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TOM WHITE MAKES A PLAY FOR RESEARCH INDEPENDENCE

For most researchers, December brought little cheer.

Regulators capped off a year of investigations and inquiries by exacting a $1.435 billion settlement from ten unhappy firms for issuing conflicted research.

Thomas White, by contrast, celebrated.

The 59-year-old chairman and CIO of Thomas White International, a Chicago-based asset management and independent research shop, spent the month scrambling to put together a business that will offer retail investors independent research. Conveniently, he doesn't have to create demand for Best Independent Research, as the firm is called. The settlement requires Wall Street's ten most powerful firms to shell out $450 million over five years to fund shops just like White's. "The settlement created the model," he concedes.

White's premise is simple: Let people choose research firms based on the past performance of their stock picks -- the way, he points out, that most investors pick their mutual funds and most pension funds pick their managers. So, using Investars, White tallied the short- and long-term performance numbers of a group of independent providers, picked the top six and threw up a shingle. The founding companies are Chicago-based Callard Asset Management; Dallas-based Channel Trend; Columbine Capital Services of Colorado Springs, Colorado; Ford Equity Research of San Diego; Chicago-based Global Capital Institute (the research division of Thomas White International); and Market Profile Theorems of Seattle.

White's now calling on prospective clients like Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch to hawk his wares. His pitch? "You need an insurance policy to protect yourself from a position of natural conflict," says White.