I recently came across an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, "One Fund in 1,700 Made Money in '08." Pathetic, I know. It was a rough year for just about everyone. Unless you were short financials or long Treasury bonds, you probably lost money in 2008. And probably a lot of it.
I say "probably" because there were, of course, a handful of financial masterminds who saw this whole thing coming years ago and ended 2008 looking like modern day Nostradamuses.
Without further ado, here are five of the most impressive financial minds of 2008.
Scored insanely huge returns over the past two years by betting against the housing market with credit default swaps -- essentially bets that certain pieces of debt will go belly-up. In 2007, one of his funds was up 590%, scoring him a personal payday of $3.7 billion. One-year wonder? Nah. One of Paulson's funds logged a 38% gain through mid-December.
"Dr. Doom" himself, this NYU Professor has been about as prophetic as anyone, calling the demise of Freddie Mac (NYSE: FRE ) and Fannie Mae (NYSE: FNM ) two years to the day before they collapsed. What's he predicting today? Just recently he wrote, "We are still only in the early stages of this crisis. My predictions for the coming year, unfortunately, are even more dire: The bubbles, and there were many, have only begun to burst." Gulp. Serenity now, please.
One of the first Wall Street analysts to tell the emperor he was making loans without any clothes on, Whitney made a bold prediction in late October 2007 that Citigroup (NYSE: C ) would have to cut its dividend and face a $30 billion capital shortfall, waking investors up to the severity of the financial crisis. Her latest prediction is that credit cards will be the next shoe to drop, with issuers like Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) yanking more than $2 trillion in credit lines in the next year and a half.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Best-selling author of The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, Taleb has made a successful career belittling Wall Street's supposed ability to measure risk, not to mention most people's understanding of basic probabilities in general. The basis of The Black Swan is that what we consider to be improbable events are actually much more likely than we assume, and cause much more damage than we can handle when they happen. Hmm ... sound familiar?
His website includes a section titled, "Quotes & Warnings that the Imbeciles Chose to Ignore," including a prediction from several years ago that "The government-sponsored institution Fannie Mae, when I look at its risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup. But not to worry: their large staff of scientists deemed these events 'unlikely'."
Takes the award as one of the earliest bears, predicting back in 2002 that the Dow will eventually hit 2000 and the Nasdaq will hit 500. There's now a cult following of his macro-level calls that predicts no less than the demise of the U.S. dollar and a spectacular surge in gold. If you get a chance, check out this YouTube video of Schiff in previous years take beating after beating by pundits heckling him as nothing more than Chicken Little for predicting a financial collapse. Who's laughing now,
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