Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How One Hedge Fund Manager Made Billions from the Collapse


Long before the financial crisis hit, Paulson, according to one person briefed on the trade, invested $22 million in a credit default swap that eventually paid $1 billion when the federal government opted not to rescue Lehman Brothers. That amounts to a staggering $45.45 for each dollar invested.

Though the financial crisis has rewarded Paulson handsomely, he continues to search for investment opportunities. On October 2, he walked into a breakfast meeting at the J.P. Morgan Chase Tower, right across the street from his hedge fund’s old office on Park Avenue, to make a presentation to potential investors about a new fund he had started to trade distressed debt. Its name: the Paulson Recovery Fund. As usual, Paulson was calm and quiet. His associates described how Paulson & Co.’s funds had thrived during even the very worst declines in the market, with an annual growth rate of 17 percent since inception.

Slides in Paulson’s presentation declared that the U.S. had slipped into its deepest recession since World War II. His charts displayed the usual parade of bad tidings: a steep decline in home prices, soaring mortgage delinquencies, credit contracting, and hemorrhaging in the financial sector. The 14th chart showed his strategy. It read, “How do we benefit near-term?”

Paulson’s answer came in four bullet points: Cut leverage and build cash, eliminate exposure to the equity markets, maintain only short-term securities, and prepare for bargains in debt securities of distressed companies—a “$10 trillion opportunity,” another chart pointed out.

Paulson has also taken steps that may help him avoid being tagged as a robber baron, donating $15 million to the Center for Responsible Lending to support a program designed to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. His congressional testimony on November 13 included his thoughts on how the government could help the banks get back on their feet—something that will of course benefit everyone, not just the holders of those distressed securities that Paulson is eager to buy.


Extensive biography and interesting insights.

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