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Friday, October 12, 2012

Celine Dion Sings for Baron

Reported by Tommy Fernandez

Celine Dion was the rousing surprise act at Baron Funds' 21st Annual Baron Investment Conference. Other musical guests included Kristin Chenoweth, Harry Connick, Jr. and Joss Stone

Ron Baron Speaks

The well-attended event, once again at Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side of New York City, was titled "Play Ball" by chairman and chief executive Ron Baron in memory of his experiences watching the Dodger's play at Ebbetts Field from his parents' TV set, which they bought in 1951 when he was just eight.

It was also his effort at commentary on the still widespread fear investors feel towards the equity markets. It was divided into three parts: the playing field; spring training and play ball.

Baron argued that optimism in the equity markets was warranted for a number of reasons, including ongoing efforts by Fed chairman Ben Bernanke to reintroduce inflation into the economy, which he said helps businesses germane revenue. This optimism was covered in the playing field section, which outlined the state of the markets now.

Spring Training focused on his company's approach to investing, which included fundamental research on over a thousand companies and their executives each year.

Get in the game covered his arguments that investors need to have confidence in the markets now, to seize ongoing opportunities in game-changing technologies and businesses.

He expressed a deep belief in active management, citing performance figures for his funds indicating that they have beaten the market by 400 basis points each year for the past 20 years. He argued that money a invested in his funds then would now have grown to twice that invested in index or etfs.

During q&a, a journalist asked Baron if anything worried him.

His response: "Nothing."

Portfolio Company Execs Join the Fun

The conference also included presentations from featured portfolio company chief executives like David Rubenstein of the Carlyle Group, Steven Spinner of United Natural Foods and Robert Katz of Vail Resorts.

Rubenstein had the audiences rolling with stories about his unconventional path to investment success, including a stint in the Carter Administration as a domestic policy advisor.

"I got inflation down to 19 percent," he quipped.

Spinner got audiences thinking and talking about organic foods which still accounts for less than 5 percent of food sales in he United States.

Meanwhile, Katz of Vail Resorts described how his company focused on investing heavily into facilities and perks, like season tickets and social media tracking of a guest's trip, to draw in ultra premium vacationers--who boast household incomes on average over $200,000 annually.

Other speakers included Under Armour chair, chief executive, president and founder Kevin Plank, Baron president and chief operating officer Linda Martinson, and a panel of Baron portfolio managers.

But it was the musical entertainment, as usual, which drew the most raves from the audience, which included mainly individual investors from across the country.

Chenoweth ate potato chips from one audience member's box lunch and crooned about sweetness, while Connick joked about a new album cover featuring him and other band members shrugging and declaring "Blame it on Midnight."

"That'll leave people guessing 'What happened at midnight?" Connick quipped.

Meanwhile, Stone belted out a heartfelt bluesy hit called Stoned, which wasn't, really wasn't, about marijuana but being messed with by a lover.

For the fete, Baron rented four buildings at Lincoln Center: the Metropolitan Opera House, the David H. Koch Theater, Avery Fisher Hall and Alice Tully Hall.

One attendee said that the crowds were more relaxed this time around because Baron had raised the minimum investment requirement for attendees-- he declined to say how much. The attendee was glad for the change.

"Before the crowds were crazy," the attendee told MFWire 

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