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VOL. 39 | NO. 8 | Friday, February 20, 2015

What recession? Midstate largely spared

By Hollie Deese

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Want to see Nashville’s thriving economy in action? Drive down Charlotte Avenue, Dana Moore says.

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After handling clients at SunTrust as a senior portfolio manager for high-net-worth clients, many with $10 million or more in assets, Dana Moore, CFA, and two colleagues (George Stadler, Angela Helbig), founded HMS Investment Advisors in 2009.

Since then the company has grown to six people and has more than $1 million in revenue and $140 million in assets.

A Nashville native and Belmont University graduate, Moore gives some insight into the local high-end investment mindset these days and how investing in the market may be a key big-ticket item for many.

Q: Did people think you were nuts to start your company when you did?

A: “Truthfully, since we are so lucky that Nashville has so many people who are venture capitalists, and have done it themselves, they all seemed to think it was a great time to do it.

“We did it while the market was in turmoil, and there were just so many people dissatisfied with the investment industry, because this was just a few months after Bernie Madoff.

“The greed of Wall Street had really taken over and hurt Main Street. So it really opened the door for us to bring our view of how Wall Street should work, how the investment community should work to the market, and it has been very well received.’’

Q: What is the current market trend?

“You see a lot of regret as people had jumped out of the market at the bottom when it was at its worst. And each year they have almost been waiting for it to happen again so they can get back in, but each year that goes by – there is a lot of regret that they have missed the market, but they are afraid to get in now.

“For some reason, people who have done it themselves are still really worried about the market having a severe correction, where clients we were able to keep invested or re-invested in the market. Even in the worst bear market there are companies that do well. Just because the market goes down doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go down as much as they do.

“So our clients have weathered the storm better because it has been a huge move from 2009 until now. We are back above previous highs.’’

Q: In that spirit, are people wanting to spend more now than a few years ago?

A: “We are a little insulated from that because our clients tend to be wealthy. About 40 percent of our clients are business owners in some form or fashion, and another 20 percent are executives in publically traded companies. So I don’t know that they necessarily ever put off big ticket items as much as they shifted it from one corner to another.

“You are definitely seeing an increase in spending. If you look at the investment numbers, just the raw data nationally, we are definitely seeing a pickup in consumer spending for the first time this year.

“We do have one client who works for a publically traded company and their sales are up 100 percent year over year in the first month of January/February. He pointed out that tax refunds came back earlier in the year this year, they were delayed last year, so that money has gotten into the market a little bit earlier. Consumers do feel more confident starting the year than they did last year.

“And then the decline in gas prices helps tremendously. We have added $100-$125 billion back into the consumer’s pockets just by having gas prices go down. We all love that. So we are definitely seeing spending pick back up.’’

Q: Is Nashville different than what is happening nationally?

A: “We are significantly better than the national average.

“Our unemployment is lower. We have been below the national unemployment level now for three years. We have definitely rebounded out of the recession faster. I would suspect 2014 to come in similar to 2013 – we ran about twice the national average in 2013, so if we do that again in 2014, you are looking at the possibility of six percent growth in Nashville.

“Late last year the United States Conference of Mayors released the fact we are the third fastest growing economy in the country. [According to the report, Nashville grew its gross metropolitan product by 4.2 percent in 2013, double the national average of 2.1 percent growth. Only Austin, Texas, and San Jose, Calif., beat out Nashville.}

“We are not really dependent on any one specific industry, and we have done exceptionally well. We didn’t suffer quite as much as other areas of the country when there was the recession, and we have come out a lot stronger on the rebound.

Q: Are people nervous rates will change?

A: “I don’t think we are going to see interest rates jump to 7 to 8 percent overnight. Consumer interest rates, the ones we borrow at, unfortunately move a little bit faster than the treasury rate.

“What the government pays is a lower moving interest rate, and the banks will increase our rate a little bit faster when those start to go up, but we don’t see the Fed raising rates dramatically in the short term.

“We are not advising clients that they have to get in right now, it is just a good time to get in.’’

Q: What else about the Nashville market that sets us apart?

A: “If you just look at some of the anecdotal evidence, you can’t drive down Charlotte Avenue without something being torn down week to week for new construction.

“I count cranes, and any time I go downtown to meet clients I look to see how many cranes are on the skyline.

“There are houses going up in neighborhoods that haven’t seen new housing construction in 40 years.

“If you go into the Nations off of Charlotte, they are tearing houses down to build new, and for me that is a great sign for the city.

“To us, Nashville is a great town with a bright future, and the thing that is nice about it, is it is an affordable place to live. Austin and some of the other fast-growing cities around the country are so much more expensive to actually live.

“I want people to know about Nashville but I don’t want them to know about Nashville. It will be interesting to see where we could go next.’’

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