“De-Risking” – It’s All Greek to Me

July 28, 2010 at 2:13 am 2 comments

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In the classic comedy Animal House John Belushi (who played the character Bluto) gave new meaning to the Greek toga party (who cares if the Romans actually invented the garment?). Belushi also added some flare to Sam Cooke’s timeless song, Wonderful World:

“Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about the science book
Don’t know much about the French I took.”


Another line should have been added: “Don’t know much about Wall Street jargon.”

“Derisking” – New Wall Street Word Du Jour

Wading through and keeping up with the ever expanding dictionary of Wall Street lingo and acronyms can be a difficult task – much like deciphering the Greek writings of Plato, the famous ancient philosopher.

A recent term repeated constantly by CNBC commentators and hedge fund managers at the annual SALT (SkyBridge Alternatives) conference in Las Vegas, Nevada deserves some more attention…“derisking.” Elegant, simple, chic, and yes, pure B.S. Why not use “mis-risking,” “un-risking,” “dis-risking?” I suppose when charging people 2 and 20 (a 2% management fee plus 20% of profits above a hurdle), one must try to make the most prosaic terms and expressions sound mysterious and dazzling.

Asking one hedge fund manager after another, CNBC commentator David Faber continually asked managers at the May conference what investing strategies were being employed. Faber asked Marc Lasry, CEO and Co-Founder of Avenue Capital Group, the following:

“I have spoken to number of other large hedge fund managers this morning. Derisking, that’s what they are all talking about Marc. So, given that, are you derisking at all?”


Translation: “The market is going down, so are you following all the other lemmings and becoming more conservative because of the panicked-induced headlines we’re shoveling 24/7?”

Glenn Dubin, Co-Founder and CEO of Highbridge Capital Management, a hedge fund company owned by JP Morgan (JPM) got in the “derisking” mood too: “At this point…we are seeing massive de-risking.”

At the time of the SALT conference, European economic concerns were top of mind for all the fast-money traders, as fears of a credit contagion spreading from Greece to larger countries like Italy and Spain felt more palpable to many.  Some nine weeks later, the European bank stress tests have been completed, some overseas economic indicators have come in better than anticipated (i.e., U.K. GDP, German business confidence, exports), and some European markets are up about +10% from the “derisking” phase. So, I wonder what those same hedge funds and traders are doing now?

Perhaps   they are “rerisking?” I just made that one up out of thin air, but if I hear “rerisking” on CNBC or see it in the Wall Street Journal, I demand a credit in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, or a citation in Wikipedia at a minimum.

The “derisking” wave did not stop at the SALT conference, but remains alive and well today. In fact, a conference has been created in its honor: The 3rd Annual De-Risking Strategies Summit for Pension Funds, Foundations, and Endowments  on October 25 – 27, 2010 in New York.

Obviously, this is just one of many terms, acronyms, and euphemisms that the Wall Street machine is constantly churning out. If “derisking” doesn’t float your boat, then why not try on a “swaption” and “straddle” or “contango” and “crawling peg?”

If the never-ending list of Wall Street jargon is weighing you down and a financial professional is speaking Greek to you with confusing financial terminology, then do yourself a favor and slap that person into silence. More often than not, these financial concepts can be explained to a fifth grader (or Bluto). Unfortunately, a convoluted combination of jargon and acronyms is often used in an attempt to impress the listener. The result is usually confusion and a blank stare.

If you are frustrated with learning the language of Wall Street, you are not alone. I recommend you “derisk” your education by adding Greek 101 to your coursework. If you are going to be confused, you might as well do it with a gyro and some Ouzo in hand.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®  

Plan. Invest. Prosper.  


*DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in JPM or any security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

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