Bill Hwang, a veteran stock trader and hedge fund manager, amassed billions of dollars in net worth over the years, before he lost it all-all $20 billion-Bill Hwang was the greatest trader you’d never heard of.
In 2013, he parlayed more than $200 million left over from his shuttered hedge fund into a mind-boggling fortune by betting on stocks. Had he folded his hand in early March and cashed in, Hwang, 57, would have stood out among the world’s billionaires. He borrowed billions of dollars from Wall Street banks to build enormous positions in a few American and Chinese stocks.
Hwang’s $20 billion net worth was almost as liquid as a government stimulus check. And then, in two short days, it was gone.The sudden implosion of Hwang’s Archegos Capital Management in late March is one of the most spectacular failures in modern financial history: No individual has lost so much money so quickly. At its peak, Hwang’s wealth briefly eclipsed $30 billion.
Who is Bill Hwang?
Hwang is anything but the larger-than-life figure one might expect at the center of a financial fiasco. There’s no penthouse overlooking Manhattan’s Central Park, no hillside chalet at the Yellowstone Club, no private jets. “I grew up in a pastor’s family. We were poor,” he said in a video recorded at New Jersey’s Metro Community Church in 2019. “I confess to you, I could not live very poorly. But I live a few notches below where I could live.”
Sung Kook Hwang immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea in 1982 and took the English name Bill. Raised by his widowed mother, he attended the University of California at Los Angeles and eventually earned an MBA at Carnegie Mellon University. At a videotaped business school reunion that was posted online in 2008, Hwang recounted his one objective upon graduation: moving to New York. In 1996, after stints as a salesman at two securities firms, he landed an analyst’s job at Tiger Management.
He owns a suburban New Jersey home and drives a Hyundai SUV. His is the paradoxical story of a man devoted to his church and driven to give generously, with a consuming taste for casinolike risk in his professional life. For now, Hwang isn’t saying why he played such a dangerous game, and neither are his bankers. But pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.
On March 25, when Hwang’s financiers were finally able to compare notes, it became clear that his trading strategy was strikingly simple. Archegos appears to have plowed most of the money it borrowed into a handful of stocks-ViacomCBS, GSX Techedu, and Shopify among them. This was no arbitrage on collateralized bundles of obscure financial contracts. Hwang invested the Tiger way, using deep fundamental analysis to find promising stocks, and he built a highly concentrated portfolio.
The meltdown of Hwang’s firm had ripple effects. Two of his bank lenders have revealed billions of dollars in losses. ViacomCBS saw its share price halved in a week. The Securities and Exchange Commission opened a preliminary inquiry into Archegos, two people familiar with the matter said, and market watchers are calling for tougher oversight of family offices like Hwang’s — private investment vehicles of the wealthy that are estimated to control several trillion dollars in assets.
The best thing anyone can say about the Archegos collapse is that it didn’t spark a market meltdown. The worst thing is that it was an entirely preventable disaster made possible by Hwang’s lenders. Had they limited his leverage or insisted on more visibility into the business he did across Wall Street, Archegos would have been playing with fire instead of dynamite.