Making a Million Bucks an Hour: How Hedge Funds Get Away With Siphoning Off America's Wealth

07/04/2013 18:08

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The following is an excerpt from Les Leopold's new book,  How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning Off America's Wealth (Wiley Books, 2013).

You may be asking, “Do you really have to cheat in order to make it into the million-an-hour club?” Well, it depends on what you mean by cheat and have to.

You absolutely don ’t have to—no, no, no, hedge-fund supporters assure us. There are only a few rotten apples in the hedgefund barrel, writes the ever optimistic journalist Sebastian Mallaby:

An industry of around 9,000 hedge funds is indeed bound to harbor some criminals. But insider trading is already illegal, and prosecutors have the tools to go after offenders in hedge funds without new regulations. The number of fraud cases suggests that regulators are not shy about using these powers, and hedge funds regularly experience inquiries from the SEC when they happen to trade heavily in a stock ahead of a price-moving announcement. Moreover, some of what politicians and journalists label “hedge-fund abuses” involve leaks of inside information from investment banks rather than from hedge funds, making the hedge-fund managers who receive the leaks accomplices rather than the chief offenders. 

You’ve got to admire how far Mallaby will go to exonerate hedge funds—golly, they ’re not really bad crooks. They ’re not the “chief offenders.” They only drive the getaway cars! But how many getaway drivers are there? How does Mallaby or anyone else know that hedge-fund cheating is not widespread? And how, for that matter, would we prove the opposing view—that foul play is endemic in the hedge-fund industry? In fact, until a lot of “accomplices” are wiretapped or tell all, it ’s virtually impossible for outsiders to really know the extent of the cheating.

We need to hear from an informed insider, someone who has run a major hedge fund, someone who hasn’t been nabbed and isn’t just talking to cop a plea. Yet what hedge-fund manager in his right mind would dare to tell all about the lawless world of hedge funds?

Enter Jim Cramer, the frenetic star of the highly successful CNBC show Mad Money. Before he became a TV star, Cramer made tens of millions of dollars running his own hedge fund, one of the most successful ever. After a decade in the business, Cramer knows a thing or two about hedge funds. Yet unlike others in this famously mysterious fi eld, Cramer talks about it in his entertaining autobiography, Confessions of a Street Addict.

In 2002, Cramer drew a gory picture of the cutthroat tactics required for hedge-fund survival. Five years later, in an interview on (a website he cofounded and still co-owns), Cramer admitted that the industry actually pushes people, including himself, out to the ethical edge—and beyond.

James Cramer, a good Jewish boy from a middle-class home in Philadelphia, grew up smart and quirky. While other kids pored over baseball cards, young Jim was obsessed with stock market quotes. He tried to keep up with as many companies as possible and engineered make-believe trades. Fantasy market-playing became part of his peppery persona long before fantasy baseball came along.

As he plowed his way through Harvard (where he was president of the Harvard Crimson ) and then Harvard Law School, Cramer continued to feed his obsession with the stock market. He started picking and investing in stocks as a student, and when he graduated, he began to manage money for one of his professors, Marty Peretz, the publisher of the New Republic.


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