Some companies are focusing on wooing individual investors, who are becoming a market force.

Dozens of companies are suddenly paying more attention to individual investors.

Small investors who buy single stocks have not been a major force in financial markets for the better part of half a century. They were growing in influence before the pandemic, partly because of the popularity of free trading apps such as Robinhood.

But with millions of Americans stuck at home during the pandemic, the trading trend escalated, Matt Phillips reports for The New York Times.

“Retail trading now accounts for almost as much volume as mutual funds and hedge funds combined,” Amelia Garnett, an executive at Goldman Sachs’s Global Markets Division, said on a recent podcast produced by the firm. “So, the retail impact is really meaningful right now.”

Tesla has long eschewed traditional communications with Wall Street. Ark Investment Management — the high-flying, tech-focused exchange-traded fund company run by the investor Cathie Wood — and Palantir Technologies, are also trying to reach small investors directly.

Before Lemonade, a company that sells insurance to consumers online, went public in July, it went on a traditional tour of Wall Street, meeting big investors and talking up its prospects. However, the company has since discovered that more than half of its shares are held by small investors, excluding insiders who own the stock, said Daniel Schreiber, its chief executive.

That has prompted a strategy adjustment. In addition to spending time communicating with analysts whose “buy” or “sell” ratings on the stock can move its price, Mr. Schreiber said, he has made a point of doing interviews on podcasts, websites and YouTube programs popular with retail investors.

“I think that they are, today, far more influential on, and command far more following in terms of stock buying or selling power than the mighty Goldman Sachs does,” Mr. Schreiber said. “And we’ve seen that in our own stock.”

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Archegos Left a Sparse Paper Trail for a $10 Billion Firm

Lawyers and securities experts said a multibillion-dollar family office like Archegos could avoid making 13F disclosures, but it would require threading a needle: The firm could have managed money for only Mr. Hwang and his spouse — not other family members, fund employees or his charity, which operated on the same floor of a Midtown Manhattan office building. The firm could also have been able to skip filing a 13F if it sold off enough stocks to fall below the $100 million threshold before the end of each quarter. It also could have requested confidential treatment from the S.E.C. to keep such disclosures private, lawyers and experts said.

Archegos was set up to make filings to the S.E.C. — it had its own Central Index Key number — but a search for documents returns no results.

The S.E.C. has opened an informal inquiry into Archegos and the spillover effects of its collapse, which caused billions of dollars in losses at banks around the globe. Regulators have declined to comment on the investigation.

Senator Sherrod Brown, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, sent letters to the half-dozen banks that did business with Archegos — including Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley — seeking information about their dealings with Mr. Hwang’s firm. That includes information about any transactions that “would be subject to regulatory reporting with the S.E.C.”

The rules for 13F filings apply to “registered investment advisers and exempt reporting advisers that manage accounts on behalf of others, including advisers to separately managed accounts, private funds, mutual funds, and pension plans.” They must file if they have “discretion” over $100 million or more in securities at the end of a quarter.

Nicolas Morgan, a former S.E.C. lawyer, said a family office could get around the stock reporting requirement in only rare circumstances. It “would be outside the norm” to not file a 13F, said Mr. Morgan, a partner in the white-collar defense practice at Paul Hastings.

After the failure of Archegos, Americans for Financial Reform, an advocacy group, sent a letter to the S.E.C. calling for a review of 13F filings and whether gaps in the disclosure process created the registration exemption for family offices, which control roughly $6 trillion in assets, according to Campden Wealth, which provides research and networking opportunities to wealthy families.

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Rising Interest Rates Threaten Mutual Fund Returns

The stock market’s rally during the pandemic has been nothing short of amazing. But rising interest rates are raising the question of how long this bull market can last.

In the 12 months through March, the average general stock mutual fund tracked by Morningstar returned nearly 66 percent — a remarkable rebound after a three-month loss of nearly 22 percent at the start of last year.

The turnaround came after the Federal Reserve stepped in with support for financial markets and the economy, fueling much of the stock market’s exuberance with low interest rates.

But with the economy taking off, rates have begun to rise. At the start of a new quarter, it is a propitious moment to ask, how long can these strangely prosperous times last?

My crystal ball is no clearer now than it has ever been, alas, and I can’t time the market’s movements any better than anyone else. But this certainly a good time to assess whether you are well positioned for a possible downward shift.

As always, the best approach for long-term investors is to set up a portfolio with a reasonable, diversified asset allocation of stocks and bonds and then live with it, come what may.

Our quarterly report on investing is intended to help. If you haven’t been an investor before, we’ve included tips on how to get started. Here you will find broad coverage of recent trends, guidance for the future and reflections on personal finance in a challenging era.

It’s been a long, fine run for the stock market but a great deal of the upswing has depended on low interest rates, and in the bond market rates have been rising. Investment strategists are taking a wide array of approaches to deal with this difficult problem. For now, the bull market rides on.

Bonds provide ballast in diversified portfolios, damping the swings of the stock market and sometimes providing solid returns. Because bond yields have been rising — and yields and prices move in opposite directions — bond returns have been suffering lately. But adding a diversified selection of international bonds to domestic holdings can reduce the risk in the bond side of your investments.

Yes, the markets and the economy are complicated. That often puts people off, and stops them from taking action that can help them and their families immeasurably: investing.

But investing need not be complicated. A succinct article gives pointers on how to get started, and on how to navigate the markets for the long haul.

After a piece of virtual art known as a nonfungible token — an NFT — sold at auction for $70 million recently, NFTs have suddenly became an asset that you can invest in. Our columnist prefers real dollars.

Short-term demand for oil and gas is rising, but if climate change is to be reversed, consumption of fossil fuels will have to diminish. This leaves investors in a tough spot.

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We Asked Congress’s Freshmen to Give Up Stock Trading. Few Were Willing.

Additional attention in this area is a notion with bipartisan support, in an era that lacks much of that. In June, Representatives Chip Roy, Republican of Texas, and Abigail Spanberger, Democrat of Virginia, introduced what they called the Trust Act.

The bill would require their colleagues, spouses and dependent children to use a qualified blind trust, as Mr. Ossoff and Mr. Kelly are doing. With such vehicles, a third party would control individual stocks, if any, and some other investment assets and keep the beneficiary from knowing much about the contents or from trading on specialized knowledge of coming legislation. (Owning and trading common investments like mutual funds would be fine.)

“This is about making it easier for members of Congress to do their job,” Mr. Roy said at the time.

And let us not forget what I outlined in detail in a November column: They’ll all end up with more money in the end, on average, if they (or their stockbrokers) stop believing that they’re smart enough to beat the market. The studies on this are legion, and a particularly fun one showed how badly people in Congress did, on average, when they tried to outsmart the market between 2004 and 2008.

It is perhaps not surprising that those who would be elected officials would not be passive investors. The same enhanced sense of self that propels many of them to run for office may well make them think they have some kind of stock-picking superpower. They almost certainly don’t — and neither do the financial advisers who are charging them handsomely. Perhaps they’ll come to their senses eventually.

Others may own stock or trade it to blow off steam, as a form of gambling. If they can afford to lose the money, and are truly not using any inside information or in a position to influence the policies that affect the companies they bet on, then there is no real harm.

But do they wish to lose elections over it?

Certainly, stock trading wasn’t the only issue at play in Georgia. But in purple parts of the country or districts where upstarts in their own party would try to make a case of it, these newly elected officials could be vulnerable. If they avoid individual stocks for political reasons rather than more principled reasons, so be it. It’s all to the good.

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As Bond Yields Rise, Stocks Remain Buoyant, for Now

The sharp rise in bond yields is forcing traders to consider that they may be holding two irreconcilable ideas in their heads.

One is that the Federal Reserve has no real control over bond market interest rates. The other is that the Fed can keep the stock market aloft as long as it tries to control interest rates.

The resilience of share prices — the S&P 500 rose 5.8 percent in the first quarter — suggests that those two ideas can coexist. But if yields continue to rise, the impact on companies, consumers and homeowners and the appeal that fatter bond yields may have to investors could produce a reckoning for stocks.

“The bond market is at an inflection point that eventually is going to be recognized by the stock market,” said Komal Sri-Kumar, president of Sri-Kumar Global Strategies. “Over the last 30 years, the bond market has only gone one way, but a change is occurring now, and it’s likely to be an abrupt one.”

CRB index, which measures a basket of commodities, rose 52 percent in the 12 months through March. Home prices rose 6 percent last year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

$1.9 trillion bill last month to help the economy after the ravages wrought by the pandemic, President Biden proposed spending $2 trillion more on infrastructure projects, albeit over several years.

That $4 trillion, give or take, would be “going into an economy saturated with $6 trillion of stimulus spending from the Trump administration,” Mr. Sri-Kumar said. So much spending is likely to push up inflation and bond yields, he said.

Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at Bank of America Global Research, does not expect such concerns to diminish soon.

Because of such factors as “new central bank mandates, excess fiscal stimulus,” as well as “less globalization, fading deflation from disruption, demographics, debt, we believe inflation rises in the 2020s and the 40-year bull market in bonds is over,” Mr. Hartnett said in a report.

Commodities and other hard assets should outperform in the long term, in his view, along with shares of smaller companies, value stocks and foreign stocks. The dollar, shares of big companies and bonds should do worse.

David Giroux, a portfolio manager and head of investment strategy at T. Rowe Price, said he is worried that the bill will come due for much of the government spending.

“There’s a high likelihood we will have higher corporate taxes next year,” Mr. Giroux said. “That will be a headwind for corporate earnings.”

That persuades him to avoid shares of economically sensitive companies for which “a lot of really good news is already priced in.”

He prefers “stocks with really good business models that have been left behind,” including technology giants that are off their highs, such as Amazon and Google, and companies like utilities. Other favorites include regional banks such as PNC and Huntington Bancshares.

Ms. Bitel at William Blair foresees long-term higher returns by big growth stocks. But she throws in an immense caveat: Because rising interest rates tend to force down valuations, especially on the most expensive segments of the market, there could be a sharp decline before the erstwhile Wall Street darlings excel again.

“Retail investors will be able to buy their favorite growth stocks at a 40 percent discount, but that leadership will resume,” she said, emphasizing that the 40 percent was a ballpark figure.

Ms. Bitel also suggested holding foreign stocks, in particular shares of Chinese health care companies and Japanese software companies.

Mr. Paolini recommends banks, energy and real estate, and said he is avoiding carmakers, industrial companies and home builders.

Considering the investment landscape more broadly, he said, “The outlook for the next one to three years is quite good.” Then he seemed to try to talk himself out of that belief.

“The idea that you can simply print money and everything is fine isn’t sustainable,” Mr. Paolini said. “At some point, we will realize too much has been done and the market is too high, and the situation will change quite fast. I don’t know what that level is or how far away we are from it.”

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Why Investing in Fossil Fuels Is So Tricky

As concerns about climate change push the world economy toward a lower-carbon future, investing in oil may seem a risky bet. For the long term, that may be true.

Yet for the moment, at least, oil and gas prices appear likely to continue to rise as the economy recovers from the pandemic-driven shutdown of millions of businesses, big and small.

These countervailing trends — increasing demand now and falling demand at some point, perhaps in the not-too-distant future — create a dilemma for investors.

The good news is that an array of traditional mutual funds and exchange-traded funds are available to help them navigate these uncertain waters. Some funds focus on slices of the industry, such as extracting crude oil and gas from the ground or delivering refined products to consumers. Others focus on so-called integrated companies that do it all. Some spice their holdings with some exposure to wind, solar or other alternative energy sources.

International Energy Agency forecast that oil consumption was not likely to return to prepandemic levels in developed economies.

“World oil markets are rebalancing after the Covid-19 crisis spurred an unprecedented collapse in demand in 2020, but they may never return to ‘normal,’” the I.E.A. said in its “Oil 2021” report. “Rapid changes in behavior from the pandemic and a stronger drive by governments toward a low-carbon future have caused a dramatic downward shift in expectations for oil demand over the next six years.”

alternative energy funds. Many enable investors to zero in on discrete segments of the industry.

The biggest holdings of the Invesco WilderHill Clean Energy E.T.F. are producers of raw materials for solar cells and rechargeable batteries or builders and operators of large-scale solar projects. The $2.9 billion fund yields 0.49 percent and has an expense ratio of 0.7 percent.

The First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Green Energy Index Fund focuses on applied green technology. Its biggest holdings are Tesla, the American maker of electric automobiles; NIO, a Chinese rival in that field; and Plug Power, which makes hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles. Also a $2.9 billion fund, it yields 0.24 percent and has an expense ratio of 0.6 percent.

The First Trust Global Wind Energy E.T.F., as its name suggests, targets wind turbine manufacturers and servicers, led by the Spanish-German joint venture Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy and Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark, as well as operators such as Northland Power of Canada. This $423 million fund yields 0.92 percent and has an expense ratio of 0.61 percent.


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Betting on Small Companies Yielded Big Returns

Small-cap value stocks rank among the market’s riskiest fare.

But higher risk can bring bigger rewards, and in the first quarter, it did for three of the better-performing mutual funds. Each returned more than 20 percent by betting on small-cap value.

Value investors are betting on stocks that they think are trading below their fundamental worth. Often, companies end up classified this way because they operate in out-of-favor industries or have had setbacks.

Here are some of the choices that enabled three funds to prosper.

The Kinetics Small-Cap Opportunities Fund toted up a first quarter return that would have been whopping for an entire year — 60.5 percent. In contrast, the S&P 500 index gave a total return of 6.2 percent for the quarter.

Peter Doyle, one of the fund’s co-managers, said his fund achieved its result thanks to an unusual holding: the Texas Pacific Land Corporation.

Permian Basin, one of the United States’ leading oil-and-gas-producing locales. The company earns royalties from others’ drilling on its land, and its stock shot up in the first quarter, returning nearly 120 percent.

Until this year, some mutual funds wouldn’t hold Texas Pacific because it was a publicly traded trust, not a corporation. It converted its legal structure in January, though Kinetics has owned it since about 2013.

Texas Pacific recently accounted for 43.9 percent of the fund’s assets. It was one of 36 holdings.

Kinetics’s enormous bet is “an outgrowth of our long time horizon and low turnover strategy,” Mr. Doyle said. “Maybe five of our names will be great investments. If you don’t turn over frequently, those five will become a bigger and bigger percentage of the portfolio.”

Mr. Doyle said patience is essential to how he and his co-managers run their fund. He said they view it as an advantage in a business characterized by shorter-term thinking.

Fund managers’ bonuses are often based on annual returns, so they focus on those, he said. “If you can get away from that, you can buy great companies at a discount.”

Hartford Small Cap Value Fund, sleuths for values, too. But unlike Mr. Doyle, he shies from the energy sector.

He said that’s an outgrowth of his approach, which focuses on companies’ ability to produce free cash flow — that is, cash left over after a company funds its operations and maintains its assets. (Small-cap energy businesses can be speculative and require substantial investment before producing free cash.)

To spot cash spigots, Mr. Kammann ranks the 900 stocks in his investment universe and digs deeper into the better-ranking ones to understand why they’re cheap.

Poly, formerly known as Plantronics, a maker of headsets and other communications equipment.

The company had seen a planned merger collapse and a competitor, Jabro, swipe market share. The stock sank in the early days of the pandemic.

Mr. Kammann sensed a buying opportunity. “We thought the stay-at-home environment would be positive for headsets and that, post-Covid, there was going to continue to be some form of hybrid work. So we redoubled the position.”

The Hartford fund, whose A shares have a net expense ratio of 1.3 percent, returned 23.8 percent in the first quarter.

American Century Small-Cap Value Fund.

It’s one of several measures he considers as he’s screening companies. Others include balance-sheet strength and quality of management.

“We generate a score for each company, and that lets us compare it to other companies in its sector and across the portfolio,” he said. “We want to use data to remove some of the inherent biases we all have.”

Like Mr. Kammann’s approach, Mr. John’s has led him away from such traditional value-centric industries as energy and utilities.

Instead, he has lately found promise in Compass Diversified, which he calls a mini-conglomerate.

Compass, a publicly traded partnership, owns such diverse companies as the Sterno Group, producer of the canned fuel, and 5.11, a maker of clothing and gear for law enforcement and for the outdoors.

Compass’s managers are “incredible allocators of capital,” Mr. John said. “They invest in these businesses and help them grow, and if there’s an opportunity to sell them, they’ll do that.”

In 2019, for example, Compass sold off Clean Earth, an environmental remediation company, and Manitoba Harvest, a producer of hemp foods .

Penske Automotive, calling it “one of our core holdings for quite some time.”

Penske is known for its network of car dealerships, but its business is burlier than that, he said. Commercial trucks, via sales and leasing, have recently powered the company’s growth.

“Within the commercial truck space, 70 percent of gross profit comes from the servicing,” he said. “A sale is really just an entree to providing service over time.”

The company’s chairman, Roger S. Penske, makes shareholder interests a priority because he’s a substantial one himself, Mr. John said. “Penske owns 40-percent-plus of the company.”

The American Century Fund, whose investor shares have an expense ratio of 1.25 percent, returned 24.7 percent in the first quarter.


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