Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Steve Cohen

The Washington Post:

How hedge fund manager Steve Cohen averaged 30% returns for 18 years
Cohen maintains the temperature on the trading floor at 69 degrees Fahrenheit to make sure no one dozes. If a portfolio manager or analyst can't answer a question about a stock, Cohen is likely to lash out. "Do you even know how to do this . . . -ing job?" is a standard barb, current and former employees say. Portfolio managers make money, or they're fired.


Cohen has since returned his focus to what he has done for most of his career: buying stocks and selling them short. He typically holds positions for two to 30 days, according to a document sent to potential investors in early 2009.

Unlike many hedge funds, which tend to have a handful of executives making investment decisions, SAC runs what amounts to 100 small funds. SAC borrows as much as $4 for every $1 of its own from prime brokers, including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan Chase, then distributes the hoard to various teams.

Managers' contracts have "down-and-out" clauses: Lose 5 percent from your peak assets, and SAC can take away half of what remains. Suffer a 10 percent loss, and you could be out.

In 2008, 12 portfolio managers and their teams were fired or resigned, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Cohen, a Long Island, N.Y., native and graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, taught himself to trade stocks at an early age. He is a master "tape reader," according to people who know him, able to predict the direction of a stock by watching each tick of the price and the volume of shares traded.

In addition to trading his own stocks and overseeing 300 managers, analysts and traders globally, Cohen buys and sells "minis," says one former employee. "Mini" is short for a security called the S&P 500 E-mini future, an electronically traded derivative that rises and falls with the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index and is sold in smaller units than other index futures.

"He does that all day, every day, completely intuitively," the former employee says.

Betting on a bubble

Cohen demonstrated his investing prowess during the dot-com and investing boom of the late 1990s. In 1999, at the height of the Internet bubble, the firm's biggest fund returned 69.7 percent, after fees, betting that technology shares would soar.

Then SAC turned around and bet that the Internet and tech bubble would pop, which it did. The fund earned 71.8 percent in 2000.


Working at SAC is tough, even as hedge funds go. One of the worst aspects, at least for people who like weekends, is Sunday "homework." Every week from 5 to 9 p.m., Cohen has his portfolio managers and analysts call in to tell him what's coming up that week for the companies they follow.

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