Does CNBC’s Fast Money “Censor” Opinions Of Its Expert Guests?

A few years ago, during the technology bust period, we met a money manager on a flight to San Francisco who remarked to us that he was told by CNBC Anchors in 1999 to only speak bullishly about the market or be prohibited from appearing on their show. We listened politely to his complaint but did not take him seriously.

Now we are not so sure. What changed our mind? Read on. 

In the title of this article, we use “censor” as a verb. According to the online dictionary, a definition of the noun “censor” is “an official who examines materials for objectionable matter or an official who reads communications and deletes material considered sensitive or harmful”.  

Below we lay out our opinion based on what we saw on CNBC’s Fast Money show and what we read in the Financial Times. We leave it to our readers to decide whether the verb “censor” in our title question is an appropriate use of that verb.  

Richard Bernstein, the former strategist of Merrill Lynch & currently the CEO of Richard Bernstein Capital Management, is a regular guest on CNBC Fast Money show. On November 18, Mr. Bernstein wrote an opinion in the Financial Times titled Lessons of investing are ignored. In this article, Mr. Bernstein discussed how asset allocation is once again being unduly influenced by short-term momentum. Below are a few excerpts:

  • Investors continue to define asset allocation in terms of the number of asset classes in a portfolio rather than by the correlations between those assets.
  • Meanwhile, investors are ignoring the fact that Treasury bonds are currently the only asset class with negative correlation to most other asset classes.
  • Chinese and Japanese investors have notoriously large positions in Treasuries, and may be the only investors today with truly diversified portfolios.
  • It is remarkable that perhaps today’s best examples of diversified portfolios, namely those held by the Chinese and Japanese, are criticized by the remainder of the investing world.
  • Investors should be trying to emulate their Chinese and Japanese overweight positions in Treasuries. Instead, Wall Street is striving to get the Chinese and Japanese to “diversify” like everyone else. In my opinion, the Chinese and Japanese should ignore the advice and stick with their Treasuries.
  • Investors should also not be fooled again by the myth that emerging markets have decoupled from developed ones.
  • Alternative assets aren’t alternatives any more. The returns of alternative asset classes have diminished and their correlations to other assets increased as alternatives have transformed from odd to conventional.
  • Treasuries are today’s “alternative” asset class. Treasuries’ returns continue to be negatively correlated to equities, yet they remain widely underowned because investors consider them overly risky.
This is an important article and should be read by every investor ( ).

Even the few excerpts above should be enough to convince readers that Mr. Bernstein is bullish on Treasuries and feels strongly that Treasuries should be a part of every investor’s diversified portfolio.  

But this would be a surprise to you if you only listened to Richard Bernstein during his guest appearances on CNBC’s Fast Money. As far as we can recall, Mr. Bernstein has never expressed these sentiments on the Fast Money Show.

Just to be sure, we went to and searched for Bernstein in the US Videos section of the website. We found the following recent videos:

  • Bull Market or BS? – Richard Bernstein on Fast Money on Tuesday, December 1, 2009 – about 2 weeks after his FT article.
  • Bull Market or BS? – Richard Bernstein on Fast Money on Tuesday, November 10, 2009 – about a week before his FT article.
We encourage readers to watch these clips. When you do, you are unlikely to hear a single peep about Treasuries or the need to own Treasuries as a diversification for your equity portfolios. Instead, you will hear Fast Money traders discussing low quality stocks and aggressive stock picks with Mr. Bernstein.

The Richard Bernstein you hear in the CNBC clips is very different than the Richard Bernstein you read in the Financial Times article. So where does the dissonance spring from?  

We have read Mr. Bernstein’s articles for a few years and he has generally been bullish on US Treasuries. In contrast, we have felt for some time that CNBC’s Fast Money is biased against US Treasuries and we have described examples of Fast Money’s anti-Treasury bias in articles on this Blog. Indeed on Friday, December 4, Fast Money Anchor Melissa Lee and Trader Karen Finerman discussed Ms. Finerman’s long standing short position in Treasuries. Also, on this day, Fast Money featured a special segment with a negative view on Treasuries with Brian Sutland of Sutland Equities, another regular CNBC Fast Money guest. The name of Mr. Sutland’s firm would suggest that he is mainly an equities trader. So why does CNBC Fast Money deem Brian Sutland an expert on Treasuries? We guess, as simple viewers, ours is not ask why.  

This leads us to the opinion that the views expressed by Richard Bernstein on Fast Money could be characterized as being more consistent with Fast Money show’s views rather than Bernstein’s personal views described in his FT article. 

This leads us to wonder whether CNBC Fast Money asks their guests to stick to a specific script or to a specific set of ideas. Is this why, we wonder, Mr. Bernstein only speaks about stocks, consumer stocks and low quality stocks on Fast Money and keeps his Treasury recommendations to himself.

If this true, we feel CNBC Fast Money should disclose this to its viewers. After all, individual viewers are likely to hear Mr. Bernstein on CNBC Fast Money and believe that they know the full views of Mr. Bernstein.

This is not a simple matter. This issue reminds us of the Wall Street Research scandal of 2001-2002. Recall that in 1999-2000, Wall Street analysts published research on stocks that did not FULLY reflect their opinion about the companies involved. Today, after the 2001-2002 Research Settlement, every Wall Street research piece contains a statement from the analyst stating that the published paper fully reflects the views of the analyst.

We strongly recommend CNBC to instruct its Fast Money show to follow this ethical practice. When guests like Richard Bernstein appear on Fast Money, their statements should fully reflect their real & complete opinions. This is the only way to protect individual investor viewers from being misled or injured. 

We realize that CNBC Fast Money is an aggressive show that tries to mimic the jock-like environment of a wall street trading room. But, every wall street trading room is monitored and governed by a Compliance Officer. In contrast, it seems that CNBC Fast Money has neither a Compliance officer nor defined compliance standards.

If our recommended practice were to be followed by Fast Money, then Richard Bernstein would be allowed to recommend the aggressive tactic of owning low quality stocks AND advise Fast Money viewers to diversify their aggressive stock portfolios with Treasuries. 

Mr. Bernstein concluded in his FT article “Evidently, even the debacle of the past several years has not taught investors the age-old asset allocation lesson that diversification, and not short-term momentum, leads to higher long-term returns. “

Evidently, CNBC Fast Money show has not learned this lesson either.

Editor’s Note:

  • We do not wish to be unfair to CNBC Fast Money show or to CNBC. We watch this show often and enjoy it. So, in the tradition of this Blog, we invite Fast Money Anchor, Producer or Spokesperson to give us the show’s point of view. We will print it verbatim.
  • This article only pertains to CNBC Fast Money show. Other CNBC shows usually allow their guests to fully express their opinions, we feel. Actually, it was another CNBC Show, StreetSigns, that brought Mr. Bernstein’s FT article to our attention. We thank StreetSigns for its research and honest coverage.

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