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The 40 Highest-Earning Hedge Fund Managers And Traders

Date: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Author: Nathan Vardi, Forbes

In 2012, prominent hedge fund managers made headlines by successfully trading against JPMorgan Chase & Co., spending lots of money to influence the U.S. presidential election, and proclaiming that a nutritional supplements company was operating a pyramid scheme. While they made plenty of noise, very few of these traders managed to beat the U.S. stock market after charging their investors rich fees.

But in northern New Jersey, David Tepper had another extremely strong year. The founder and head of Appaloosa Management guided his flagship hedge fund to net returns of nearly 30%. Tepper personally made an estimated $2.2 billion in 2012, topping Forbesí list of the 40 highest-earning hedge fund managers and traders.

It has been four years now since Tepper, 55, started aggressively buying shares in U.S. banks like Bank of America that were reeling from the credit crisis, successfully betting that the U.S. economy and financial sector would not crumble. His 2009 trade became legendary, but while other hedge fund managers who did spectacularly well during the credit crisis have faded, Tepper, a former Goldman Sachs bond trader, has continued to deftly trade financial markets. In 2012 he continued to make a good case for being one of the greatest hedge fund managers ever.

While 2012 was not a great year for the average hedge fund, which underperformed the U.S. stock market, traders who oversee large hedge funds didnít need to match the S&P 500 indexís 16% performance to make a lot of money last year. In total, the 40 highest-earning hedge fund managers and traders made a combined $16.7 billion in 2012, with the lowest earning managers on our list making $90 million.


Two money men who are well into their 70s are near the top of the list. Carl Icahn is no longer managing money for investors outside his firm and James Simons is officially retired from his $20 billion Renaissance Technologies hedge fund shop, although he continues to play a role there and benefit from its funds. Both men had good years in 2012. Icahn made $1.9 billion from the investment pool he manages for himself and his employees that returned 28%, while Simons earned $1.3 billion, mostly from the profitable black-box strategy known as Medallion.

Perhaps the most incredible performance of 2012, however, belongs to Steve Cohen. The federal government is breathing down his neck with an insider-trading investigation that has spooked some of his investors, but that did not stop Cohen, 57, from making money in financial markets. In 2012, his Stamford, Ct., SAC Capital Advisors posted gross returns in the 25% range. He made $1.3 billion in 2012.

Hedge fund legend George Soros, now 82, remains chairman of Soros Fund Management, the $24 billion firm that manages his personal fortune as well as the money belonging to his foundations. He is not managing day-to-day operations, which are overseen by Scott Bessent, Soros Fund Managementís chief investment officer, but Soros remains involved. The firmís recent and successful big bet against the yen was classic Soros. He returned the relatively little client money his firm managed in 2011, which was not a good year for him. His firmís performance again trailed the U.S. stock market in 2012, but was firmly in positive territory. That was good enough for him to make $1.1 billion.

Ken Griffin, founder of Citadel, continued his torrid comeback in 2012. After battling back from a catastrophic year in 2008, Citadelís flagship Kensington and Wellington funds blew past their high water marks at the end of 2011, a year in which the funds returned more than 20% net of fees. The trend continued in 2012, as the pair finished up an impressive 25%. The firm is earning rich performance fees again and Griffin made $900 million last year.

To determine the highest-earning hedge fund managers and traders of 2012, we examined hedge fund returns and worked to understand the fee and ownership structure of a wide array of hedge fund firms. Hedge funds generally reap fees equal to 20% of profits and 2% of assets, but we found all sorts of variations on this theme. In addition, our earnings figures include the personal gain or loss of each managerís interest in their funds. Our figures are pretax, account for firm expenses and profit-sharing arrangements, and exclude gains or losses stemming from ownership in the hedge fund firms themselves or from investments held outside the managed investment pools.

There were some minor comebacks by big players in 2012, although they were nowhere near enough to offset prior setbacks. John Paulson, the hedge fund manager who pulled off the greatest trade ever by betting against subprime mortgage securities, has experienced two difficult years. But even though his Paulson Advantage funds were down substantially again in 2012, some of his other funds did pretty well. According to an investor letter, the weighted average performance of all of Paulsonís funds for 2012 was up 1% net of management fees. Because Paulson has such a huge personal stake in his funds, he made $275 million.

The most surprising comeback was staged by Philip Falcone. His Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund firm, which at its peak managed $26 billion, blew a ton of money on LightSquared, a controversial attempt to convert satellite radio frequencies into a new cellular service that filed for bankruptcy protection. The Securities & Exchange Commission has brought a pending enforcement action against him that he is fighting. But Facloneís hedge funds performed very well in 2012 after LightSquared bonds recovered and shares in his publicly-traded Harbinger Group, in which his hedge funds have a big position, soared. Since a big percentage of the assets managed by his hedge funds belong to him, Falcone made $250 million.