Melissa Lee is a Chinese American reporter and news anchor for CNBC. Melissa Lee is co-anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” (M-F, 9AM-12PM ET). Broadcast live from the New York Stock Exchange, “Squawk on the Street” gives viewers all the up-to-the minute news they need from every major market around the world.
Lee is the host of CNBC’s “Fast Money” (M-Thu 5PM-6PM ET) which originates from the NASDAQ’s MarketSite studio in New York’s Times Square. “Fast Money” gives you the information normally reserved for the Wall Street trading floor, enabling you to make decisions that can make you money.
Lee is also the host of “Options Action,” (Fridays 5:00PM ET) a weekly half-hour program that explains the advantages of options trading and the weekly half-hour program, “Money in Motion Currency Trading” (Fridays 5:30PM ET) that teaches viewers how to harness the power of currencies. Since January 2009 she has occasionally hosted Closing Bell when Maria Bartiromo is unavailable.
Lee has reported one-hour documentaries for the network including “Code Wars: America’s Cyber Threat” (2011), “Coca-Cola: The Real Story Behind the Real Thing” (2009) and “Porn: Business of Pleasure” (2009). In 2008, Lee reported and anchored a one-hour documentary, “Made in China: People’s Republic of Profit” from Beijing and Shanghai. She reported extensively for the network on China from the country’s growth to its challenges to the opportunities for U.S. businesses.
We interviewed Melissa Lee in December 2008 and so much has changed. We thought the markets were volatile then! In 2008, it was the United States in crisis, now it’s the world. Journalists like Melissa and her counterparts need to be knowledgeable and well-informed not only in US markets but in global markets as well. Not an easy task and the competition for these jobs is intense, you need luck and competency. It was so nice of Melissa Lee to take a half hour of her time to chat with us again.
I interviewed George W Bush. I walked outside and people said to me, “I respect him so much more than before. I’ve seen a side of George W Bush that I have never seen before.”
ASIANCE: How do you like “Fast Money”? Would you want to change anything on the show?
Melissa: I love doing “Fast Money”. I can’t believe that it’s going to be 3 years in March since I’ve taken over the show. There really has been so much that has been going on. The news flow has been amazing and the changes of the show have been pretty monumental too. We started with just the one hour at 5pm. Then we started the half hour shortly after I took over, and that started as a 7 minute segment within another show..That expanded and expanded. It went to half an hour and more recently, it went to a full hour, which I’m not currently anchoring due to my “Squawk on the Street” duties, but it’s amazing to see the franchise grow, where there are only a certain amount of hours in a day.
It’s nice to see that the audience really gravitates towards this franchise and likes this very informative, data driven, intense analysis on what is going on in the markets. I think that is what fits this time because so many things in the markets are highly correlated, meaning all stocks are rising and falling at the same time based on the same catalyst. So you’ll have the tech stocks go up with financials, with gold. Many things don’t make sense and a lot of people are searching for ways to make money in the market and increasingly they are saying that if you dig deep into a particular stock and you really do your homework, it can really pay off. That has been really great.
Watch a recent segment with Melissa Lee
In terms of things that I would want to change, I think it’s a constant improvement process. Since day one, there have always been things I wanted to change and improve about “Fast”, even for “Squawk on the Street”. It has nothing to do with ratings, it’s just a constant pursuit of making the show better.
There’s always a hotter desk, or a way to produce a segment that’s more interesting to the viewer. There’s always, “Let’s try to think of proprietary trading ideas”. I don’t care how many years I’m on the show, I think I’ll always be thinking about how I can improve it.
ASIANCE: Who has been your favorite guest on CNBC this year? Not only interviewed by you.
Melissa: That’s a tough one. In terms of the interviews I’ve done, this one didn’t air on CNBC, but I did do the interview as a CNBC anchor at this conference in Las Vegas called the SALT (SkyBridge Alternatives) conference. I interviewed George W Bush, who was the keynote at this event. Literally, there were thousands of people jammed into this auditorium. What was so great about that interview was that he was so loose.
Going into that interview, to be honest, I was a little nervous. We had to send in a list of questions to his people. The list would come back and four or five questions would be crossed off. There was a constant back and forth leading up to this event. The day comes and I meet him, I didn’t ask a single question on that list.
It was one of these instances where we got along. He was very easy going. He was confident in himself.
After the event, which was about an hour plus long, so this was not a short Q&A, I walked outside and people said to me, “I respect him so much more than before. I’ve seen a side of George W Bush that I have never seen before. If he were like this before, I would have voted him.” (laughs)
ASIANCE: Is there a video?
Melissa: There was a video copy but it was an off the record chat. I could never report on it. It was one of these great moments that nobody knows about. There were some comments that were picked up from that interviewed because it was his first interview after Bin Laden had been killed. Some of those comments did get picked up on the wires. You can’t prevent people from bringing their cell phones in and tweeting out. I think that’s how those comments got out.
I think I would go stock specific and pick the CEO of Netflix to interview. I think the stock was so loved by Wall Street and then was so hated by Wall Street.
ASIANCE: Has there been any part of your job that has become more difficult these past few years? Or something that you thought would be easier when you started but never became easier?
Melissa: Time management (laughs). Just learning what the pace of the day is and what my limitations are. That has been difficult just on a personal basis. My morning duties start 5:30 in the am and then I’m off the air at 11am. Some days I’m covering the 11am hour, if my partner Carl Quintanilla is off. Then I’ll go do the 5pm show.
There are no shows out there where you swoop in and just do the show. There is a lot of preparation for “Fast Money”, particularly because you have the whole trading day and you have to be constantly updating and in the markets. When 5pm rolls around, you still know exactly what happened every moment of the day. There is not any point that you can unplug.
So for me, personally, that has been difficult. Just from a professional stand point, as a journalist, the demands on you to know about so many things in the world these days. The US markets are so tied to what is going on in Europe and then all of sudden you’re expected to know what’s in the EU Treaty and is there a clause that allows a country to be voted out?..(laughs)..some real intricate things that you may not have had to know a year and a half ago. All of sudden, you have to know those things on top of what you have to know in the United States. So I think, in general, it’s more difficult to be a journalist, just because the news flow is so global and you never know what you are going to be talking about on any given day.
ASIANCE: How do you keep up with that? Your team? What else?
Melissa: Yes I’m definitely not standing alone. (laughs) There is a whole team. There’s a great producing team for “Squawk on the Street”. There’s a fantastic producing team for “Fast Money”. I’m in constant contact with both teams and more so the “Fast Money” team as we ramp up to show time in the afternoon, sending emails. I’ll send my first email to the “Fast Money” team shortly before I’m on air in the morning on the things I’m seeing that could be good for the show. It could be 6:30am, it could be 7am, and it could be 8am. Obviously, those things change as the news flow changes throughout the day. You see what’s a bigger story and what’s less of a story. You are just constantly reading. There is not a two hour window where you study in for the show. You get home. You check everything, even if you walk out the day for an errand, you’re constantly checking everything. There is never an end. After “Fast Money”, I’ll come home. I’ll read the updates for the next morning because the more you read the updates, the more you’ll be prepared whether it is for a morning show or evening show. These days, you need to constantly be in it.
ASIANCE: So you are always checking your iPhone when you are walking?
Melissa: iPad. I read everything. Usually, I have at least one or the other, if not both on me.
ASIANCE: Last time we spoke, you said that you wanted to interview Obama and Tim Geithner. Is there anyone new that you would like to interview now?
Melissa: I wish I knew who the Republican candidate would be, but ONLY when they are the actual candidate and not right now. I think that it’s a different story that they’re trying to get across when they are going for the nomination of their party as opposed to when they are the nominee.
At this moment in time, I think I would go stock specific and pick the CEO of Netflix to interview. I think the stock was so loved by Wall Street and then was so hated by Wall Street. The company had made a bunch of missteps and they tried to correct it. It’s at an interesting point, as there are still a lot of shorts on the stock (people want to see the stock go lower and they’re betting on that) but it’s been beaten down so much that there are some value investors going in. It’s sort of at an interesting juncture at this time. The CEO, as far as I know, doesn’t do media in general. So I think that would be a fascinating interview.
ASIANCE: What do you think of the Occupy Wall Street protest?
Melissa: It’s interesting that they have been able to strike a nerve in the country. It really shows some of the discontent up there with policy. It’s unfortunate that there have been some incidences of violence, granted it’s isolated, but I don’t think that’s helped the movement. There are a lot of permits expiring in terms of people being able to “Occupy” certain parks, so they have to decide what the next step is. It will be interesting to see what happens by the next elections and if they’re able to magnify their voice.
ASIANCE: Is there anything interesting coming out of China that you’d like to make us aware of?
Melissa: I think in the next year, year and half, it will be interesting to see what the property market does in China. I’m sure you’ve heard about these ghost cities being built. They are built with the design of being a ghost city, but tremendous capacity in terms of apartments. Homes being built in certain cities and the occupancy rate for some of those cities are very, very low. I just got back from vacation in China about three weeks ago. We were on a tour and were in the city of Wuxi and he said there is a 40% occupancy rate in that city. That struck me as extremely high, especially coming from a tour guide who is licensed by the Chinese government, surprisingly, that anyone would venture to say that. That doesn’t reflect well on the economy. So that will be an interesting story line to follow.
Then, there are all these cross currents going on. You wonder about the property market and whether or not there is a bubble there. Then at the same time, the largest luxury brand IPO (Hong Kong’s Chow Tai Fook Jewelry Co.) is going to hit Hong Kong in the next few weeks. It’s a jeweler. It’s going to be an interesting story over the next year or so on what happens in China.
ASIANCE: Last time you looked up to Maria, do you have anyone new in this industry or outside of it that you now look up to?
Melissa: I think these are people that I’ve always looked up to. I still admire Maria. I think Charlie Rose is an amazing interviewer. I’ve always looked up to Tim Russert. I think he is first in class when it comes to interviewing. I think that in terms of the people I admire, the common thread is that they have worked or work very hard in their field. They’re experts in their field or they become experts in the field that they are covering at the moment. When it comes to interviewing, for me, that has always been the skill that I wanted to be good at because it really is a skill. There is no way you can train to do it. You have to learn to listen and you have to learn to connect with the person in the way that they are comfortable being connected with. For you to be able to key into that and get them to open up, that’s a real challenge. I think that is a real skill. All the above people that I mentioned have that skill.
ASIANCE: Has it become any easier for you to juggle your career, since you’ve taken on “Squawk on the Street”?
Melissa: Well, you do what you have to do, to do what you really enjoy doing. It’s not a hard thing. I love what I do. I would never trade in the shows that I’m hosting for anything. So if it means that I have to juggle this and go home because I have a break for a half an hour, that’s what it means. And I have no problem making any sort of, what might be perceived as a “sacrifice”, to do it. It’s a real privilege for me to do what I do. It’s a real simple decision
ASIANCE: Any programs/ documentaries that you are working on or would like to work on?
Melissa: I’m in between projects. I’ll probably have one within the next couple of months. I can’t really talk about them right now.