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A Bushel Full of Questions for Investors

Where are we headed? The conference knows.

Russel Kinnel, 06/06/2011

It's time for the annual Morningstar Investment Conference, where great investors will meet to share their ideas. Last year, I was struck by the split between managers and economists who view the world from the top down and managers who analyze from the bottom up. The big-picture speakers were bearish, but stock-pickers were finding plenty of bargains. Sure enough, the market is up more than 20% since then.

This time, I suspect we'll hear a little less enthusiasm from the stock-pickers. I wouldn't expect to hear as much extreme bearishness as we heard a few years ago nor the bullishness we heard in 2009. But even if we aren't on the brink of a big shift in the markets, it pays to listen closely to what managers are finding as you want to be prepared when those tectonic moves come. Here are a few of the speakers I'm looking forward to. My colleague Gregg Wolper will take a closer look at some of the international panels.

The conference kicks off Wednesday, June 8. You can find the full agenda here.

David Laibson on the Age of Reason
It's well known that investors' needs, time horizons, and risk tolerance change over their lifetime. However, Harvard professor David Laibson explores a less-appreciated evolution of investors: their ability to make sound decisions. As with income, your ability to make sound financial decisions changes and that has profound implications for financial planners, fund companies, and anyone trying to assist a relative in making financial decisions.

Bill Gross on the Old Normal
Sluggish growth and hints of inflation? Check! Emerging markets in a leadership position? Check! The economy seems a lot like the "new normal" that Bill Gross and PIMCO predicted a few years ago. But what's next? How will Gross explain his rather overhyped bet against Treasuries in light of the recent Treasury rally? I hope he'll also discuss a much publicized dire prediction that one analyst made about muni defaults. Gross should set the table for our understanding of the second half of 2011.

Laurence Fink on BlackRock the Universe and Everything
We're going to have a wide-ranging conversation with BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink. He's at a fascinating spot in the industry given BlackRock's fixed-income expertise and the firm's purchase of ETF giant iShares. I look forward to hearing what's on his plate and where the fund industry is heading. Given BlackRock's expertise in risk management, I'm hoping we'll hear a little about what's on the new frontier in risk.

Buffett-Influenced Managers Swap Ideas
We've gathered three of the best Berkshire-inspired fund managers around for what should be an interesting chat. Value investing has been a treacherous pursuit in recent years even for those who have proven their ability to invest like Warren. David Poppe (Sequoia SEQUX), Ken Feinberg (Selected American SLASX), and Will Browne (Tweedy, Browne Value TWEBX) have taken different paths and produced very different results. I look forward to hearing their take on financials and consumer giants.PAGEBREAK

Tapping into the Giant Research Firms
Managers at the asset-management giants have an embarrassment of riches with scores of analysts generating research for them. But using all that information effectively is not so easy. Fidelity's Tom Allen (Fidelity Advisor Mid Cap II FIIAX), Wellington's Michael Carmen (Hartford Growth Opportunities HGOAX) , and T. Rowe's David Giroux (Capital Appreciation PRWCX) will discuss.

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