Morningstar Gains S&P Equity Research Clients


Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Charles Schwab no longer distributes S&P equity research.  In fact, Schwab continues to distribute S&P equity research, even though the only research listed on its website is Morningstar equity research.

Since S&P Capital IQ, the research and market data division of McGraw-Hill Financial, downsized its equity research group, bitter rival Morningstar has been adding key new clients. Morningstar is aggressively marketing its significantly larger analytic team. For many of S&P’s important clients, the message is resonating.  However, it is not clear which strategy will be successful in the end.

S&P’s Evaporating Analysts

Since the end of the Global Research Analysts Settlement’s subsidies for independent research, S&P has been steadily shrinking its 100-person equity analyst headcount.

Earlier this year, S&P laid off 50 equity analysts, shrinking its equity research team from 66 analysts to 16 analysts. At the same time it substituted quantitative analysis for analyst coverage for many of the nearly 1,500 equities it follows. S&P’s star ratings, instead of being assigned by analysts, are in most cases assigned by models, and much of the textual commentary is automated.

The move increased the profitability of S&P’s equity research product, so long as it can keep current customers happy. The move was a gamble that users wouldn’t mind the reduced analytic input and the increasingly automated reports. It appears that the gamble may not be paying off.

 Increased Competition

S&P’s rivals in the retail space, such as Zacks, Argus and Morningstar, have been moving to capitalize on S&P’s move. Argus hired S&P’s former research head to help with its product strategy.  Morningstar has perhaps been the most active, touting its 105 analysts to all of S&P’s biggest customers.

Unlike S&P, Morningstar has retained the 105 equity analysts it staffed up during the Settlement. To recapture lost Settlement revenues, it has sought to expand its institutional business by focusing on smaller asset managers whose commission flows are too small to be interesting to investment banks. Morningstar can offer its equity research at a much lower price point than most investment banks.

Morningstar has also been expanding internationally, hiring staff in Europe and Asia, including a recently hired institutional salesperson in Hong Kong.

Now, after S&P’s dramatic downsizing, Morningstar has been also targeting S&P’s core client base, with some recent success. Charles Schwab, a long-time licensor of S&P research and once one of S&P’s largest customers, has added Morningstar research, which is now the only stock research featured on its website.  Edward Jones now uses Morningstar as a complement to its own internally generated research. Wells Fargo, which once outsourced much of its equity research to S&P, now uses Morningstar.

Our Take

When it downsized its equity research, S&P Capital IQ said it planned to refocus its equity research group to cover new areas and differentiate its research product. It is not yet clear what is differentiated about S&P’s research. Rather, the move appears to have been a cynical decision based on the assumption that most retail consumers of research are relatively indifferent between quantitative versus qualitative research.

And, despite Morningstar’s recent successes, S&P may be correct. Although Morningstar’s equity ratings incorporate analyst input as key factors, they are in the end quant models. [Note: Morningstar takes issue with this description: “While we have a rules-based system for assigning our star ratings, our analysts actually do control what those ratings ultimately are, since they determine the Fair Value Estimates (our equivalent of a price target) that we assign to each stock. The star rating basically just indicates how cheap or expensive the stock is relative to that analyst-assigned Fair Value.”] On paper, S&P’s equity coverage of 1,500 stocks is not materially less than Morningstar’s nearly 1,800 stocks.

Retail investors, and their advisors, often value a perspective that only an analyst can give. Analyst color can make the difference in the decision to transact a stock, and this is the key ingredient most S&P equity research lacks. However, the extra cost base associated with 100 analysts makes this a very expensive added feature, and Morningstar will need to keep hustling to make it pay.




About Author

Sandy Bragg is a principal at Integrity Research Associates. He has over thirty years experience as an investment research professional. Prior to joining Integrity in 2006, he was an Executive Managing Director at Standard & Poors, managing S&P’s equity research business and fund information properties. Sandy has an MBA from New York University and BA from Williams College. Email:

1 Comment

  1. Sanford Bragg on

    Comment from Stanley (Bud) Morten who administered Citigroup’s purchases of independent research under the Global Research Analyst Settlement (GRAS) as an independent consultant appointed by regulators:

    I may be out of touch, but back in the GRAS days I thought M*’s ratings were based on a DCF valuation approach based on specific projections of future growth and profitability, based on detailed earnings models for each company (which were available to clients), plus assessments of the risk associated with each company, all of which was done by analysts working in synergistic industry-specialized teams using explicit and consistent general and global economic assumptions (which, BTW, were based in part on a continuous stream of inputs from the industry groups) and valuation standards.

    If this has not changed, then M*’s methodology is still equal to or better than most sell-side research departments. How its ratings perform, as you know, is a different question, the answer to which does not necessarily affect the value of the research to an investor. Meanwhile, S&P, has become ValueLine.

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