When stock and bond markets took a dive in late January, hedge-fund manager David Ford kept his cool.
Ford watched emerging markets melt down and read warnings that the U.S. economy could crater too. As prices dropped, he overcame the impulse to flee with the rest of the herd and, instead, bought more corporate bonds, Bloomberg Pursuits will report in its Summer 2014 issue.
After two decades as a trader, Ford credits his serenity to experience -- and to the 20 minutes he spends in his pajamas each morning repeating a meaningless mantra bestowed on him by a teacher of Transcendental Meditation two years ago.
“I react to volatile markets much more calmly now,” Ford, 48, says. “I have more patience.”
He also has more money. Latigo Partners LP, his event-driven credit fund, climbed 24 percent last year. He almost beat the surging stock market with a bond fund. Ford is part of a growing number of Wall Street traders, including A-list hedge-fund managers Ray Dalio, Paul Tudor Jones and Michael Novogratz, who are fine-tuning their brains -- and upping their games -- with meditation. Billionaire investor Daniel Loeb, who once likened a chief executive officer to a drug addict during one of his frequent public rants, in February praised meditation while sharing a stage with the Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C.
The idea that Type-A traders are seeking profit with the same tool that Buddhist monks use to achieve enlightenment might seem like sacrilege. Yet most people misunderstand meditation, says Jay Michaelson, author of “Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment.”
“Meditation used to have this reputation as a hippie thing for people who speak in a particularly soft tone of voice,” Michaelson says. Not so. “Samurai practiced meditation to become more effective killers,” he says. So too did kamikaze pilots. “It’s value neutral,” Michaelson says.
Workers at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. are folding into the lotus position in droves, says Elizabeth Sudler, an instructor the firm retains. Classes where students breathe and monitor their wandering minds have waiting lists several hundred long, Goldman spokesman David Wells says. One trader there gets a twinge in his gut when he senses a move in the markets, Sudler says. Meditating gives him an edge, he told her, by tuning into that sensation more reliably. Others report downshifting more easily after work and sleeping better at night.
“Goldman employees are under a lot of pressure to produce,” Sudler says. “No one wants to be left behind.”