How much should a portfolio manager be willing to pay for research?
The question is of importance to any manager, but has become particularly pertinent since newly imposed European rules require that the costs of investment research—previously offered by many investment banks as an in-kind consideration in return for brokerage business—be unbundled from trading.
Unfortunately, attempts to determine a fair value for research in the most general circumstances are doomed to fail. Even if we only consider direct recommendations to buy or sell certain securities, the value of such recommendations to a portfolio manager will vary according to the absolute size of positions taken in response. Instead, we provide a framework for estimating relative research values across markets and constituents, under certain stylized (but reasonable) assumptions.
Exhibit 1 provides a summary of our main result—comparing the putative value of recommendations in selected markets, expressed as a multiple of the equivalent measure applied to stock-based recommendations within the S&P 500® .
INTRODUCTION: THE IMPACT OF “UNBUNDLING” RESEARCH COSTS
The Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID) II is an updated version of a regulation that has been in force throughout the European Union (EU) since November 2007.1 The update came into effect on January 3, 2018, and seeks “to reform market structures, bring more transparency to the trading of financial instruments, and strengthen investor protection.”2
For our purposes, the relevant regulatory change is that execution costs and charges must be separated, or “unbundled,” from the cost of research, and that investment managers must either absorb research costs or explicitly pass them on to their clients under pre-agreed terms.3 Since investment managers were formerly allowed to pay for research by the allocation of client trading commissions, MiFID II has the potential to produce major changes in the economics of research sales.
While these rules are of most immediate concern to institutions operating in the EU, MiFID II has potential global implications: the updated directive applies to all firms that conduct business in Europe, and many expect the legislation to be extended to other regions.4,5
From a practical perspective, MiFID II requires managers to set research budgets and to decide where to spend them. Obviously, the size of a particular research budget will depend on idiosyncratic factors, such as a firm’s assets under management. But when it comes to allocating resources, the relative value of research is likely to be comparable—if I find one analyst’s recommendations to be worth double those of other analysts, it is reasonable to hypothesize that these recommendations would also prove to be twice as valuable to anyone else.
This paper argues that the relative value of research is driven by a combination of three things: the information content of the research, the dispersion within the market where recommendations are made and implemented, and the capacity of each market to allow for active positions of varying sizes. While we do not claim to offer a universally applicable framework for setting research budgets, we hope to offer a practical and useful way to think about the value of signals for markets of varying size, concentration, and risk levels.