Mathisen: The Animal Spirits Are Coming Back

Earlier this week in San Diego, more than 2,000 investment advisers, money managers and investment services vendors got together at Charles Schwab's annual Impact conference, a kind of "Talk-to-Chuckfest". It's held every year at about this time. Last year's was in Atlanta. I attended that one and the one this week.

And let me tell you: this year's was very, very different.

Last year's conference took place immediately after the Lehman bankruptcy. I arrived the day after a big prominent money-market fund broke the buck, its share price falling below the supposedly sacrosanct $1 value. The anxiety was palpable. Not only had many of the expected attendees pulled out at the last minute but dozens and maybe hundreds more bailed shortly after they arrived. The advisers who stayed spent much of their time in the corridors of the massive Atlanta Convention center, on the phone or frantically thumbing their Blackberries and iPhones. Smiles were rare.

This year's conference was different. Attendance was up. Conference organizers told me they were receiving fresh sign-ups practically right up to Sunday's opening event. There were more vendor booths, and while the event's traditional blow-out party was shelved, there was no shortage of smaller, more discreet social events.

And one other thing: the Blackberries and iPhones were gone, and the smiles were back. Well, maybe not exactly. People are still addicted to their handhelds. But they weren't using them as frantically, and the facial expressions when they did were far less tense than a year ago.

Mohmamed El-Erian, the head of the big fixed-income shop PIMCO, recalled his own anxiety a year ago. On Sunday evening, he told a crowd of 700 or so how last year, on two occasions, he'd called his wife and told her to go to the ATM and withdraw cash, so worried was he that the banking system might shut down for a day or more as part of a big, federally ordered reset. He says the system is stable now -- not recovered, but recovering.

For better or worse, the animal spirits are coming back.

Interviews from the conference ...

  • Putting Your Money to Work
  • Sonders: Investing in Today's Environment
  • Schwab Sentiment Survey Results


Tyler Mathisen is Managing Editor of CNBC Business News. He is responsible for directing the cable television network’s daily content and coverage and is a key player in developing the long-term strategy, voice and direction of the network’s Business Day coverage.