Despite being a rarefied “Tiger cub,” Bill Hwang was not well known on Wall Street until he blew up in what might be the biggest margin call of all time, causing billions in losses.
Hwang, a former protege of noted Tiger Management founder Julian Robertson, ran family office Archegos Capital Management, which was so under-the-radar that he wasn’t even initially spotted as the cause of seismic shifts in trading that sent shares of Discovery down 21 percent on Friday.
Hwang has since emerged as the man at the center of a multibillion trading fiasco that is now expected to result in upward of $6 billion in losses for some of his trading partners, including Nomura and Credit Suisse.
Wall Streeters are admittedly stunned by the speed of the crash and the size of the damage left behind even as they brace for a potential battle with lawmakers over regulation of secretive family offices like the one run by Hwang.
“I’ve never seen anything like this — how quiet it was, how concentrated, and how fast it disappeared,” Mike Novogratz, a career macro investor and former partner at Goldman Sachs told Bloomberg News. “This has to be one of the single greatest losses of personal wealth in history.”
“You have to wonder who else is out there with one of these invisible fortunes,” Novogratz added. “The psychology of all that leverage with no risk management, it’s almost nihilism.”
Because Archegos is a family office and not a regulated bank or hedge fund, the details of its crash remain a mystery. What is known is that Hwang established Archegos after he shuttered his hedge funds — Tiger Asia Management and Tiger Asia Partners — following an SEC probe in 2012 alleging insider trading.
The firm then reportedly used derivatives contracts with brokers to supercharge its trades, structuring them in such a way that Archegos’s positions were placed on banks’ balance sheets.
Such contracts, which don’t need to be disclosed, reportedly allowed Hwang to turn his net worth, estimated at around $10 billion, into trades worth an estimated $50 billion or more.
At some point last week the trades went awry, forcing his trading partners to start selling his positions to pay off his debts to them. It was a margin call turned bad.
Archegos finally broke it’s silence on Tuesday, saying: “This is a challenging time for the family office of Archegos Capital Management, our partners and employees. All plans are being discussed as Mr. Hwang and the team determine the best path forward.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, however, is already calling for greater scrutiny.
“Archegos’ meltdown had all the makings of a dangerous situation — largely unregulated hedge fund, opaque derivatives, trading in private dark pools, high leverage, and a trader who wriggled out of the SEC’s enforcement,” Warren tweeted Tuesday.
“Regulators need to rely on more than luck to fend off risks to the financial system: we need transparency and strong oversight to ensure that the next hedge fund blowup doesn’t take the economy down with it,” she said.
Analysts have pegged Credit Suisse’s losses tied to Archegos, as well as the smaller collapse of financial startup Greensill from earlier this month, at $4 billion, threatening a year of profits tied to one month’s trading. Nomura has pegged its losses at $2 billion.
Wells Fargo, by contrast, said it didn’t experience any losses, while Goldman Sachs has reportedly told investors that its losses will be immaterial.
Despite the chaos, Hwang’s former boss, founder of esteemed hedge fund Tiger Management, suggested he’s still rooting for the guy.
“I’m just very sad about it,” Robertson, 88, told Bloomberg in a Monday interview. “I’m a great fan of Bill, and it could probably happen to anyone. But I’m sorry it happened to Bill.”