Pity the Washington Research Group. Their parent, MF Global, is now history and they are orphaned, for the fourth time. The only consolation is that they are used to it.
Washington Research Group (WRG), a venerable policy research firm, was founded in in 1974 as The Washington Forum. It was acquired by Schwab for its ill-fated Capital Markets group. Schwab merged WRG with Soundview in 2004, but then sold Soundview to UBS a few months later. Schwab sold WRG to the Stanford Group in March, 2005. The Stanford Group was seized by U.S. authorities in February 2009 under charges of fraud. WRG was homeless for a month before merging with Concept Capital in March, 2009. Concept Capital sold WRG to MF Global a year ago on October 26, 2010.
WRG has a strong identity, led by Ed Garlich, Jr., who has been through this drill before. It currently has 17 analysts who are mainly specialized in industry sectors ranging from health care to telecom. As the name suggests, the firm is based in Washington, and tracks policy developments which will impact stock valuations.
The challenge for WRG is to keep its analysts and clients loyal during the period of uncertainty. WRG has plenty of competitors who would be more than happy to poach its analysts and its clients.
Also, the number of potential partners keeps dwindling, as institutional equities businesses continue to be under pressure. Firms like Nomura and Macquarie are pulling back from their aggressive expansion plans while agency brokers have been weakened by reduced trading volumes.
However, WRG has faced this challenge before. It is helped by the continued popularity of policy research, which is one of the few robust areas within the research industry. This, plus its strong franchise, makes WRG an attractive property. We would be surprised if WRG were not able to find a suitable home in the near future.