Observations on two subjects that have crossed this editor's desk recently...
First, a reader asked why executives at a money management or financial services firm would allow - and seemingly even encourage - their investment experts to espouse widely disparate views of the economy and/or the markets.
He mentioned firms that have two to five different people making public predictions. Maybe one is bearish, one is bullish; one promotes value stocks; the other, growth stocks; or two are wildly bullish, one is a bear and the other two are moderate bulls.
"Is there a desire to have a unified voice?" he wondered. "Do firms care that two different people say two different things?" Most importantly, he asked: "Whom should I believe?"
Good questions. Imagine a firm filled with super-smart professionals with strong opinions and not-so-small egos. These people couldn't agree on ordering a pizza, let alone on what the Standard & Poor's 500 will return in 2003.
I posed the conundrum to the folks at State Street Global Advisors in Boston, whose economic and investment experts - including Chief Investment Officer Alan Brown and Chief Investment Strategist Ned Riley - are quoted almost every day. And they don't always agree.
"We realize this can be a source of confusion," Mr. Brown acknowledged, but "we welcome diversity."
"Each product group is evangelical about its particular way of making money," he said. "Therefore I have to allow them the freedom to hold different views." He did concede that if two people at SSgA are completely polarized - say one is wildly bullish, the other is wildly bearish - "we sometimes try to narrow those differences."
Still, "we will tolerate a pretty diverse set of views ... but I'm not going to pretend it's always easy."
I've been inundated with press releases, phone calls and statements about President Bush's proposed institutional retirement plan.
Whoever came up with the name of the plan should lose his or her job. I'm talking about the Employer Retirement Savings Account, which will replace 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans and 457 plans. The acronym is ERSA.
Does anybody else think that acronym is a tad too close to ERISA, the nearly 30-year-old law this industry lives and dies by? Do you think whoever picked the name deliberately made it similar to ERISA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act?
Have you heard people talk about ERSA since President Bush proposed the concept late last month? Doesn't it sound like they're saying "ERISA"? Sure makes me confused. A few times, I thought they were saying "Ursula," and that made me think of the villain in "The Little Mermaid."
Now I'm waiting for all or part of the Labor Department to be moved under the umbrella of the Bush administration's new Homeland Security Department, since the "s" in ERISA stands for security.