Tag Archives: Family offices

How to Lose $8 Billion in 10 Days

Archegos Capital Management, run by Bill Hwang, is imploding, racking up losses at a record pace:

Mr. Hwang alone lost approximately $8 billion in 10 days, a person familiar with the matter said, in what traders and investors say was one of the fastest losses of such a large sum they had ever seen.

Archegos borrowed massive sums of money to invest it in just a few stocks. Like addicts that get 10 oxycontin prescriptions from 10 different doctors, Hwang never revealed how deep in debt he was to the banks he dealt with:

Archegos was regularly putting up $15 of collateral to borrow $85, on the high end of leverage for stock-trading firms with similar strategies, said a banking executive familiar with the borrowing.

Archegos’s lenders say they were unaware of the extent of trades he was making with other banks, information that would have encouraged them to curb their lending.

The fact that Archegos used swaps, rather than owning shares directly, further obscured his activities. In the “contract for difference” swaps he used, the bank owns the shares while Hwang’s firm pays for the losses or receives the gains on the stock.

This is important because investors have to disclose to the SEC when they own over 5% of a company. Hwang would have had to make several such disclosures. But because he used swaps instead, none of that information was public, making it harder for banks to find out how heavily leveraged he was. This may have been by design.

A further odd wrinkle is that Hwang, the son of a pastor, suffused Archegos with religious fervor:

Mr. Hwang returned clients’ money in 2012 and turned his firm into an office to manage his family’s wealth. He named it Archegos, which, translated from Greek means “leader” or “prince of Christ.” A Christian ethos permeated the firm, with voluntary Friday morning Bible studies where a recording of Bible readings would play to music.

He tended to view gains as signs of God’s favor:

“Do I think God loves it? Of course!” Mr. Hwang said in a video, referring to his early investment in LinkedIn. “I’m like a little child looking for, what can I do today, where can I invest, to please our God?”

If Hwang had a religious certainty about his positions, he’d be all the more likely to hold them even as he lost money, expecting to be vindicated.

It strikes me how incredibly simple this one-time billionaire investor’s strategy was. Borrow a bunch of money and invest it in a few well-known stocks like Viacom. Anyone could do that if they had access to capital. There was no special sauce, and now Hwang is paying the price for his recklessness.

For more on Archegos and financial markets, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Gamble” by jetglo is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0