Life today is all about finding hacks. There are “life hack” themed blogs out there that are very popular, most offering tips on how to improve productivity and cut through information overload we all face. Lifehacker and Lifehack are examples. Most hacks are dedicated to finding a better or cheaper way to get the same results of a traditional and expensive method or product.
For example, with Skype, you can hack in-person meetings. By following certain blogs and Twitter accounts, you can hack your news consumption, avoiding traditional news media. The iPad is a laptop hack. Technology has even allowed many people to hack going into the office altogether.
The thing about hacks is they are inevitably not going to provide 100% of the experience of the circumvented task or product. For example, in a Skype meeting, the presence of the presenter is lost, along with the (sometimes awkward, sometimes very important) walking to the elevator conversations after the meeting.
I attended the Platts MLP Symposium last week, which was really well done with top notch speakers and interesting content. The size of the audience wasn’t on par with the content delivered. I think the cost of the conference may have had something to do with that, but also in this hack-able age, people are less willing to go the traditional routes if a reasonable facsimile can be obtained via other means. The traditional conference is one of those old school things that can be hacked, with mixed results. One way is via a virtual conference, another is just by recreating the agenda through your own primary and secondary research.
Virtual Conference Hack
There are firms out there that have started producing traditional conferences online, essentially taking the conference presentations and turning them into webcasts with 100% of the audience online either live or viewing it later, with live Q&A online and even with exhibit halls with booths from sponsors. They call them virtual conferences. One site, www.retailinvestorconferences.com actually put on a virtual MLP conference in April of this year, and has monthly virtual conferences, the latest of which featured VNR (an MLP) as a presenting company.
By going virtual, the conference producers can get a larger audience and charge less. The problem with virtual conferences as a user is just how distracting the rest of the programs running on your computer can be, or how many telephone interruptions you might have while trying to focus. Also, you don’t get the same networking effect of randomly eating lunch with someone at an in-person conference. Still, the technology is there, and the benefits mostly outweigh the drawbacks, so expect more of these virtual conferences in the future.
No Conference Hack
The other alternative is to forego the conference altogether. If you want to know about MLPs, for example, a conference probably isn’t necessary. Armed with an internet connection, a credit card and a phone, you can find out everything you need to know about MLPs. The main areas covered by the Platts conference are listed below with alternative sources for information about each:
If you wanted to learn about an individual MLP, they all make frequent SEC filings, post their investor presentations online, have quarterly conference calls, and have investor relations teams dedicated to answering your questions. So, other than the sometimes overrated “looking management in the eye” test, there is not a compelling need to spend money on plane tickets, hotel rooms and conference tickets to get information on individual MLPs.
On individual tax issues (which was not covered at the Platts conference) I would say consult a CPA that has dealt with MLPs before. Also, investorvillage.com has an active MLP board with many MLP veterans willing to share their experiences and free advice on MLP tax issues.
All of the above may seem pretty overwhelming, and it doesn’t offer the allure of a few days in Vegas or the networking opportunities available in-person, so it’s clear why there is still a market for conferences for those who can afford them.
Breakdown of MLP Conferences
If you do want to go to an MLP conference, there are several different kinds to choose from. If you’re looking to invest directly in MLPs, and want to choose among them, or if you just want to get the overall mood of the sector, the NAPTP MLP conference is the best for that, because you get more MLP investors and MLP management teams in one place than at any other event hands down.
So, there are plenty of conferences you can attend to hear management teams go through their investor presentations, which has its merits, but seems to be an old Wall Street concept: educating brokers on individual MLPs so they can go sell them to retail brokerage clients. It seems that in the new age of fee-based investment advisors over brokers, conferences focused on educating investors as to major industry trends and how to make good MLP choices could be very popular in the future.
Platts MLP Symposium Review
The Platts MLP Symposium last week covered timely and relevant MLP topics. The agenda was well thought out. It provided an expert and a discussion on the regulatory environment, several discussions and experts talking about commodities, panels on other issues like MLP structure, capital markets, ETNs/ETFs, and new MLP asset classes. The speakers were top tier and very knowledgeable. It was also a good opportunity for networking, which I could not have replicated from my desk. I would recommend it if you can justify the cost. If not, here is my hack of the conference…
Regulatory Review: Christine Tezak (Clearview Energy)
Commodities and NGLs: John Edwards (Credit Suisse), Nathan Ticatch (Petrologistics), Anne Keller (Wood Mackenzie)
North American Commodity Outlook: Chris Miscak (Bentek)
Corporate Governance Panel: Steve Jones (Tudor Pickering), Ethan Bellamy (Baird), Tom Heinzler (Anadarko), Bill Manias (CMLP)
Upstream Panel: Ethan Bellamy, John Ragozzino (RBC), Jim Jackson (BBEP), Bobby Stillwell (MEMP)
State of the Capital Markets: Gabe Moreen (BofA ML), Hinds Howard (Guzman & Company, Guzman Investment Strategies, mlpguy.com)
Benefits and Challenges for Institutional Investors in MLPs: Kenny Feng (Alerian)
New Asset Classes for MLPs: Robert Santangelo (Credit Suisse), Clay Womack (Adageo Partners)