James Demmert had to run after our early morning conversation to appear on the Yahoo Finance channel, where he’s a frequent talking head on stock markets. In our brief 45-minute interview, he explained that attending Berkshire School had turned his life around and made him return to set up a New England office of his successful California money management firm Main Street Research – no connection to our magazine.
What does Main Street Research do?
We manage money for wealthy individuals, families, and foundations. Our goal is to make money last for generations with a unique process of managing downside risk called Active Risk Management. We focus on publicly traded securities from around the world and build individual portfolios based on each investor’s goals. All investors’ funds are held in custodial accounts with Charles Schwab.
I founded the firm in 1993, and Main Street Research now has 23 employees, mainly in Sausalito, CA, but we also have offices in Midtown Manhattan, NY, and Greenwich and Lakeville, CT.
What’s your view on the Stock Market right now?
I’m always open to sharing my opinion. We’ve been in a bear market, with some stocks down 30 to 50% from their highest value a little over a year ago. During this time, our active risk management process has kept assets in a defensive position (much less stock exposure), which our clients have appreciated. However, the bear market in stocks is getting closer to its end, so we have made a list of great stocks for the new bull market we see ahead – possibly this summer.
Some of the most attractive sectors are technology, telecommunications, energy, and industrials. We are also finding many opportunities outside the US in international markets.
Are there any individual stocks you are currently recommending to your clients?
Since the bear market began 15 months ago, we have advocated that clients have less than normal stock exposure and focus on recession-proof businesses such as healthcare (McKesson, Novo Nordisk), and consumer staples (Coca-Cola, Unilever). Most recently, we are seeing value in the tech sector in companies like AMD and Apple.
How did you get started in this business?
When I was ten years old, my mother took me to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and I knew immediately that I wanted to be part of that world. During college at Harvard, I worked as an intern at LR Rothchild and, after graduation, went to California as an equities analyst at Lehmann Brothers. When I left to start my own firm in 1993, it was really tough, but I had no wife or kids. Everything turned around after five years, and in 1994 my firm started a partnership with Charles Schwab. Schwab plays an integral role as a high-quality institution in the custody of our client assets.
What’s different about Main Street Research?
Typically, clients approach us because they have done poorly in the market on their own or with an advisor. Sometimes clients come to us specifically for our distinct ability to manage risk in bear markets or for our very unique fee based on performance. They are looking for a team that can create a detailed financial roadmap to make their assets last their lifetime and, in many cases, for future generations. We do this through a detailed and holistic wealth planning process that serves as our roadmap for creating an ideal investment strategy. Our portfolio managers have a direct, personal relationship with our clients. Client satisfaction, a combination of performance and communication, is the most important thing.
What is Main Street’s investment style?
We fall into the value investing GARP category – growth at a reasonable price. We pick individual stocks and bonds, employ risk management tools such as stop losses, and adjust portfolios to changes in the economy. Last year, the stock percentage in many of our portfolios was reduced from 70% to nearly 20%, which provided much less volatility and more peace of mind during the bear market. With every client, we begin with financial and wealth planning. What are their expenses? What is their income? Do they have kids? What are their intentions and goals?
How are your fees structured?
We give clients two choices. One is a simple fee based on the total assets we are managing per year ranging from 1.25% and down to .25% depending on the size of the relationship. The other is performance-based, which has lower management fee scaling from .75% down to .15% depending on the relationship and includes a 5% profit allocation when the portfolio has new profits. Like most money managers, the minimum initial investment for a relationship is $1,000,000. We have over 750 clients with almost two billion dollars under management.
How important are PR, Internet, social and investment media, and cable in attracting clients?
As the business has grown and evolved, we have been lucky to receive inquires form the media about our view of markets. I am very grateful to have been invited to the Bloomberg studios and for my appearances on CNBC and Reuters. This week our work was also quoted in The Wall Street Journal. This type of press and media exposure is always good for clients and prospective clients to see and sometimes will inspire them to refer friends or family. We are getting a lot of client referrals because of our presence here, and we’re building our brand in northwest Connecticut.
Are there any clients that would not be a good fit?
We’re very flexible and match clients with appropriate portfolio managers. However, clients who have short-term growth expectations should probably go someplace else.
Why are you here in Lakeville, CT?
When I was a kid, I went to Berkshire School, which was a lifesaver. I wanted my kids to go to Berkshire School; they are in tenth grade there now. In 2018 we bought 166 Main Street in Lakeville and started major renovations. Yes, we were the people from California who purchased the Nemiroff house. It was a heart and soul thing and became our home during Covid. We treasure the house and the peace and serenity of life in a small town. Next, we purchased the former White Gallery buildings to have an office presence here on Main Street, and now we’re renovating the Borden building next door.
Do you give back to the community?
As we did in northern California, we are big fans of giving back to our local community by supporting many of the non-profits in the area in hopes of making the north corner an even better place.
What is in the big, black garage behind your office?
Do you remember all the little office spaces in that back building? When we gutted the interior, we discovered it was initially a barn with a hayloft built over 100 years ago. We saved the structure with the old beams, and it now houses my vintage Porsche collection. My favorite car is the 1956 Speedster that was once in Reggie Jackson’s collection. When we moved here, I didn’t know Lime Rock was nearby. I’ve raced on the West Coast and am hoping to do some driving at Lime Rock this summer.
You and Main Street Research have received many awards. What are you proudest of?
Being named as one of the top advisors in the country by both Barron’s and Forbes was the most significant honor so far in my career.
Besides your own, what are some great books about investing – or life?
I’m a fan of Ray Dalio’s Principles and any autobiography or biography of successful businesspeople or politicians.
Who has inspired you?
What’s next for you?
I’m never retiring – I love what I do. I love writing about investing and am working on my third book now, tentatively called Wall Street Lessons – it’s about investor psychology. I also love educating. Every year I teach a class for students at Berkshire School about finance and investing, and it’s always oversubscribed. Further, our firm was early to create an internship program so young people could get to know the business. •
To learn more about Main Street
Research, you can call them at (415) 289-0105 or visit them online at ms-research.com.
*Disclaimer: All information and background presented in this article was directly provided by the subject and is based on his work, experience, and or professional opinion. Main Street Magazine is not responsible for any financial advice that is provided here. The information is general in nature, and readers should consult a financial advisor for their specific situation and needs.