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Earlier this week we talked about investing based on trends, and I pointed out one long-lasting trend that should drive homebuilders higher by several multiples in the years ahead.
While I think you would probably do pretty well just buying and holding builders at the current levels, I am not satisfied with just doing well. I want to do exceedingly – two stages past fantastic – well.
To do that, I wait for the individual companies to come into buy range based on my numbers-oriented approach to stock selection. Catching a significant social, demographic, or economic trend in the markets can be a good thing. Finding one at a bargain price is a spectacular thing.
So today, I want to talk about another huge trend that is going to change an entire industry completely.
This one not only saves you money, it could make you money...
Be Gone, 20%, 25%, and 30% Fees!
When I started out as a broker, it was a different world.
Mutual funds not only had management fees well above what is charged today, many of them also had an 8.5% sales commission! Stock trading commissions were somewhere around 2% for each side of the trade, and futures brokers were getting $100 – or more – per round trip trade.
It wasn't just retail investors paying through the nose either. Institutional trades were $0.08 per share. Investment banking fees were 7%, period. IPO and secondary offering fees were the same, and there was no arguing or haggling. Everybody paid the full price. Investment firms made tons of money and paid for big, shiny buildings all over mid-town, and investors and corporate boards played along or did without.
It was a different world for sure. If you wanted a stock quote, you didn't just pull out your phone. You had to call your broker, and their assistant would enter the ticker into a Quotron and tell you the price. Of course, if you liked a little action, you could go into the office and watch the ticker tape scroll by with all the other retirees whose wives kicked them out of the house for the day.
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To open an account, you had to go to the office, talk with actual humans, and sign papers with a ballpoint pen. Of course, the real trick was getting to and from the office without being snatched by a passing dinosaur!
It's a different, faster world today, and the rise of discount brokerage firms and the Internet has changed the game for retail investors. We can check prices, do research, open and close accounts, and make trades from devices that fit in our pockets. And we trade stocks and bonds now for far less than even giants like Fidelity paid back in the dark ages.
It's the same on the institutional and investment banking side. Fees are negotiable these days, and many firms will see downward pressure on banking fees and the fees associated with doing an IPO. Some firm, like Alphabet Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOGL) and Spotify Technology SA (NYSE: SPOT), go public via direct listing and pretty much skip most of the IPO process.
Hedge funds are feeling the heat as well. Paying a 2% management fee and 20% of profits is okay when your manager is earning fees of 25%, 30%, or more every year – as was often the case in the early days of the industry. Back then, exotic strategies like risk arbitrage, statistic trading, convertible arbitrage, and macro trading were not crowded fields; the handful of folks who ran hedge funds were putting up eye-popping numbers, and investors gladly paid the fees.
That's not the case today. It's much harder for large investors to gain an edge on the market. If it works, everyone jumps into the pool – but it just doesn't work as well anymore. Hedge fund returns are now lucky to keep up with index funds in many cases, and fees are coming down for many hedge fund managers these days.
Falling fees means lower revenues. Lower revenues mean lower profits, unless you lower costs as a percentage of revenue. The quickest way to achieve that is to buy a smaller competitor and cut out the redundancies.
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Fee pressure is going to lead to a consolidation wave among brokerage firms, investment banks, and asset managers for the next several years.
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About the Author
Tim Melvin is an unlikely investment expert by any measure. Raised in the "projects" of Baltimore by a single mother, he never attended college and started out as a door-to-door vacuum salesman. But he knew the real money was in the stock market, so he set sights on investing - and by sheer force of determination, he eventually became a financial advisor to millionaires. Today, after 30 years of managing money for some of the wealthiest people in the world, he draws on his experience to help investors find "unreasonably good" bargain stocks, multiply profits, and build their nest eggs. Tim tirelessly works to find overlooked "hidden gems" in the stock market, drawing on the research of legendary investors like Benjamin Graham, Walter Schloss, and Marty Whitman. He has written and lectured extensively on the markets, with work appearing on Benzinga, Real Money, Daily Speculations, and more. He has published several books in the "Little Book of" Investment Series and a "Junior Chamber Course" geared towards young adults that teaches Graham's principles and techniques to a new generation of investors. Today, he serves as the Special Situations Strategist at Money Morning and the editor of "Max Wealth."