Thursday, January 12, 2006

Edging towards Omega

Long-time Platinum Club mega-uber value reader and virtual buddy David Jackson, the hardest-working man in financial blogdom, continues his relentless disruption of the traditional stock research model, now expanding his free conference call transcript service to 400 companies (and counting).

Why is this important? If, like me, you are a beleaguered lone telecom analyst working in London and have more than a passing interest in companies like Google, eBay, Yahoo!, Microsoft or Apple, when earnings season begins, you basically have a few options:

  • Stay up to listen to the conference call at home (usually at least 10:30 PM here);
  • Come in the next day and make time to listen to the replay (I work in an open-minded firm which appreciates the way I go about my work, but I can envisage some firms where the head of research or sales would probably say, "What does Google have to do with European telecoms? Get busy and put out another hold note on OTE!");
  • Subscribe to a transcription service (this is the expensive option).

We have a group subscription to CallStreet, and I don't even want to know how much it costs. I'm lucky to not have to shoulder the cost myself, but what about independent analysts, consultants, or individual investors? Moreover, as David himself points out, typically you can't quote from these commercial services' transcripts without express permission. This initiative appears to solve two problems, for free.

As readers may recall, one of my areas of continual interest is in how decentralized information flows can disrupt my own industry. Just as voice and content at the edge of the network can pressurize telcos, I continue to believe analysis and opinion-shaping in a free environment at the edge of the markets has the potential to obliterate traditional broker research as we have known it.

Already my impression is that many fund managers spend more time reading blogs and forums (by the way, here's an interesting search engine devoted to indexing forums) than traditional research. Glancing at my Bloglines newsreader, I can see that prominent group blog Boing Boing has 37,965 subscribers (for those who don't use RSS that means Bloglines users who have opted-in to the feed), Engadget has 33,697, and Om Malik, a one-man show who does, let's remember, have a day job, has an entirely respectable 3,491. That's only Bloglines users. Don't forget users of Newsgator, MyYahoo!, Google Lens, and all the other readers who have simply bookmarked the sites.

We're talking hundreds of thousands of regular readers, I think, for some of these sites. These will continue to gain momentum and mindshare, and others will join them, while free and open resources like Om's Broadband Wiki can supplement the data collection and analysis process. David's conference call service is another step towards decentralizing and democratizing the analysis process. If, as should be the case by law, sell-side analysts are no longer privy to information about companies which is not in the public domain, then (intrinsic quality and imagination aside) I think the list of what separates "us" from "them" is growing shorter by the day.

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