I recently spoke with Jonathan Hoenig, manager of the Capitalistpig Hedge Fund and regular contributor to Fox News Channel’s Cashin’ In, Your World with Neil Cavuto, and Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld. Mr. Hoenig is also a columnist for Smartmoney.com and contributes economic commentary to WLS 890AM in Chicago. —Craig Biddle
Craig Biddle: I must ask at the outset, why did you name your firm “Capitalistpig”? Is there a story behind that?
Jonathan Hoenig: Yes, there is. From weeding yards as a young boy to working at Starbucks in high school, I have always been interested in money and actively hustling for dollars. Getting an “A” in school didn’t mean much to me, but earning a few hundred dollars working in a local warehouse or passing out samples of Nutella (another summer job) always provided a tremendous sense of accomplishment and pride.
One of my earliest memories is going with my dad to our local bank and opening my first passbook savings account. Even then, it was a real thrill to watch the balance slowly build. As a kid, while many of my contemporaries were either bullying (or being bullied), I was busy discovering the virtue of mutually beneficial exchange. My neighbor appreciated me cleaning out her basement, and, for a few bucks, I was more than happy to do an excellent job. Ever since I can remember, capitalism wasn’t something I spurned, but embraced.
Knowing I wanted to pursue a career in the financial markets, after college I traded futures at the Chicago Board of Trade for a few years before opening up my firm in 2000. The name Capitalistpig Asset Management was a punchy way of communicating the philosophy by which my operation is run. We also give all new clients a copy of [Ayn Rand’s] Atlas Shrugged. The name Capitalistpig also helps to attract the right type of customer. I prefer to work with like-minded individuals who support capitalism and individual rights and are happy to be part of an operation that loudly promotes these ideals.
CB: What exactly is a hedge fund? How is it different from a mutual fund? And what do you and other hedge fund managers do?
JH: A hedge fund is simply a pool of money funded by profit-seeking investors and managed by a professional money manager. In that sense, it is similar to a mutual fund. But unlike a mutual fund, a hedge fund is not required to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission. This doesn’t mean hedge funds are unregulated; far from it. The government places stringent restrictions on how hedge funds can operate. Most notably, we’re prohibited from accepting investments from “nonaccredited” individuals—meaning, those who don’t have a liquid net worth of at least $1 million or haven’t earned an income of at least $200,000 for two consecutive years. This, incidentally, is the source of the notoriously “exclusive” and “elitist” nature of hedge funds: They’re exclusive and elitist not by choice, but by government edict.
While most people assume that hedge funds trade frequently and make big bets on financial esoterica, the truth is a hedge fund is a legal structure, not an investment technique. Some trade frequently and use leverage, others buy and hold stocks for months or years at a time.
So while the media routinely characterize hedge funds as “risky” or “highly leveraged,” the reality is that hedge-fund strategies, just like mutual-fund strategies, run the gamut from the ultraconservative to the highly volatile. Some managers employ complex spread trades, while others simply buy and sell stocks. Just knowing someone runs a hedge fund tells you absolutely nothing about how it’s run. What matters are the strategies, positions, and discipline that the manager uses to maximize the money.
My fund is focused on absolute return, ideally earning a profit regardless of the condition of the stock market or larger macroeconomic environment. To accomplish this, I use strategies such as selling short, trading options, commodities, currencies, and other instruments, some of which aren’t directly correlated with the stock market. My fund functions as one part of an individual’s portfolio, usually no more than 25 percent, and it has been profitable eight out of nine years, earning a total return of over 345 percent. The Dow Jones has lost 28 percent over the same period.
CB: Hedge funds and their managers have been loudly and repeatedly condemned for having somehow caused or exacerbated the current financial crisis. Did hedge funds lead to or worsen the crisis? If so, how? If not, what do you make of such claims?
JH: Such accusations are absurd. Hedge-fund managers have neither caused nor exacerbated the financial crisis, and they couldn’t have done so even if they had tried. These managers simply invest money for their clients. If they make good investments, their clients make money; if they make bad investments, their clients lose money.
Moreover, hedge funds—one of the few financial industries that has not asked for and will not receive a bailout—actually helped shoulder the burden of the credit collapse. In buying and selling risky mortgages, loans, and other instruments, hedge funds substantially mitigated the crisis by adding liquidity to the marketplace and facilitating trade. Wealth creation requires investment, and the savings needed in order to make loans, finance operations, start new companies, and invest in R&D come from investors, such as hedge-fund managers, who are seeking to profit. Far from fueling the financial crisis, hedge-fund managers reduced its severity, and continue to do so, by allocating capital in accordance with the principles of economics, long-range thinking, the profit motive, and market demand. . . .