Your Pain, Their Gain
Peter J. Schwartz 05.05.08, 12:00 AM ET
Crumbling home prices and $100 oil helped Wall Street’s Highest Earners pull in $19 billion last year
Problems paying the mortgage, filling the gas tank and feeding the family have eroded living standards for millions of Americans during the past several months. Not so for people who manage big piles of money–many of them made a fortune betting correctly on the housing debacle and rising commodity prices last year.
Our second annual look at the pay of folks who run hedge and private equity funds shows that the top 20 took home a collective $18.7 billion last year, 43% more than in 2006. To even make the list you needed minimum earnings of $350 million, which is $90 million higher than the year before. No chief executive of a traditional Wall Street investment bank even came close.
Our top-ranked earner, hedge fund manager John Paulson ($3.3 billion), reaped much of his bounty from shorting the ABX Index, which tracks the strength of the subprime mortgage market. Paulson earned an estimated $2.3 billion from his share of fees charged to investors and $1 billion from the appreciation of his own capital invested in Paulson & Co. funds.
Fund manager Philip Falcone, who ranked third with $1.7 billion, posted triple-digit returns by shorting subprime credit, resulting in $11 billion of growth for his two Harbinger Capital funds, excluding assets raised from new investors. John Burbank, who runs San Francisco hedge fund Passport Capital, made $370 million last year, also in large part by shorting home mortgage companies and mortgage-related debt ( see story).
Some members of our list, like Texans T. Boone Pickens ($1.2 billion) and John Arnold ($700 million), made their fortunes the old-fashioned way: betting on energy. Pickens’ $2.7 billion BP Capital Equity Fund grew by 24% after fees, while his $590 million Commodity fund grew 40% thanks to large positions in Suncor Energy (nyse: SU – news – people ), ExxonMobil (nyse: XOM – news – people ) and Occidental Petroleum (nyse: OXY – news – people ). For hedge fund billionaires Pickens and second-ranked George Soros ($2.4 billion), whose own investments compose a significant portion of their funds, there’s more to be made from asset appreciation than from fees. Soros made $2 billion from the growth of personal investments within his $17 billion Quantum Endowment Fund, which returned 32% for the year.