Call them Cohen cubs.
At least a dozen former SAC Capital Advisors traders started hedge funds in the last five years after leaving Steven A. Cohen’s firm, which returned money to investors after pleading guilty in 2013 to securities and wire fraud. Gabriel Plotkin, an equities trader, stands out among SAC alumni, with his $1.5 billion Melvin Capital fund gaining 2.9 percent in January as the market plunged, according to a person familiar with the returns.
The fund’s gain last month should come as no surprise to investors. Melvin Capital returned 47 percent in 2015 by riding bets on Amazon.com Inc. and McDonald’s Corp., grabbing the No. 2 spot on Bloomberg’s global ranking of the top 50 hedge funds with more than $1 billion in assets.
Plotkin’s performance, along with that of other former SAC traders, is part of a more positive narrative around Cohen, who now invests his own money at Point72 Asset Management. Cohen’s legal troubles are fading. Last month he settled allegations that he failed to supervise a convicted insider-trader. Point72 returned 15.5 percent for 2015, and many of Cohen’s former traders are doing just fine on their own.
More than half of the 50 hedge funds in the ranking focus on stocks. Unlike Melvin, many took a hit when the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index dropped 5 percent last month. The average equity-focused fund lost 4.2 percent in January after falling 0.9 percent in 2015, according to Hedge Fund Research Inc.
Plotkin, 37, started his firm in December 2014 with a blessing -- and cash -- from Cohen. Ping Jiang, another former SAC trader, also beat peers in 2015. The Ping Exceptional Value fund gained about 39 percent last year, topping Bloomberg’s list of the 25 best performing hedge funds with $250 million to $1 billion in assets.
Alumni of SAC, which had average annual returns of between 25 and 30 percent over two decades, have raised billions of dollars for their own funds. Former SAC money manager Aaron Cowen has raised $2.5 billion since starting Suvretta Capital Management in 2011, and it gained more than 7 percent last year, according to a person with knowledge of the firm. Ex-SAC Chief Operating Officer Sol Kumin started Folger Hill Asset Management in March and was overseeing $1 billion at the end of 2015.
Plotkin, who worked at SAC from 2006 to 2014, didn’t mimic his boss’s style. Cohen is known as a fiercely competitive trader who makes big bets on relatively short-term positions. Plotkin’s trades were much less driven by a gut feeling, according to a former colleague. Deeply attached to his models and meticulous about data, he was known for discipline in his positions, the former colleague said.
Plotkin uses the same philosophy to manage money at Melvin, and takes wagers using only moderate leverage, according to the person familiar with the fund’s performance. A lawyer for Melvin declined to comment.