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Comment: Making money in bad times

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Positive news has been thin on the ground over the last year and a half as the global economy continues to spiral downward.

Positive news has been thin on the ground over the last year and a half as the global economy continues to spiral downward. Stock markets have crashed, debt markets have seized up completely and thousands of businesses are going bankrupt.

But some hedge fund managers have made money – and lots of it – even as most of their peers saw their funds, and earnings, shrink last year. According to Alpha Magazine’s ranking of the world’s highest-earning hedge fund managers, the top 25 managers received a combined GBP8.27bn in 2008, an average of GBP331m each.

The survey uses two components to calculate earnings, the managers’ shares of their firm’s performance and management fees, as well as gains on their own capital invested in their funds.

The top earner last year was James Simons of Renaissance Technologies with USD2.5bn, followed by John Paulson of Paulson & Co with USD2bn, John Arnold of Centaurus Energy with USD1.5bn and George Soros of Soros Fund Management with USD1.1bn.

Other top performers included Raymond Dalio of Bridgewater Associates, Bruce Kovner of Caxton Associates, David Shaw of D.E. Shaw, Stanley Druckenmiller of Duquesne Capital Management, David Harding of Winton Capital Management and Alan Howard of Brevan Howard Asset Management.

The managers used different strategies to make money last year including short selling, dollar hedges and rapid-fire trading. We’ll have to wait and see if these strategies work in 2009 as well, but the presence in the rankings of familiar names such as Simons, Paulson and Soros suggests that more often than not the cream will rise to the top.

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