Morningstar Conference Features Gross, Fink, Berkowitz

‘Big picture, fixed income’ focuses of this year’s agenda, says Morningstar’s Phillips

Morningstar, an independent investment research firm, kicks off its 23rd annual investment conference for financial advisors Wednesday afternoon at McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago.

bill grossPIMCO chief Bill Gross (left), the first keynote speaker, will follow opening remarks from Morningstar chairman and CEO Joe Mansueto. Other keynote speakers include Laurence Fink, chairman and CEO of BlackRock and David Laibson, Harvard University professor of economics, who will close the conference on June 10 with a look at how an individual’s life cycle affects financial decision making.

"The conference, as always, is a chance for advisors to lift their heads from their day-to-day business and recharge their batteries," said Don Phillips, president of fund research for Morningstar. "If you compare past line-ups with what’s slated for this year, it’s less about bottom up stock selection, which has been a traditional focus, and more about the macroeconomic issues affecting investors and advisors. ”

As a result, a focus on fixed income is a major theme of the conference, Phillips says, and one reason Gross is included. The municipal bond space in particular, with all that’s happening with credit spreads and interest rates, is also a focus.

“I was speaking with an advisor recently who told me it’s no longer about stocks, bonds and cash,” he adds. “It’s about alternatives, commodities, hedging strategies and currency plays. So these are some of the issues that will be covered on the equity side. Overall, while bottom up stock selection will certainly be covered, we’ll also emphasize the big picture. And guys like Bill Gross and Larry Fink are big picture guys.”

Other sessions feature the following portfolio managers and company leaders:

  • Bruce Berkowitz, founder and chief investment officer of Fairholme Capital Management; who will take part in a free-wheeling and wide-ranging one-on-one conversation with Morningstar's Don Phillips.
  • Will Browne, managing director, Tweedy, Browne Company; Kenneth Feinberg, portfolio manager, The Selected Funds; and David Poppe, portfolio co-manager, Sequoia Fund; who will discuss the risks and rewards facing active stock fund managers today.
  • Bill Eigen, chief investment officer of absolute return and opportunistic fixed income, J.P. Morgan;Rick Rieder, chief investment officer of fixed income, fundamental portfolios, BlackRock; and David Rolley, portfolio manager, Loomis, Sayles & Co.; who will debate the challenges and opportunities confronting  bond investors, as well as offer up some ideas for bond bargain-hunting.
  • Axel Merk, president and chief investment officer, Merk Funds; K.C. Nelson, portfolio manager, Driehaus Capital Management; and Tom Schwab, chief investment officer and portfolio co-manager, The Collar Fund; who will explore fixed-income alternative investment strategies.
  • Peng Chen, president of global investment management, Morningstar; Ben Inker, head of asset allocation, GMO; and Ross Levin, founding principal and president, Accredited Investors; who will share their views on asset allocation and the role different asset classes should play in a portfolio.
  • George Evans, senior vice president and director of equities, OppenheimerFunds; David Herro, chief investment officer and portfolio manager, The Oakmark Funds; and Bob Smith, portfolio manager, T. Rowe Price; who will debate whether emerging markets are overheated or full of opportunity.

In addition, senior members of Morningstar's fund research staff will hold a roundtable on June 8, moderated by CNBC's Tyler Mathisen, to debate opportunities and threats on the horizon for fund investors.

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