on paper.
To be successful, analysts have to be good either at marketing themselves and their research to clients or at analyzing the companies they follow. Of course, it would be better to excel at both, but in my experience that’s not necessary. At one end of the spectrum there are (only a few) analysts who have completely pedestrian information, but are witty and know where a client likes to be taken to lunch. For the majority who provide analytical insights, they come in several varieties:
–able to forecast earnings very accurately
–able to give a good qualitative appraisal of the industry and where all the companies stand within it
–able to say whether the stocks will go up or down.
These are all separate skills, and each worth paying for, I think.
Well advanced technical degrees do help a great deal on various occasions but it is the experience that you have out there in the market, which gets the things going for you.