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Rating:Gatch Lost a Tough Crowd at M* Not Rated 5.0 Email Routing List Email & Route  Print Print
Friday, June 29, 2012

Gatch Lost a Tough Crowd at M*

Reported by Sean Hanna, Editor in Chief

Financial advisors are a hard crowd to please. Especially so if your job description includes running a P&L and not managing money. It is no surprise, then, that George Gatch lost much of his audiance of 800 plus advisors at Morningstar's Investment Conference last week in Chicago.

Gatch, who is CEO of J.P. Morgan Asset Management Americas, led off his keynote talk with an explanation of who J.P. Morgan Funds is and how its PMs attack their investment duties. The talk was boiler plate, and that may have been much of the problem as many advisors tuned out before Gatch turned to his main points.

That is a sharp contrast to the reaction advisors had to GMO co-founder Jeremy Grantham, who wowed the advisors with his "Dr. Doom" keynote the next day, and Franklin bond guru Michael Hasentab who kicked off the conference last Wednesday.

That does point to a problem that fund firm CEOs have in taking advantage of a platform like the Morningstar conference: you cannot afford to sound like a salesman. You must say something interesting. And, advisors want to hear investment ideas. That means PMs have a built-in advantage over executives like Gatch who come from the business side of mutual funds.

Many of the advisors lost interest early on during the talk, and the keynote's failure was a talk of the halls for the remainder of the conference.

A spokeswoman for J.P. Morgan told MFWire.com that the shop is not making a transcript of Gatch's comments available outside the firm.

A senior Morningstar executive told MFWire.com that the reaction to Gatch's speech will cause the firm to take another look at including CEOs as main speakers at future conferences. Morningstar invites its speakers and, unlike other conferences, does not feature sponsors in speaking slots.

One member of the crowd suggested after the keynote that a CEO would be better off keeping a talk personal, telling "war stories" and sharing the challenges faced by a CEO in today's market.

Gatch instead used the meat of his talk to discuss his concerns that investors are betting too heavily on bonds and ignoring other investments and their overall asset allocation at their peril.

He pointed out that a "55-45" equity to fixed income mix would have been better than the return of the S&P 500 with significantly less risk.

"It would have been an even better return if you had been 100 percent in fixed income," Gatch pointed out. "History is not going to repeat itself. Mathematically it cannot happen," he added.

He added that "investors seem to be equating investing with gambling" and betting all on bonds while noting that valuations are "very compelling" today in equities.

A better solution, Gatch argued, is for investors to be more flexible and take a dynamic appraoach to investing.

"You have to think globally," he said.

It seems that such advice was not what advisors wanted to hear. 

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