People who earn their living following stocks and analyzing corporate data may want to build up their reputations for accuracy, but they are not immune from conflicts of interest. And that means you may want to take their price targets and notes with a grain or three of salt. Which leads MarketFoolery listener Caroline inevitably to this question: What better sources are there for unbiased stock analysis?
In this mailbag segment of the podcast, host Chris Hill and senior analyst Ron Gross try to point her in the right direction.
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This video was recorded on July 1, 2019.
Chris Hill: Question from Caroline Smith, who writes, "I've heard folks on your podcast mention how Wall Street has an inherent conflict of interest when they issue analyst reports and price targets for stocks. Where should I go to get information I can really trust when I'm doing research -- outside of The Motley Fool, that is. Thanks very much."
Great question! I'm reminded of a phrase that I always associate with our friend and colleague, Uncle Joe Magyer, when he talks about, not necessarily Wall Street analysts, but company executives, as he puts it, talking their own book. You would expect the CEO of any company to talk up their business. It's not to say that analysts on Wall Street are being disingenuous when they say, "This is why I like this company. This is why I don't like this company." But, yeah, there are absolutely conflicts of interest when analysts from Wall Street Firm X is saying, "I love this stock!" Meanwhile, the analysts on the sell side are pushing the stock as well.
Anyway, to the question that Caroline posed, where do you go for research?
Ron Gross: I personally go directly to the company documents and do my own research. That's easy for me to say. That's what I do all day long. If you're someone who wants someone else's opinion, and you don't want to go to the primary documents and do your own work, I always start with a straight-out Google. Just start Googling the company. You'll find articles, whether it's Forbes, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, from folks that don't have a conflict. They're either analysts, or even financial authors from the financial press, and they will give you thoughts and opinions. Even if it's not opinion, at least it will be facts about how a company is doing.
Obviously, the Fool, as the question says, but we do have competitors that don't have conflicts. I'll throw out one because I'm not in the business of helping our competitors. But, Morningstar is a company that we trust around here to look at a research report and to get advice that is not conflicted. It's not free, it's expensive, and not everybody wants to pay for that level of research. But there are some folks out there that do independent research. And those are the folks that are typically not associated with an investment bank.
Hill: I'll just add that if it's an industry that you're particularly interested in, the trade media beyond The Wall Street Journals and Fortune, Forbes, etc. If you start digging into what trade media covering a given industry are writing about, you can really get into stuff that's never going to see the light of day in The Wall Street Journal. For me, it's always enlightening to look at the restaurant trade publications. You almost hear about stuff before it makes its way to the mainstream media.
Gross: Excellent point! In fact, a lot of the trade media is free because it's advertising-supported. So, you could get your hands on a lot -- whether it's telecom, food, restaurants, lots of different industries -- a lot more information than you would think you could, for free.