Bill Ackman Rockets Up Best-Paid Hedge Fund List by Doing Very Little

(Bloomberg) — Perhaps no other hedge fund manager has perfected the art of having their money work for them while they sleep — or tweet — like Bill Ackman.

The Pershing Square Capital Management founder made $610 million last year, after barely touching his portfolio of just 10 stocks. The total landed Ackman at No. 7 on Bloomberg’s annual list of the best-paid hedge fund founders, his highest-ever position. He failed to crack the top 15 in 2022.

The haul validates Ackman’s shift two years ago from a swashbuckling shareholder activist to taking “a quieter approach” and naming a chief investment officer to help run his fund. In a year when US stocks soared, his eight-person investment team’s stolid approach of holding shares in big companies racked up a 26.7% gain. Those include Google parent Alphabet Inc. — the portfolio’s only new position — as well as Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc.

bill ackman rockets up best-paid hedge fund list by doing very little

Pershing Square Capital Management LP Chief Executive Officer Bill Ackman Interview

That exceeds the returns for hedge funds including Citadel’s main Wellington strategy (15.3%) and Millennium Management (almost 10%), though their founders earned well in excess of Ackman. Millennium’s Izzy Englander nabbed the top spot in Bloomberg’s pay ranking with $2.8 billion, while Citadel’s Ken Griffin placed second at $2.6 billion.

bill ackman rockets up best-paid hedge fund list by doing very little

Hedge Fund Riches | The 15 top earners reaped $15 billion last year

The two billionaires run multistrategy hedge funds, which employ thousands of people trading across a variety of assets and have enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years. While many in the group outperformed during the market swoon in 2022, their performance last year was more muted.

For Ackman, roughly a third of his 2023 haul came from share-price gains in his publicly traded Pershing Square Holdings funds. Performance gains at his private funds and income from fees charged to clients made up the rest. Last year, Ackman mostly tweaked stock exposures on the margins, although he sharply cut his six-year bet on Lowe’s Cos. Inc.

Running a comparatively simpler operation has given Ackman, 57, plenty of time to train his fighting skills on targets beyond the business world. He has gained 1.2 million followers — and a heap of notoriety — for the blistering critiques and controversial takes he frequently posts on X.

bill ackman rockets up best-paid hedge fund list by doing very little

Pershing Square’s Equity Bets |

Ackman led the successful effort to oust Claudine Gay, Harvard University’s first Black president, over her response to antisemitism on campus. Last month, he vowed to set up a “think-and-do tank” that would aggressively continue his scrutiny of antisemitism and diversity, equity and inclusion policies on US college campuses. Weeks later, Pershing Square unveiled plans to start a new fund called Pershing Square USA for retail investors, which would trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

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At least one other fund manager also won big last year by betting on just a handful of stocks — though, unlike Ackman, he’s remained out of the public spotlight.

TCI Fund Management’s Chris Hohn earned almost $1 billion, with a portfolio of 10 US stock holdings. Just two of those positions — General Electric Co. and Canadian National Railway — comprised more than a quarter of those holdings. The fund, which gained 33% last year, may have owned other investments outside the US.

All told, the 15 managers on Bloomberg’s list earned a combined $15 billion.

Hedge fund managers have had even bigger paydays — Ackman included. In 2020, he took ninth place after raking in $1.3 billion, and the top 15 managers made a collective $23.2 billion. The lowest-earning manager on the list that year — Melvin Capital Management’s Gabe Plotkin, who would be felled the following year by an army of Reddit retail traders — reaped $846 million.

bill ackman rockets up best-paid hedge fund list by doing very little

Returns of the Top 15 | Here’s how the managers’ funds performed over the past three years.

As much money as the top 15 managers collected in 2023, some of those making a repeat appearance on the list earned even more a year earlier. Griffin reaped $1.5 billion less than he did in 2022, D.E. Shaw founder David Shaw $462 million less, and Point72 Asset Management’s Steve Cohen about $300 million less.

Last year’s ranking: Hedge Fund Boss Haidar Joins Ranks of Best Paid With 193% Gain

Some managers didn’t make the list despite posting big gains in 2023 as they were digging themselves out of earlier losses inflicted during a rough 2022.

Firms trying to bounce back include Tiger Global Management, Perceptive Advisors, Lone Pine Capital and D1 Capital Partners.

Representatives for all of the firms declined to comment or didn’t reply to messages seeking comment.

Methodology

The list used US Securities and Exchange Commission filings, company websites and news reporting to determine assets under management. Those figures are for the start of 2023 and don’t include asset inflows and outflows during last year.

Fee details were taken from regulatory filings and reporting. Where there was no disclosure, Bloomberg assumed a 2% management fee and 20% performance fee. Management fees aren’t included as part of the profits.

Some firms run dozens of individual funds and strategies. Bloomberg’s analysis only includes the largest and most material hedge and long-only funds within the investment firms.

Certain hedge fund managers hold significant assets outside of traditional hedge fund activities, including private equity, venture capital or low-fee strategies, which also aren’t included in the analysis.

The information on how much each hedge fund owner had invested in their own funds comes from SEC filings, reporting and calculations done previously for the  Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Ownership percentages of firms are based on regulatory filings and reporting. Phantom equity interests in firms may mean ownership is overstated.

Gross performance fee figures are estimated using previously reported annual return data for funds in the analysis and from filings. In most cases, Bloomberg assumes that half of the performance fees were distributed to employees and reinvested in the firm, with the owners collecting the other half.

Losses recouped from previous years are excluded when calculating returns on managers’ personal investments, and performance fees are calculated to take into account estimated high-water marks. Several of the year’s best-performing hedge funds don’t appear on the list because they have yet to recoup losses incurred in prior years. There are also large hedge fund firms where no return data is available.

Hedge funds must manage funds for external clients to be included on the list.

(Updates returns chart.)

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