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Von Aldo

At the TD Insitutional Conference: Grow, Baby, Grow!

. . . But watch out for that pesky volatility that scarred clients last August and pushed many to the sidelines, according to FAs I spoke to at the Conference ended yesterday (after a concert Friday night performed by none other than Kool and the Gang).

Professor Jeremy Siegel gave a rousing pitch on why the market is 25% undervalued and so were most European markets due to very farvorable earnings yields. He extolled the virtues of dividend paying stocks. One advisor left the conference room, "Hell, I feeel like running off and putting in orders." Fixed income? Siegel was astounded that anyone would own TIPS or other sovereign debt yielding essentially zero.

Held in Orlando, spitting distance from Disney World, the TD Ameritrade Institutional Annual Conference attracted a record number of attendees (about 1,300) and was notable for it's lack of sales pitches --- well fewer than this reporter is used to suffering through during breakout sessions.

The mood was cheerful, with advisors saying market volatility, which lights up there office phones, is actually an opportunity. Further, TDAI President Tom Bradley --- his usual enthusiastic and cordial self --- said that TDAI's first quarter, ended December, was a smash, with TDAI grabbing a record number of new FAs and RIAs. (2011 was record breaking, too.) The average RIA at TDAI has risen to about $100m in AUM, he said, proving the RIA, fee-only model works best. (See my interview with him on RepTV.) Note that TDAI does not have a b/d, but, because of its open architecture, can deal with any hybrid advisor and his b/d.

Interestingly, a Cerulli study published this past November showed an actual drop in RIAs from 2009 through 2010. Bradley was surprised and speculated that FAs were joining other RIAs; after all, AUM in the channel rose at nearly 17% rate during that period.

Siegel Says . . ."

Fixed income is still the largest market in the world," Siegel said in his luncheon address. But there is or should be a very shift into equities, he said. Noting that even PIMCO's Bill Gross is on record saying that "Bernanke is killing the credit market," according to Siegel.

Armed with too many slides and graphs and fever charts to keep up with, Siegel's talk can be summed up thus: Bernanke has said that interest rates will remain near zero for the foreseable future; that stocks are undervaled by 25% against its historical long-term trend; that stocks typically post real returns of about 6% since WWII; U.S. Treasureys have posted real returns of just 2% since the war.

That said, this reporter cannot remember when Siegel was ever bearish. Mark Shone of Shone Asset Management told me after the talk that he vaguely remembers Siegel being "cautious," but added, "You can get statistics to say anything you want. Just pick your time period to start." For example, Siegel used security returns dating back to 1802. And his book, Stocks for the Long Run, sounds too much like Lord Keynes quip, "In the long run we are all dead." On a more serious note, there have been times when stocks did not perform well. Remember the period leading up to the 1982 BusinessWeek headline, "Are Equities Dead?" From the wreck of the Nifty Fifty until around Reagan's entrance into the White House, equities were trading in a tight range and if one had to retire in 1982 but had only started investing in the early 1970s, that person would not have been happy.

Further Siegel said the Fed is targeting about 2.5% inflation and Treasureys are now yielding 1.48%. TIPS are actually 13 bps or so NEGATIVE. Stocks are clearly a buy, Siegel said, since the earnings yield (earnings divided by price) is 8.1%.

Fear a world-wide recession? Even then stocks are 15% undervalued "for a recession forecast in 2012."

Oh, are you bullish on Apple, Google and other high-tech wonders? Do you want a piece of that Facebook offering? A good way to play the recovering media, publishing and entertainment sector might be to take a look at Gabelli's Multimedia Trust (GGT), a closed-end, non-diversified fund. Its discount to NAV is 13%, says its manager Larry Haverty. (For my interview with Haverty, go to RepTV.)

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