I was watching CNBC one morning last summer (a terrible habit I've since kicked). It was August, and the economy was tanking. A well-dressed analyst shared his outlook, proclaimed he was "forecasting a second-half slowdown."
Remember, this was August. The second half starts in July. And the economy had been slowing for months. I told a co-worker: "You know, I'd love to find a job where I'm paid six figures to make predictions about what happened two months ago. That's the best job in the world."
I was wrong. I've found a better gig. It's being an underperforming hedge fund manager. According to The New York Times:
David Shaw of D. E. Shaw, a firm that uses complex algorithms to determine its investments, made ... income of $275 million [last year], even though his biggest fund returned a paltry 2.45 percent and over all the firm lost 40 percent of its assets.
Now, hedge fund mangers often earn insane paydays because they invest their large net worths in their funds. But this alone doesn't explain why Shaw earned so much. Forbes lists Shaw's net worth at $2.5 billion. Being generous and assuming it's all invested in his fund, Shaw's personal investments should have earned him $61 million (2.45% return on $2.5 billion). He probably doesn't charge himself fees for managing his own investments, so that $61 million is more realistically something like $100 million. That leaves $175 million as the amount Shaw was paid for delivering a 2.45% return to outside investors.
Think about that. The Dow Jones returned 13%. The Nasdaq returned 17%. Heck, 10-year Treasury bonds yielded more than 3%. So for underperforming index funds by more than 80%, Shaw was paid the equivalent of 3,516 times the median household income.
That, folks, is the best job in the world.
This type of pay-for-nothing arrangement isn't unique to hedge funds. Former Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O'Neal was paid $162 million for leaving his company a year away from death's door, where it was eventually saved by Bank of America
Which, of course, is what seems to have happened at Shaw's fund last year.