Activist Money Managers Don’t Care if You Make Money

Jeff Macke

Carl Icahn virtually invented the idea of activist investing way back in the 80's. Now the game has grown to include dozens of hedge fund managers getting long and loud their positions. Once upon a time activists were regarded as green-mailing scum and talking one's book was suicidal. Today you haven't really made it until you've openly ridiculed a CEO or investing peer on national television.

The resulting theatrics have terrific entertainment value and are a boon for financial television, but can they help you make money? Almost certainly not according to the Capitalist Pig Jonathan Hoenig who joined Breakout from Chicago to discuss.

"I think you have to listen to it," Hoenig says of the noise, "but I do not think you have to invest on it." The reason you listen to the ululating gurus is because they are smart people with a ton of skin in the game. The reason you don't act on their words is because it makes you part of the herd, jumping in and out of positions depending on how they feel about whoever is touting their book at a given moment.

Activist shareholders have no reason to care if the viewer makes money. The hedgies want to be right, of course, but that doesn't mean they're going to let the masses front run their trades. A money manager may be in, out and back in a position between his visit to CNBC, Fox Biz or Bloomberg. They have neither a moral nor legal obligation to refrain from trading until they've made the public aware of their intentions.

"You want to try the stocks that no one's talking about, that no one's blogging about and unfortunately that's not what the story stocks and what the activists stocks tend to focus on," is how the reliably contrarian Hoenig puts it.

"Yes I think you can make money with story stocks and activists stocks, of course there's a million ways to make or lose money in the markets, I just think it tends to be a very low probability way of participating."


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