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Hedge funds took bad ’14 all the way to the bank

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For investors in hedge funds, like big pension funds, 2014 was not a lucrative year. But for those who managed the investors’ money, the pay was spectacular.

The top 25 hedge fund managers reaped $11.62 billion in compensation in 2014, according to an annual ranking to be published on Tuesday by Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine.

That collective payday came even as hedge funds, once high-octane money makers, returned on average low-single digits. In comparison, the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 index posted a gain of 13.68 percent last year when reinvested dividends were included.

Still, the men (no woman has ever made the cut) at the top of the hedge fund universe now run firms that are bigger than they have ever been. Their influence is growing beyond the industry and even beyond Wall Street. They lobby in Washington, donate to political campaigns nationwide, and can pick their advisers from a pool of former central bankers.

Topping the list is Kenneth Griffin, who started by trading convertible bonds out of his dormitory at Harvard. He took home $1.3 billion last year. James H. Simons, a former National Security Agency codebreaker who makes billions of dollars every year from his hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies, earned $1.2 billion. And Raymond Dalio, who runs the world’s biggest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, with more than $170 billion in assets under management, reaped $1.1 billion.

A close fourth was William Ackman, who is known for making large and concentrated bets and for being outspoken about them. Ackman earned $950 million in 2014.

The pay estimates are based on the value of each manager’s stake in his firm and the fees charged. Investors in hedge funds generally pay an annual management fee of 2 percent of the total assets under management and 20 percent of any profits.

For the average person, these sums are extraordinary. But the overall pay for top earners was down by hundreds of millions of dollars in 2014. These managers made just over half of the $21.15 billion earned by the top 25 in 2013.

Still, what makes such nine- and 10-figure paychecks remarkable for 2014 is that many of the top earners had mediocre performances at best. Only half of the top 10 earners recorded returns that exceeded that of the S&P 500.

For investors, 2014 was the sixth consecutive year that hedge funds have fallen short of stock market performance, returning only 3 percent on average, according to a composite index of 2,200 portfolios collected by HFR, a firm that tracks the industry. Hedge funds are lightly regulated private pools of capital open to institutional investors like pension funds, university endowments and wealthy investors.

Such large investors continue to shovel money into the $2.9 trillion hedge fund industry, desperate to make returns in an environment of near-zero interest rates. So far this year, $95 billion of new capital has flowed in.

In terms of performance, Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital and Griffin’s Citadel were standouts. Pershing Square’s two funds gained 36 percent and 40 percent, the best returns in the 2014 ranking. Citadel posted returns of 18 percent to investors in its flagship Kensington and Wellington funds. Both Ackman and Griffin declined to comment for this article.

At Renaissance, the best-performing equities fund was up 14.5 percent, and its institutional futures fund gained 7.4 percent. Simons’ wealth, however, is tied up in the firm’s secretive Medallion fund, which manages only employees’ money and has earned average annual returns of more than 30 percent over two decades.

Elsewhere, returns were more modest.

Dalio’s Bridgewater started the year strong, with well-placed bets on interest rates in Europe and the United States, but momentum slowed in the second half of the year. He made 3.6 percent and 8.7 percent in his two main Pure Alpha funds. Dalio’s spokesman declined to comment.

Some notable managers were missing from the Alpha list entirely. The billionaire financier John Paulson did not make the cut because his Paulson & Co. hedge fund lost money in 2014. Paulson, an inveterate art collector whose office is lined with Alexander Calder watercolors, was the second-highest earner in 2013, reaping $2.3 billion. He declined to comment.

And some of the most prominent names on past Alpha lists are no longer counted, having converted their hedge funds into family offices, managing chiefly their own money. Among them are George Soros, Steven A. Cohen, Carl Icahn and Stanley Druckenmiller.

Computer scientists whose firms use quantitative strategies were among the top earners last year. Simons employs astronomers and physicists and uses computer programs to scan reams of data in search of patterns to make investments, for example.

David Shaw, whose $36 billion D.E. Shaw firm hires data scientists to build algorithms for trading, made $530 million in 2014. Shaw, who has a computer science Ph.D. from Stanford, is no longer involved with the daily management of D.E. Shaw’s investments. A spokesman for D.E. Shaw declined to comment.

In a year when managers complained about unnavigable markets, with the leading central banks keeping interest rates low, hedge funds that employed a variety of strategies fared better.

Israel A. Englander took home $900 million after his firm, Millennium, made returns of 12 percent in 2014. Based in New York, Millennium uses a platform model to invest with 170 individual managers who each use their own trading strategies. Englander does not charge a management fee. Instead, investors share the costs of running the firm.

The highest-earning managers have also emerged as leading political donors. For example, Griffin, whose $26 billion firm, Citadel, is based in Chicago, was the single largest backer for Rahm Emanuel’s successful second-term mayoral campaign, donating more than $1 million. (Last month, Citadel hired Ben Bernanke, the former Federal Reserve chairman, as a senior adviser.)

Simons, who stepped down from day-to-day management of his $25 billion firm, Renaissance, in 2010, has been a significant political supporter of the Democrats, donating $8.3 million in 2014 alone. A spokesman for Simons declined to comment.

Activist investors, once the scourge of corporate America because of their strategy of buying up large stakes in companies and then throwing their weight around with management, came out on top, too.

Larry Robbins, an activist investor who prefers to be called a "suggestivist," made $570 million in 2014. He made a fortune for himself and his investors in 2013 after winning a proxy contest against Health Management Associates. Robbins has also made a windfall betting on health care stocks like Humana, Thermo Fischer Scientific, HCA Holdings and VCA. A spokesman declined to comment.

One group of hedge fund managers known as the Tiger Cubs also made the top of list. Protigis of Julian Robertson, they are named after his firm, Tiger Management.

One of them was O. Andreas Halvorsen, the founder of Viking Global Investors, who earned $450 million last year. A former Norwegian navy special operations commando, Halvorsen is fiercely competitive; he came in eighth for his division several years ago in an Ironman race that included swimming, running and cycling.

Chase Coleman made $425 million last year. His firm, Tiger Global Management, reported steady returns for investors. The Tiger Global fund reported gains of 16.9 percent and Tiger Global Long Opportunities of 15.5 percent. The firm also makes venture capital investments in startups. A spokeswoman for Coleman declined to comment.

Alexandra Stevenson, New York Times

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