How One Man Lost $20 Billion In Two Days

This week Bloomberg profiled “one of the most spectacular failures in modern financial history: No individual has lost so much money so quickly.”

Meet Bill Hwang, founder of Archegos Capital Management:Starting in 2013, he parlayed more than $200 million left over from his shuttered hedge fund into a mind-boggling fortune by betting on stocks. Had he folded his hand in early March and cashed in, Hwang, 57, would have stood out among the world’s billionaires… At its peak, Hwang’s wealth briefly eclipsed $30 billion…

Hwang used swaps, a type of derivative that gives an investor exposure to the gains or losses in an underlying asset without owning it directly. This concealed both his identity and the size of his positions. Even the firms that financed his investments couldn’t see the big picture. That’s why on Friday, March 26, when investors around the world learned that a company called Archegos had defaulted on loans used to build a staggering $100 billion portfolio, the first question was, “Who on earth is Bill Hwang?”

Because he was using borrowed money and levering up his bets fivefold, Hwang’s collapse left a trail of destruction. Banks dumped his holdings, savaging stock prices. Credit Suisse Group AG, one of Hwang’s lenders, lost $4.7 billion; several top executives, including the head of investment banking, have been forced out. Nomura Holdings Inc. faces a loss of about $2 billion… On March 25, when Hwang’s financiers were finally able to compare notes, it became clear that his trading strategy was strikingly simple. Archegos appears to have plowed most of the money it borrowed into a handful of stocks — ViacomCBS, GSX Techedu, and Shopify among them. This was no arbitrage on collateralized bundles of obscure financial contracts. Hwang invested the Tiger way, using deep fundamental analysis to find promising stocks, and he built a highly concentrated portfolio. The denizens of Reddit’s WallStreetBets day trading on Robinhood can do almost the same thing, riding such popular themes as cord cutting, virtual education, and online shopping. Only no brokerage will extend them anywhere near the amount of leverage billionaires get…

People familiar with Archegos say the firm steadily ramped up its leverage. Initially that meant about “2x,” or $1 million borrowed for every $1 million of capital. By late March the leverage was 5x or more. Raising money to invest in streaming made sense. Or so it seemed in the ViacomCBS C-suite. Instead, the stock tanked 9% on Tuesday and 23% on Wednesday. Hwang’s bets suddenly went haywire, jeopardizing his swap agreements…

Hwang, say people with swaps experience, likely had borrowed roughly $85 million for every $20 million, investing $100 and setting aside $5 to post margin as needed. But the massive portfolio had cratered so quickly that its losses blew through that small buffer as well as his capital.
“The best thing anyone can say about the Archegos collapse is that it didn’t spark a market meltdown,” the article concludes. “The worst thing is that it was an entirely preventable disaster made possible by Hwang’s lenders…”

“Regulators are to blame, too. As Congress was told at hearings following the GameStop Corp. debacle in January, there’s not enough transparency in the stock market.”