Crossroads

At the intersection of technology, finance and the Pacific Rim.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Financial Markets and the Internet

Michael Lewis, one of the great writers in the US, profiles the rise of Dr. Mike Burry, a hedge fund manager who started out his life as a neuro-surgeon intern at Stanford. this is a fellow who had almost no investment experience and made more than 40x times the money invested by his small group of investors. How did he get his start? Lewis writes:

He was working 16-hour shifts at the hospital, confining his blogging mainly to the hours between midnight and three in the morning. On his blog he posted his stock-market trades and his arguments for making the trades. People found him. As a money manager at a big Philadelphia value fund said, “The first thing I wondered was: When is he doing this? The guy was a medical intern. I only saw the nonmedical part of his day, and it was simply awesome. He’s showing people his trades. And people are following it in real time. He’s doing value investing—in the middle of the dot-com bubble. He’s buying value stocks, which is what we’re doing. But we’re losing money. We’re losing clients. All of a sudden he goes on this tear. He’s up 50 percent. It’s uncanny. He’s uncanny. And we’re not the only ones watching it.”

Mike Burry couldn’t see exactly who was following his financial moves, but he could tell which domains they came from. In the beginning his readers came from EarthLink and AOL. Just random individuals. Pretty soon, however, they weren’t. People were coming to his site from mutual funds like Fidelity and big Wall Street investment banks like Morgan Stanley. One day he lit into Vanguard’s index funds and almost instantly received a cease-and-desist letter from Vanguard’s attorneys. Burry suspected that serious investors might even be acting on his blog posts, but he had no clear idea who they might be. “The market found him,” says the Philadelphia mutual-fund manager. “He was recognizing patterns no one else was seeing.”

So he formed a hedge fund called Scion Capital. His final result? Lewis notes:

(The one who) had made $100 million for himself and $725 million for his investors—sat alone in his office, in Cupertino, California. By June 30, 2008, any investor who had stuck with Scion Capital from its beginning, on November 1, 2000, had a gain, after fees and expenses, of 489.34 percent. (The gross gain of the fund had been 726 percent.) Over the same period the S&P 500 returned just a bit more than 2 percent.

The story in between these two happenings is fascinating so you should read the article if you are interested in how the financial markets work.



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