‘Tranquility is found also in dungeons; but is that enough to make them desirable places to live in?’ –Rousseau


The 50-year-old [David Harding] runs Winton Capital, one of a secretive but influential band of computer-driven hedge funds that bet tens of billions of dollars on the world’s financial markets using algorithms - mathematical instructions to computers - which consume everything from bond price moves to rainfall statistics.

For Harding, whose business attracts mainstream pension investors from the world over, all of human knowledge is relevant. Rivals are circling, and data is becoming an increasingly strategic weapon.

Winton’s collection of funds is now worth more than $29 billion. It has returned 14.8 percent a year in its main fund over the past decade - one of the best records over that period in the UK - and Harding is now likely to be Britain’s highest-paid person, according to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List. It says his wealth almost doubled last year to 800 million pounds ($1.27 billion).

Funds like his are known in the industry as trend-followers, managed futures funds or Commodity Trading Advisors (CTAs). Now run almost entirely by scientists, their ‘black box’ trading has entered popular culture: Robert Harris’s latest thriller, “The Fear Index”, features a fictional physics expert like Harding and rogue computer code.
But as algorithmic hedge funds have become better known and sucked in investors’ money, returns have started to falter. Managed futures funds on average have lost money in two of the past three years, gaining just 4 percent in aggregate while the S&P 500 rose 49 percent.

The funds are struggling to cope with skittish markets. But they’re also being squeezed by a more mundane fact: their basic techniques aren’t so hard to copy, and can be worked out with a few internet searches.

{ Reuters | Continue reading }