Former stock trader Turney Duff started his career on Wall Street in the 1990s as a trainee at Morgan Stanley (MS), before ascending the ranks of hedge fund trading over the next decade, making millions of dollars, and blowing it as he descended into cocaine addiction.
It’s a downward spiral seemingly enabled by the culture, money, and access of his former profession - the darkside of Wall Street - at least, according to the experience Duff profiles in his new memoir “The Buyside: A Wall Street Trader’s Tale of Spectacular Excess.”
“I went from the 99% to the 1% back to the 99%,” Duff tells The Daily Ticker in the accompanying video. “I made about 10 million dollars and today I don’t have any [of it].”
Duff now lives in a humble home in Long Island, New York, after battling a drug habit that cost him his finance career and his millions. Gone are the $9,300 a month Manhattan apartment and the close to $2 million annual compensation. He’s now sober after a few stints in rehab. These days he’s focused on his writing and being a father to his 7-year-old daughter.
It’s a far cry from the scenes of excess he describes in his book.
“There’s an ounce of cocaine piled in the microwave,” Duff details in a scene in The Buyside. “An additional few thousand dollars worth of blow sits on a single plate in the kitchen. The place is littered with Grey Goose bottles, ice, cups, and straws for snorting. We call this East Side apartment the White House for obvious reasons, but it’s more like a Wall Street crack house…Everything is provided and paid for, compliments of the sell side.”
His drug use escalates and hits one low in the book when after a sleepless three-night bender and having run out of excuses to miss work at Argus Partners, he fakes a mugging by hurling himself repeatedly into a puddle on the streets of New York.
During his finance career, Duff was at one time a trader at the Galleon Group – a hedge fund now infamous because founder Raj Rajaratnam is in prison serving an 11-year term for insider trading.
Though, according to Duff, he was gone long before Galleon was being investigated for insider trading, he details some questionable episodes in the book during his time there. One, for example, includes a phone call from “Mr. Whisper,” a muffled voice that calls and tips him off to an upgrade in Amazon’s (AMZN) stock minutes before it happens.
Another involves a day the firm chaotically sells hundreds of positions in tech stocks they own, before shorting the same stocks immediately after (essentially betting the stocks will go down), all before the market closes for the day and a tech company called Nortel Networks reports terrible corporate earnings that are bad for the whole tech sector.
“The information that we got was definitely better than the rest of the street,” Duff tells The Daily Ticker. “At the time it was considered ‘edge’. I liken the last 10 years of the hedge fund era to the steroid era in Major League Baseball. It was definitely wrong and it’s not excusable, but at the time it felt like this is what people are doing if you want to get ahead you need to get edge.”