California Here I Come ... Again

Just got back from a glorious trip to Pasadena where the outcome for my Trojans (apologies to any Michigan Wolverine fans reading this) was much better this year than last. And in a few days, we'll be heading back West to San Francisco to cover the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference which starts next Monday.

This is the silver anniversary year for the conference. The organizer of the first one says there were 21 companies and fewer than 100 attendees 25 years ago. This year, more than 300 companies will be presenting to nearly 7,000 attendees. That makes it the biggest healthcare investment conference of the year and, obviously, the first. It'll be our fourth straight year broadcasting live from the event.

We'll kick off our coverage on Monday, but because Macworld and the Detroit Auto Show will also be competing for CNBC airtime that day, most of our live interviews with CEOs will take place on Tuesday. (Between Macworld and JPMorgan just try getting a decent hotel room in San Francisco next week or anything but a middle seat at this point on a flight from the New York area to SF.)

We've been "pitched" by dozens of companies and PR people to put their CEOs on the air and we've selected a handful to interview. We'll post the list as we get closer. I also often get pitched by PR people from other Wall Street firms wanting us to do the same kind of coverage for their healthcare conferences. But here's why this is typically the only one we cover so extensively: It takes place in the beginning of January when the attendees and our viewers are looking for investment ideas for the new year.

One of the criteria for booking CEOs at JPMorgan is a potential data milestone, product approval or launch in the coming year. And then there's the sheer size of the conference. No other attracts nearly as many people. It is the place to see and be seen in the healthcare investment world. It's so big that analysts from competing firms will set up shop at nearby hotels and do their own mini-meetings with clients and executives from the companies in their coverage universe.

Long ago, the conference apparently outgrew the Westin St. Francis where it continues to be held -- and it really should be moved to a much bigger venue -- but some see the borderline fire-hazard crowded hallways as a hallmark of the event's enduring popularity.

For those who might be unfamiliar with the scene at an investment conference like this one, executives (preferably the CEO) from healthcare companies are scheduled to give 30-minute power-point presentations in small or large ballrooms (depending on the size of the company and investor interest). Then, those who are interested can immediately follow the exec to a "breakout room" where there's a chance for another half an hour or so to do "Q & A" and to get more detailed information. Many executives also schedule private, one-on-one meetings with investors.

Reg FD, which requires publicly-traded companies to tell everyone the same thing at once, has changed the nature of investment conferences somewhat -- but if you eavesdrop on conversations in the lobby, crowded hallways, restrooms, bars and restaurants, it's possible to pick up a nugget. It could be rumor, gossip or fact, but a nugget nonetheless.

And, speaking of rumors, here's hoping the one about Pete Carroll going back to the NFL is just that.

Questions? Comments?