I'm going to be straight with you: This is a nothing week. You need barely half a hand to count the deals on the docket, so let's not even bother. Instead, I'm gonna tell you how it is out there. I'm going to tell you some stuff you don't already know and when I'm done I'm going to ask you to do something for me. Give and take, you know?
Wall Street is changing and it's doing so at a rate I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined. Now here's the punch line:
It's all about you
. Yes you. Not the rich guys or the institutions, you the individual with your $50,000 or $100,000 online brokerage account. Maybe you have more, maybe less, that's not important. What's important is that you're being watched closely by the big boys. Dig this: There are literally many tens of millions of you out there.
Many tens of millions
. There are merely thousands of institutions and where these used to be the most lucrative accounts any broker(age) could wish for, that too is changing. What happened to you and the way you look at commissions, markups and transaction costs is now happening on the pro side. The same forces -- marketing, efficiency and price -- are pulling the big money accounts away from the primary firms and onto the Web, just like they pulled you away.
Most people don't know this, but I used to be a broker with one of the major houses and I had the good fortune of having a customer book that was built around very active institutional accounts, hedge funds mostly. The accounts I covered were some of the shrewdest people ever to kick a dollar down Wall Street. Most of what I know today I picked up from watching these accounts trade. Funny thing, though, most of them were operating out of places you'd never associate with smart money -- places like Fresno, Farmingdale and yes, Boulder. What I learned from these guys was that making money is all about just that, making money, and that paying a broker excessive fees runs counter to that goal.
Now, I'm not silly enough to try to tell you that
is out buying stocks on
. No, a completely different changeup is taking place in that world. Systems are being built that are matching institutional buyers and sellers and working to tighten the bid/ask spreads down to fractions of pennies. These systems will eventually take most or all of the juice out of large equity transactions and all but eliminate the market makers and their fat margins. Yes, institutions do size trades, but size is wholesale these days.
(Note to self: Tell mom to get very short NITE (NITE) ).
No seriously, this is happening right now and the institutions are lapping it up. So what's left? You, baby. Once again, you are the fat account. $8 a trade? No way. The firms can barely clear your trades for 8 bucks. Think about this: You buy 500 shares of some stock. Let's say the bid is 24 1/2 and the ask is 24 5/8. How much money is in that trade for the market maker? Try $62.50. Yep, they buy the stock at the bid and put it in your account at the ask, pocketing the eighth spread in the process. And, AND, you still pay the $8! Hmmm ... What's that, $70.50 for brokering a retail buy ticket? Fat.
Remember what I said: There are literally many tens of millions of you out there dropping fat tickets. Now consider that you just did that transaction with a Web browser -- no broker -- which means that the firm isn't splitting the ticket with a retail salesperson. Most of those people on the retail side are getting 40% or 50% of the commissions they generate. Let's make the math easy and call it 50%. A full-service brokerage, paying the salesperson who covers your account half, would need to charge you $141 to match the juice in the online trade you just put on. How can they compete for that order? The answer is they can't.
By the way, stop using the word
instead, because that's what they are. I don't mean that to be snide, but believe me, that little crack is going to cost me. I don't care though, because that's the way it is.
So what? How can you use any of this?
I'm going to be bold here and assume that if you're reading me that you want to get your hands on some hot IPO shares, right? Well, guess what, it's your turn. What the IPO market has been going through over the last year and a half is nothing short of a revolution. The underwriters finally opened up to distributing IPOs to retail accounts and these firms came out the big winners. You came back to the bricks-and-mortar houses for the IPOs and you brought your cash and securities and commissions and fat account fees with you. Oh yeah, I didn't mention account fees, did I? That $40 a year you pay for your brokerage account? That's pure profit. When I was at
, there was a push to open as many of these accounts as we could. The goal was to cover all of the firm's fixed operating costs with the fees on so-called premium accounts. Institutions don't pay these fees, you do. Institutions don't buy stock at the ask, either. Instead, they lay out there on
on the bid and buy like the market makers do.
Hear what I'm telling you: You are fat and the firms are loving you. The question is, when are they going to start giving you some love in the form of IPO allocations? I say they have to, and they'd better do it soon if they want to gain you and keep you as a client. (Are you catching on to the necessary attitude?)
Look at it this way, you're busy doing your fat business online with firms that are not acting as underwriters. You want IPO shares? Take your business back to Merrill, take it back to
, take it back to
. Yes, they all have relatively high standards as far as account size goes. Yes, they want a high level of activity in the accounts they give hot deals to. That's just life on Wall Street. Besides, why shouldn't they? They're giving away free money.
Can anyone play this game? No. The reality is that you need the seed if you want to make the hay. I know that many of you aren't there yet, but quite a few of you are. Only you know where you stand. My point is that if you're carrying a decent-sized account, you should be housing it where it will do you the most good, and if you're looking to score new issues, then the primary firms are the place to be.
So, what if your account is not so huge? Then you're not swinging a big line, yet. Right now is a fantastic time to be you. It's a great time to be an individual investor working to build up his or her capital. Never before have people -- ordinary people like you -- had such incredible access to information that can make you money. There are Web sites out there spewing out news, earnings numbers and research reports just as fast as they become available. Speed is now a commodity. Everybody is fast these days, and you benefit from that. You have tools at your fingertips, most of them free or damn near, that just a few years ago were available only to top-tier institutions. Take advantage of it! Guys like
and sites like
are money makers. Put them to use and grow your bankroll. Which brings me to that favor I mentioned earlier ...
I run a Web site called
. This is where I do my best work. If you haven't checked it out,
go there right now and sign up for a two-week trial. It won't cost you a dime to try it and I know that if you give me a chance, I can make you money. I know this because I get calls and emails every day from our users who are turning a profit on our info and opinions. This isn't a plea or a trick to get you to click on my page. I know what I'm good at and I'm confident that what we're doing over there is valuable to anyone who is buying (or selling) the deals.
Another thing: Like it or not, this is me. This is how I talk to people and somewhere along the line the voice that I write in became a little, well, stiff. I'd like very much to change that and to behave more like the real me. So, do you want to see more of this straight dope kind of content out of me?
Write and tell me if you like it or hate it. If you hate it, I'll shut up. If you like it, I'm ready to do more. I've been around the block a couple of times and I think I've got a few things yet I can share with you.
By The Way
: I just picked up a music CD by DJ
Better Living Through Chemistry
. I like to dance and so do my wife and kids. This is pretty dancey, very funky and a bunch of fun. You should have seen my two little boys and I Saturday morning bustin' some sweet moves in the living room. Check it out.
Now, let's look at the deals for this week:
Ben Holmes is the founder of
ipoPros.com, a Boulder, Colo.-based research boutique (now a wholly-owned subsidiary of TheStreet.com) specializing in the analysis of equity syndicate offerings. This column is not meant as investment advice; it is instead meant to provide insight into the methods of new and secondary offerings. Neither Holmes nor his firm has entered indications of interest in any of the companies discussed in this column. Holmes' This Week in IPOs column appears Sundays, This Week's Secondaries appears Tuesdays, Upcoming Lockup Expirations appears Wednesdays and The Quiet Period appears on Fridays. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Holmes appreciates your feedback at