Analyzing Galleon’s returns

By Felix Salmon
October 22, 2009
The Pragmatic Capitalist gets his hands on Galleon's monthly returns, and finds them very suspicious:

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The Pragmatic Capitalist gets his hands on Galleon’s monthly returns, and finds them very suspicious:

These guys just couldn’t lose. Whether the market was up or down they cranked out 25% returns like they were printing money. It makes you wonder just how long these guys were trading on insider information?

I have run the risk adjusted returns on hundreds if not thousands of portfolios throughout my career and I have never seen numbers like these. NEVER. There is virtually ZERO downside volatility in these figures… Gauging from the returns I would be willing to bet the insider trading was going on for most of Galleon’s existence and was likely much more rampant than currently reported.

I’m not completely convinced, for two reasons. Firstly, Galleon’s returns were pretty volatile: the fund was up 14.53% in May 1997, for instance, and then down 8.54% five months later, in October of the same year. That doesn’t seem abnormally consistent to me.

More generally, if you want returns which rarely turn negative, insider trading is not your strategy. Madoff-style outright fraud works, of course: you just report fictional returns instead of real ones. But Galleon isn’t being accused of making up its returns: it has the money it says it has. It just (allegedly) used illegal means to amass it.

A sophisticated insider trader isn’t trying very hard not to lose money. Quite the opposite, in fact: he’s putting a lot of money at risk, and knows there’s a significant downside. He just also knows that he’s got an informational edge which gives him an advantage over the rest of the market. Such advantages don’t always pay out, and as a result you’d expect an insider-trading strategy to show relatively frequent negative returns. Even if, over the long term, it was very successful.

(Via)

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