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John Paulson is famous for betting against subprime mortgages at a time when most Americans thought real estate was a sure thing. He made billions. Lately, his contrarian streak hasn’t served him as well. Since 2009, he’s placed bets on a U.S. recovery, and his recent results are as dismal as the economy itself. Paulson’s largest hedge fund, Advantage Plus, lost 34 percent this year through August, according to two people familiar with the firm, who asked not to be identified because the fund is private.
A good chunk of that decline came in August, when the fund fell 15 percent, these people say. Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fell 5.7 percent in August, ending the month down 3.1 percent for the year. “John Paulson is considered one of the top hedge fund managers in the industry—a 30 percent drawdown will cause a number of investors to watch his performance very closely going forward,” says Donald A. Steinbrugge, managing partner of Agecroft Partners, a Richmond (Va.)-based firm that advises hedge funds and investors.
Paulson, 55, had positioned his Advantage and Recovery funds to benefit from a U.S. economic upturn, in part by buying big stakes in banks and other financial-services companies. “We’re in the middle of a sustained recovery in the U.S.,” he said at a conference in London in June 2010. “The risk of a double dip is less than 10 percent.” He cited the housing market as a sign of good news to come. “It’s the best time to buy a house in America,” he said. “California has been a leading indicator of the housing market, and it turned positive seven months ago. I think we’re about to turn a corner.” Since then, home prices have dropped 4.5 percent according to the S&P/Case Shiller 20-city index, and economic growth slipped to 1 percent in the last quarter.
Paulson, who manages $35 billion through New York-based Paulson & Co., has scaled back some of his bets. In the second quarter he cut his stake in Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) by more than half and sliced about 19 percent from his holdings in Citigroup (NYSE:C). He also sold shares inSunTrust Banks (NYSE:STI), Hartford Financial Services Group (NYSE:HIG), JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), and asset manager BlackRock (NYSE:BLK), according to his most recent regulatory filing.
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