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Rating:Seen & Heard: Morningstar Investment Conference 2014 Not Rated 0.0 Email Routing List Email & Route  Print Print
Monday, June 23, 2014

Seen & Heard: Morningstar Investment Conference 2014

Reported by Tommy Fernandez

This article was co-written with Anastasia Donde

It was like Coachella, just without the tents or the aromas. Or maybe it was like South By Southwest, but without the crazy lines or the grumpy locals. Maybe it was like Burning Man, but just without the nudity or the half water-filled fish bowl helmets.

It was the Morningstar Investment Conference 2014, which feted nearly 2000 people, 630 exhibitors and sponsors and 194 booths at the South Building of the McCormick Place conference center in Chicago.

It was an event celebrating the latest and best in investing thought, where, dare I say it, investment nerds were allowed to rock.

And rock they did. The folks at Morningstar pulled out the big brains in speeches, panels and breakout sessions covering 20 subjects here or here.

For example, Franklin's Mike Hasenstab waxed poetically about the emerging markets, while Morningstar analysts revealed some of their secrets.

AQR's Cliff Asness talked about Nobel Laureates Eugene Fama, Robert Schiller and statistics among other things.

And yeah, Pimco's Bill Gross gave that keynote speech, which was heard around the Internet. But if you spent some time wandering among enough high-level fundsters, you'd hear that Gross may have had his reasons for giving the speech that he did.

The speakers weren't the only folk generating discussion. Chicago's weather was perfidious (I mean it!). The rain storms, thunder and wind were enough to delay many flights to the aptly-named windy city for at least five hours on Wednesday.

Although liquid alts weren't a bit topic in the panels, aside from one on long/short and Asness' brief musings on the subject, alternatives managers were well represented among the exhibitors and apparently they had the better toys.

Even Arden Asset Management, which has historically been a fairly quiet and secretive, albeit successful, fund of hedge funds, had a booth at the event. The firm launched its first mutual fund earlier this year that was backed by Fidelity and was there to promote it to other clients.

The exhibit booths in general ran the gamut from traditional asset managers, alternatives firms and service providers. Depending on who you asked, exhibiting at the event cost anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000, depending on what exactly you ordered. Some of the fund representatives noted that the extra layer of carpeting cost about $200 extra. What? People standing around for hours on end, especially women in high heels, and peddling their products, need a comfortable ground to stand on.

After hours, fundsters, advisors and investing wonks wined and dinner their faces off. This is Chicago after all.

ICI hosted its media dinner at Nico Osteria on Wednesday night and featured several courses of Italian family style faire, while PR representatives from the major mutual fund shops tried to pitch product news to journalists. (To what success, especially with so much wine? Tbd...) Morningstar hosted its media dinner for for roughly 50 journalists at Untitled restaurant, where the snarky former liberal arts majors feasted on beef ribs, kale, arugula, little pecan pies and other stuff along with, again, too much wine. The place is a mock speakeasy with a healthy jazz venue.

The fund firms themselves, hosted their own events for clients and colleagues, of course. Artisan Partners was spotted plucking some people off on Thursday night, while distribution firm Dakota Funds took others to a wine tasting. Conference attendees also wined & dined at the Hyatt Regency itself, which houses several bars and restaurants. Between that and the enormous McCormick place conference venue, attendees barely ever needed to venture outside into the torrential downpours. Rain or shine, Morningstar knows how to put on an event! 

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