Equity Research in the Age of Web 2.0

As a new blogger to Radar and the program co-chair for Money:Tech 2009, I thought I’d introduce myself along with a topic we plan to present at the conference.

After spending many years on Wall Street watching the buy side (investing institutions) and working with the sell side (investment banks); all I can say is that I am excited with what the future holds. The Internet is quickly becoming ‘the’ vast store house of data, research and commentary that I hoped it would. If you think the Internet is for message board jockeys, blogs for late nights in pajamas, and social media for dating; you are missing point. If you want to add to your company and industry analysis, as well as, your investment process, you need to be an interactive user of the Internet.

So why are we, “the professionals”, turning to the Internet? Or more specifically; why are we turning to web sites, blogs and social media for investment research, data and commentary? Well I believe there are a few reasons.

Just about every public company has some type of presence on the Internet. In certain domains, enthusiasts and experts are better informed than most analysts on the actual products, goods or services a company may provide. And they are sharing this knowledge and information with each other in open forums. And if you decide to graduate from lurker to participant the gains are even greater. An informed investment professional, that knows his tickers and sectors, can quickly digest this information into his investment process, just like his phone calls with a Gerson Lehman or Coleman Research expert. This type of high quality information can be found if you know where and how to look.

The emergence of low cost publishing tools, cheap web hosting, and various ways to monetize knowledge is another trend that can put some people on the same level as a CNBC anchor and others on equal footing with a top ranked analyst. Just think of my well known blogger friends like Money:Tech Chair Paul Kedrosky, Barry Ritholtz, Nouriel Roubini, and Roger Ehrenberg. Their collective readership and influence is greater than most sell side analysts.

The economics and dwindling company coverage of most sell side research shops has forced the buy side to scale and employ a do-it-yourself ethic. Your typical buy side analyst needs a place to turn for leads and information, especially when switching sectors and industries. Those places are quickly becoming SeekingAlpha, Wikipedia, LinkedIn and Facebook.

And the biggest reason of all; the established sources of main stream financial news and data are ubiquitous. Everyone on the buy side and sell side has Bloomberg, Reuters, and Dow Jones. And if everyone knows everything at the same time what advantage is that?

So where are we headed?

We are headed to a place where the tools, practices and techniques are starting to emerge. It’s a place where anyone with a need and drive can learn to scrape data, do their own automated channel checks, while benchmarking and creating reference data. Have an idea; model it yourself, grab the data from Amazon, benchmark it against Yahoo Finance, and set up your filters in Google Reader for stories or articles related to your themes.

The key is to meld the old with the new. Mixing your custom new found data with established sources from your vendors to provide leading edge mashups that help you complete or flesh out a company’s position within the competing forces – think Michael Porter on steroids.

Researching during the age of Web 2.0 doesn’t mean blindly following rumors on a web site — that way leads to madness & ruin. You need to think more like Ben Graham in the early days of modern Wall Street when speculation was the name of the game. Graham was able to find high quality sources of information that others thought to be a waste of time, and he put them to good use.

The same can be said for the tools at your disposal in the Web 2.0 era. Put them to good use and you will be rewarded.

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