The Zero Hedgies

By Felix Salmon
September 30, 2009
story on Zero hedge. The vitriol aimed at him from the Zero Hedgies is something to behold, both in the comments on nymag.com and on ZH itself. For instance, these three consecutive comments:

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I met up with Joe Hagan this morning, in the wake of the appearance of his big New York story on Zero hedge. The vitriol aimed at him from the Zero Hedgies is something to behold, both in the comments on nymag.com and on ZH itself. For instance, these three consecutive comments:

Let’s get some of his work particulars, as well as information about his father. And does he have kids?
Hagan: you’re just another meal in the food chain, and you might find ZH readers are a hungry lot.

welcome to fight club joe.

Joe forgot we are the ones that educate his kids, care for his parents, fix his car and deliever his pizza. hehe

There’s genuinely nothing in the article which could remotely justify that level of hatred, except maybe for the fact that Hagan outed ZH as Dan Ivandjiiski. (Something the NY Post had done back on September 2.)

That said, however, it’s undeniable that ZH has a huge following: Quantcast puts pageviews at over 5 million a month, and uniques at over 330,000. (The ratio between the two is very high indeed by website standards, showing how sticky and addictive the site is for its loyal readers.)

Who are these people who flock to zerohedge.com and lap up everything they’re served? They clearly love the chart-filled posts about intraday movements in the stock market, which is one clue. I think what we’re dealing with here is, essentially, retail day-traders, as profiled by Hagan back in February. (Hagan told me that even back then, before ZH really took off, the day-traders he was writing about were constantly reading the site.)

You need to be a little bit delusional to be an individual day-trader, paying substantial sums for information, technology, and trading spreads every day and yet somehow reckoning that by zooming in and out of highly-levered ETFs you can not so much beat as utterly obliterate broader market returns. All day-traders think they’re above-average; they have to, otherwise they wouldn’t have the hubris necessary to do it in the first place.

The idea really took hold in the popular imagination sometime during the first dot-com boom: stay at home, hook in to the markets, and make more by trading your own account than you ever would working for the Man. Call it the ultimate triumph of Capital over Labor.

It’s not hard to guess why these people might be angry: they’re losing substantial amounts of their own money in the market, and they’re casting about for someone to blame. The insanely profitable Goldman Sachs, for one, is always a good target. And indeed it might well be the case that Goldman’s traders probably are picking off a lot of these individual day-traders, and making quite a lot of money off them in aggregate.

Remember too that day-traders tend to be quite rich (or they wouldn’t have money to play with) and convinced that they know something most people don’t (or they wouldn’t have their self-perceived edge in the market). At that point it becomes quite easy to see how they would be attracted to a conspiracy theorist like ZH, who writes dense and often hard-to-decipher posts about the arcana of how the market works. The masses read Dan Brown for fun; the day-traders read Zero Hedge for profit.

None of this really explains the unbridled anger aimed at Hagan, but for the fact that when you’re casting around for someone to blame, and a major media outlet paints your idol as some kind of sleazy kook, you’re liable to take extreme umbrage — especially when you can hide safely in complete anonymity. The Zero Hedgies, in other words, are the 4chan of the financial blogsphere, which is maybe one of the more depressing aspects of the degree to which the financial blogosphere has matured.

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