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Sell-Side Coverage – A Small Cap’s White Whale?

By Dennis Walsh, Vice President

I recently was interviewed for an article for IR Magazine titled, “Sell-Side Analysts: The Many and the Few.” The article discussed how some companies manage a full roster of covering sell-siders, while others struggle to maintain or attract just a few. In today’s market, it seems more common that IROs are in the latter situation and are frustrated by the limited return on their efforts to attract coverage.

There are many factors that contribute to the lack of adequate sell-side coverage, and all of these factors relate to the sell-side’s inability to make money by working with a particular company. Low trading volume plagues companies vying for attention from both the buy- and sell-side. The buy-side avoids low-volume stocks because they cannot easily get out of the stock, and the sell-side won’t cover a stock because the lack of buy-side interest limits their ability to generate trading commissions. It’s a vicious cycle. In addition, the lack of investment banking business may create a barrier to coverage. The bottom line is that the bank needs to make money in some way from the research coverage since they are not being compensated from the buy-side in hard dollars.

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IR Program Planning, Corporate Access, Sell-side Research, Targeting, Investor Relations Agency, Buy-Side, Sell-side Coverage, Investor Conference, Roadshow Planning, Small-cap IR, Investor Relations

The Age of Diminished Sell-Side Research

Sell-side research has undergone profound structural changes during the past decade with far-reaching implications affecting the quality of the research and how research is generated, sold and compensated. Decimalization, Regulation FD, unbundling of trading from research and the hedge fund “brain drain” have all negatively impacted sell-side profitability, product quality and small cap coverage in today’s age of diminished sell-side research.

Decimalization. When the SEC required exchanges to narrow their bid-ask spreads from one-sixteenth, or $0.0625, to $0.01 per share effective in 2001, the profitability of trading floors collapsed amidst tremendous spread compression. While working on the sell-side, I recall hearing many times over, “when we get a trade we can all hear the cash register ring.” After decimalization, I never heard this again. Sell-side boutiques, historically adequately compensated for their research with large bid-ask spreads, now struggled to stay afloat. They reduced staff levels and often swapped higher-priced, seasoned analysts for less-experienced and less-costly researchers.

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Hedge Fund, Disclosure, Reg FD, Sell-side Research, Targeting, Investor Meetings, Sell-side Coverage, Disclosure Policy, Shareholder Communications, Investor Relations, Earnings

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