The Business On... Peter Thiel, Clarium Capital Management
Thursday 13 January 2011
One of Silicon Valley's greatest characters: venture capitalist, hedge-fund manager, libertarian writer and activist, chess masterand, yes, co-founder of the internet payment giant PayPal, which he sold to eBay for his first really big fortune.
How's he been doing recently?
Let's put it this way, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. His investment in Facebook – he was one of the early backers and sits on its board – has soared in value, thanks to Goldman Sachs's seal of approval. His hedge fund, Clarium... not quite so much.
How not so much?
About 90 per cent not so much. At its peak, Clarium was managing $7.2bn (£4.6bn) and Mr Thiel looked like he was conquering another industry. After a run of terrible years, and client desertions, he is looking after just 10 per cent as much.
What's gone wrong?
For a smart guy, he's made some dumb mistakes on the timing andthe risk management of some big bets, including bets on oil and US government debt, according to an analysis of Clarium's performanceby Bloomberg.
Indeed. Clients have lost two-thirds of their money since things started to go wrong in 2008. Clarium was down 25 per cent in 2009, when hedge funds had their best year in a decade, and down 23 per cent more last year.
It's a big dent in his reputation, and he will be hating it. This is a show-off who, the story goes, took on 10 simultaneous games of speed chess at a party and won nine of them – but who was so mad at losing the 10th that he smashed up the board. Show me a good loser, he said, and I'll show you a loser.
So, Facebook then...
Now no one wants it to live up to the hype more than Peter Thiel. It is a far, far better thing...
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