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April 15, 2009

A Trader's Trial by Fire

By Gregory Bresiger

HGK Asset Management's Lauren Wimer's short trading career has been a trial by fire. She is learning by handling numerous roles at an early age.

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Wimer is both a trading desk head and an analyst who has experienced much in a short period. She came into the trading business in 2005, straight out of Georgetown University as a finance and international business major.

Although just 25, Wimer has already lived through the end of a bull market, with fewer opportunities to execute her value strategies. But over the last year, coping with a bear market, she has had to slightly alter HGK's trading process.

That's because greater volatility means it is often more difficult to find the prices portfolio managers want. More time, she said, must now be allocated to trading.

"That affects our performance and the prices we'll have on our books," Wimer said, regarding her trading charge for the portfolios she oversees. The recent wild swings of prices also require trading judgment.

For one, Wimer now does more pairing because, with today's volatility, overexposure or underexposure has a much higher price since her portfolios are usually fully invested.

"Before, when we didn't have this level of volatility, I could spread the sale out for a little longer," she added.

She also has to know when to sit on her hands and when to grab bargain prices. "We're a little more inclined now to jump on those prices since we're mostly a value shop," Wimer said.

But when these opportunities show up, she must be ready to execute. She must also quickly switch jobs.

"There can be weeks when I'm only trading, such as when the portfolio manager might be doing some sector shifts," she said. And then, once portfolio changes are made and markets are stable, Wimer switches to analysis.

This year, Wimer has been trading about twice as much compared with the end of the bull market. Portfolio turnover now is about 70 percent.

However, because she also has analyst responsibilities, she relies on brokers, sending them orders and giving them instructions on where and how to execute. It sounds like a difficult task to combine with analyst work.

Still, she believes that the dual responsibilities helps her trading. Wimer can see the trends beyond the numbers.

"Since I'm also in the analytical work, I'm getting a bigger picture of what is going on. I do feel that a lot of trading is experience; it is familiarity with liquidity," Wimer said. She also believes that reading research and economic literature gives her a "greater comfort level" in trading.

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Wimer enjoys both jobs, but which one will be her career path? Right now, given that the firm's assets are relatively small, the dual role is doable.

Still, if she must make a career choice, she would prefer trading to analysis. "It just attracts me more. I enjoy relationships." And Wimer loves that trading is immediate. Wimer enjoys a trial by fire.

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