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Hedge Funds Faced Choppy Waters in 2015, but Chiefs Cashed In

JPMorgan Chase paid its chief executive, Jamie Dimon, $27 million in 2015. In another Wall Street universe, the hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin made $1.7 billion over the same year.

Even as regulators push to rein in compensation at Wall Street banks, top hedge fund managers earn more than 50 times what the top executives at banks are paid.

The 25 best-paid hedge fund managers took home a collective $12.94 billion in income last year, according to an annual ranking published on Tuesday by Institutional Investor's Alpha magazine.

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Those riches came during a year of tremendous market volatility that was so bad for some Wall Street investors that the billionaire manager Daniel S. Loeb called it a "hedge fund killing field." A few hedge funds flamed out; others simply closed down. Some of the biggest names in the industry lost their investors billions of dollars.

Yet for the biggest hedge fund managers, these men (and the occasional woman) have more money and more influence than ever before.

Kenneth Griffin
Amanda Gordon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Kenneth Griffin

Their firms do more business in some corners of the financial world than many banks, including lending to low-income homeowners and small businesses. They lobby members of Congress. And they have put large sums of money behind presidential candidates, at times pumping tens of millions of dollars into super PACs.

The hedge fund industry has now ballooned in size, to $2.9 trillion, from $539 billion in 2001. So, too, has the pay of the industry's leaders.

When Institutional Investor first started ranking hedge fund pay 15 years ago, George Soros topped the Alpha list, earning $700 million. In 2015, Mr. Griffin, who started trading as a Harvard sophomore out of his dorm room, and James H. Simons, a former math professor, each took home $1.7 billion, according to Alpha magazine. The two topped the list last year, too.

Mr. Griffin's firm, Citadel, has grown from a hedge fund that managed family and pension fund money into a $25 billion firm that has expanded into the securities business, taking business away from the brokerage units of banks like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. Along the way, his own personal wealth has grown exponentially, and is estimated by Forbes at $7.5 billion.

He recently made headlines when he paid $500 million for two pieces of art. In September, Mr. Griffin, 47, reportedly paid $200 million to buy several floors in a new luxury condo tower that is being built at 220 Central Park South, in Manhattan.

Yet it is arguably on the national and political scene where his money has had the most impact. He was the biggest donor to the successful re-election campaign of Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago. More recently he has poured more than $3.1 million into the failed presidential campaigns of Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, as well as the Republican National Committee.

Citadel's flagship Kensington and Wellington hedge funds returned 14.3 percent over 2015.

Renaissance Technologies, the hedge fund firm started by Mr. Simons in 1982, uses computers to track and outsmart the stock market. It is a strategy that has worked well. The main Renaissance funds gained between 15.6 percent and 16.5 percent.t and 16.5 percent.

Mr. Simons, 78, has been a major political donor of the Democrats, donating $9.2 million in 2016, including $7 million to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton.

Robert Mercer and Peter Brown, co-chief executives of Renaissance, also made the list this year, each earning $135 million in 2015. Mr. Mercer emerged last year as a major donor to Ted Cruz's presidential campaign, and also gave to Bobby Jindal and Carly Fiorina, pumping $11.3 million into the election race.

To come up with its estimates, Institutional Investor's Alpha calculates the gains on each manager's capital in their funds in addition to their cut of the fees they charge. On average, investors pay an annual management fee of 2 percent of total assets under management and 20 percent on any gains.

Among 2015's top hedge fund earners are five men who actually lost money for some investors last year but still made handsome profits because their firms are so big.

Ray Dalio, 66, made $1.4 billion in 2015 through Bridgewater Associates, the world's biggest hedge fund firm with $150 billion of assets under management. Mr. Dalio, who founded Bridgewater, is frequently quoted promoting a strategy he calls risk parity. Yet Bridgewater's risk parity fund, called All Weather, lost investors 7 percent in 2015.

Still, two funds using a different strategy had gains: Pure Alpha II was up 4.7 percent, and Pure Alpha Major Markets was up 10.6 percent for the year.

Mr. Dalio's associates and Bridgewater co-chief investment officers, Robert Prince and Greg Jensen, also made the top earners list, with each bringing home $250 million.

Bridgewater was thrust into a spotlight this year when The Wall Street Journal reported that there was a schism between Mr. Dalio and Mr. Jensen, who had been largely seen as Mr. Dalio's successor. Soon after, Mr. Jensen stepped away as co-chief executive, and Bridgewater hired Jon Rubinstein, a former high-ranking Apple executive. The move further fueled questions over whether there had been an internal power struggle at the firm. Bridgewater denied that anything was amiss. Mr. Jensen remains co-chief investment officer.

For many managers, collecting large pay, even when performance was not tops, has become a side effect of growing bigger.

"Once a hedge fund gets to be large enough to produce incredibly outsized remuneration, the hardest part of due diligence is determining whether the investment process is affected," said Todd Petzel, chief investment officer at the private wealth management firm Offit Capital.

"Is the goal to continue to make money in a risky environment or is the goal to preserve assets on which you collect fees?" Mr. Petzel added.

Other managers hauled in large pay packages despite losing some of their investors money.

Daniel Och, the founder of the Och-Ziff Capital Management Group, made $140 million in 2015. His firm's flagship fund, OZ Master Fund, lost 0.28 percent last year. Other funds within the firm fared well, with its OZ Asia Master Fund up 9.64 percent.

But the firm has come under regulatory scrutiny over whether its dealings in Africa violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The publicly listed hedge fund firm has set aside $200 million to deal with a potential regulatory action.

Michael Platt, the founder of BlueCrest Capital Management, took home $260 million, according to Alpha. It was a difficult year for his firm, once one of the biggest hedge funds in Europe with $37 billion in investor money. He lost investors in his flagship fund 0.63 percent over the year and then told them he was throwing in the towel.

The move came after several bumpy years for the firm, which put out a statement saying that changes in the industry "have weighed on hedge fund profitability."

But one BlueCrest Capital alumna, Leda Braga, whose $9 billion quantitative trading hedge fund, Systematica Investments, was spun off from BlueCrest in 2014, became the first woman to make Alpha's more extended 50 top earners list this year, taking home $60 million in 2015. She ranked 44th.