Economics through the lens of policymaking, litigation, and investing

Q&A with Alex Spitz '14G, macroeconomic analyst, Columbia Threadneedle Investments
MS Analytical Economics alum Alex Spitz

Alex Spitz's career as an economist has taken him to Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Boston working for companies that apply economics to various various industries. His path took him to the Federal Reserve Board, to a onsulting firm named Global Economics Group, and to Columbia Threadneedle Investments, where he now works.

How did your program and experience at UNH Paul College prepare you for where you are today?

I had two major takeaways from the Master’s in Economics program. First , I received critical training in econometrics and statistical programming that has been invaluable at all stages in my career. The econometrics courses in the program trained me on econometric theory, which has given me the capability to do more rigorous research while programming has provided a tremendous foundation to carry out such research. Second, I was challenged to think like an economist. Compared to undergraduate studies, the answers in economics are never clear and I was forced to think critically and analytically. This has allowed me to better improve my research efforts at work and when I think through important issues in the economy.

What person, course, or experience most influenced you while at Paul College? How?

Professor Goldberg challenged me in my international finance class and as an advisor on my master’s thesis. Whenever I came up with an idea or thought I found interesting, he would always ask, “Why do we care?” Fortunately, I quickly learned that the question was not as harsh or flippant as it sounded. Professor Goldberg was forcing me to communicate my ideas in a more effective way and to engage my audience in a way that I was not accustomed to – or at least I think he was trying to do this. In my opinion, research is not useful if you’re unable to effectively communicate your results to the audience. “Why should your audience care?” I’ve applied this lesson to my current job, and if I can’t convince a portfolio manager why my work is insightful or useful, then I run the risk of wasting mine and others’ time.

What exactly do you do day-to-day?

I perform quantitative research that connects macroeconomic data and asset markets for investment strategies.

What has your career path been like? How did you end up where you are?

Though not in a straight-line toward investment management, my career path has always been centered around economic research and analysis. As an undergraduate and graduate student, my favorite topic in economics was monetary policy, and its effects on economic growth and inflation. Upon graduating from UNH, I moved to Washington, D.C., to work at the Federal Reserve Board. At the board, I was a research assistant for two years in the Payment Systems Studies section. Although this section was not related to monetary policy, it was related to industrial organization and the regulation of financial institutions. After being in school for five years, this was the first time I got to use my knowledge of economic theory and econometrics to apply to the “real world.” Furthermore, I was able to enhance said skills to leverage my way into economic consulting. I decided to move to Chicago, Ill., to work for a consulting firm named Global Economics Group, and I primarily worked in the Securities & Valuations practice area. This exposed me to financial markets – and specifically asset pricing – but from the lens of a litigator. I was still able to practice my knowledge of economics and statistics, but knew I wanted to remove myself from the consulting world. That experience led me back home to Boston, Mass., to work for Columbia Threadneedle Investments. At Columbia Threadneedle, I’m able to look at the macroeconomy and connect economic data to financial markets.

What are some of the things you like most about your job?

At the risk of sounding cliché, I find that everyday I’m faced with something new. Since joining Columbia Threadneedle in 2018, I’ve been exposed to significant macroeconomic events that directly relate to financial markets. These include the US-China trade war, a recession, a high inflation regime, and now a potential Fed tightening cycle, among others. These events have coincided with some of my favorite topics as a student, and now I’m able to take that knowledge I learned and apply it to my position.

What are some of the difficult things about your job?

Ironically, the difficult things are a big reason I like my job and makes my job fun. It is rather difficult to quantify or specifically pinpoint the effect of a macro event on the broader economy or markets. Moreover, I must be nimble in my thinking and approach to address those questions. As an example, when Covid caused the recession of 2019, I was involved in trying to gauge how quickly the economy would recover. I had to address questions along the lines of, “When would growth return to trend? When would the labor market recover to pre-pandemic levels? How effective would fiscal spending be?” Because economic data typically get released on a monthly or quarterly cadence, I had to adapt away from traditional macro indicators economists use and find something of higher frequency. These include google mobility data and data from the restaurant app “OpenTable,” which were of a daily frequency, to proxy for traditional data on consumption. It’s never easy, but that’s what can make it fun.

What has your time in the "real world" taught you as it pertains to your career?

Transitioning from school to the “real world” was strange at first, but one lesson I learned quickly is that you are responsible for your own schedule. In school, you would have homework, a paper, or exam all due on a specified date. Of course, there are deadlines associated with work, but oftentimes some projects are open-ended. When I get tasked with an assignment or project, it’s up to me to decide the quality and timeliness for when I report back to my manager. Your colleagues have other schedules to worry about, so you won’t necessarily have everything spelled out for you like you do in school.

What are some life lessons you’d like to share with the students here?

You’re young, and you’re not supposed to have the answers to your life right away. While in school, I was determined to immediately go back to work to Boston. When I decided to loosen that constraint, I was able to work at the Federal Reserve and live in D.C., I found my way in Chicago, and ultimately came back to Boston. While in D.C. and Chicago, I was disappointed that I had not reached my goal of working in Boston. But looking back, I’ve been grateful for the path I took. I’ve worked in economics from the perspective of a policymaker, a litigator, and an investor, which has broadened my own knowledge of applied economics. Had I limited my options upon graduation, I’m not sure I would have the same level of success as I do today, and I still found my way back home.