Jim Simons and the Best Hedge Fund Ever

In a recent Bloomberg article, columnist Barry Ritholtz reviews the new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Greg Zuckerman, “The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution.”

Ritholtz describes the book about Simons, a former math professor and code breaker for the Institute of Defense Analyses, as “compelling, filled with so many fascinating characters and new information, that it demands a review.” Author Zuckerman reportedly spent over two years researching the “secretive” hedge fund Simons founded, Renaissance Technologies LLC, speaking to more than 40 current and former employees and finally landing an interview with Simons himself.

The firm’s “crown jewel”—its Medallion fund—enjoyed a stellar performance history. It’s 30-year track record boasted gains of 66.1% annually before fees, with estimated profits during the period of $104.5 billion. Net of fees, the article reports, gains were 39.1%. “About those fees,” Ritholtz quips, “If the standard hedge fund management fee of 2% of assets under management, plus 20% of the profits sounds expensive, then what do you think of Medallion’s ‘5 and 44’?”

According to Zuckerman’s calculations, Simon’s personal net worth exceeds $23 billion—wealth he accumulated not from the “fat fees” accrued by his firm’s “crown jewel” Medallion fund, but by being personally invested in it. Ritholtz writes, “Simons figured the fund could not effectively manage more than $10 billion, so he returned outsider investors’ capital, allowing only employees to participate. Today, each Renaissance employee averages about $50 million each in the fund, though that number is skewed by the fund’s biggest holder, Simons.”

Ritholtz explains that, in the early 1980s, Renaissance invested in cutting edge tech to create a database of “clean, live market prices that literally no one else in the investment world had” and, instead of hiring analysts and economist, he hired mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists.