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23 Nov 2006

Hedge Fund Blogger Celebrities

Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at the George Mason University started a blog three years ago with colleague Alex Tabarrok. The blog, called Marginal Revolution, has had more than 6 million visitors, Cowen has become an economics celebrity. Since he began writing about economics and hedge funds in "understandable language", people are approaching him on the street and, "I'm invited to give a speech or something at least once a week," Cowen said.

The readers find commentary about regulating hedge funds combined with a section featuring odd inventions such as a fan that attaches to chopsticks and cools noodles as they're being eaten? The postings are injecting life into the field often called the dismal science.

He isn't the only economist who has found an audience on the Web. Nobel laureate Gary S. Becker and former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers are among those who have set up blogs, which are typically part lecture, part journal and part college seminar, with reader participation expected. Becker started a blog two years ago with federal appeals court judge Richard A. Posner.

Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard lecturer and former chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisors, started a blog in the spring to supplement his lectures for the popular course "Social Analysis 10: Principles of Economics." He had been getting queries from students who weren't enrolled in the class and thought the blog was the best way to make information accessible to all. He quickly had 5,000 readers a day.

Econo-fans are responding, Becker figures, because the blogs put important pocketbook issues into understandable language. Whereas former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan had "Greenspeak" — the carefully convoluted jargon whose comprehensibility rivaled that of Klingon — the blogs connect economics to daily life.

"Most people are afraid of economics. It seems so technical," Becker said. "But what is surprising is that if you put economics in a simple enough phrase, people are very much interested in it." Most of the economists say their readers aren't students. Cowen describes his fans as "high IQ, possibly nerdy, looking for kicks or for something different."

Hedge Fund Regulator Opposes Over-regulation

Hedge fund regulator and Edinburgh's top financial services commissioner Charlie McCreevy said in a statement Tuesday that Europe’s hedge fund managers may shift operations from the continent to less-regulated jurisdictions if the European Union started regulating the investments designed for wealthy clients and institutions.

This is why the 25-nation group made a decision last week to leave scrutiny of the funds at a country level. “If we went too far we could drive the industry out of Europe,” McCreevy said. Hedge funds have attracted attention from regulators and politicians concerned that their growing influence in financial markets may hurt investors.

Earlier this month, International Financial Services London said European managers oversee $401 billion of hedge fund assets under management, about $317 billion of that is managed in London. Criticism of hedge funds in Germany followed a campaign by some managers to oust Deutsche Boerse executives. “There are some people who are philosophically opposed to hedge funds and who would like to have them regulated out of existence,” McCreevy said.

US Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley requested more scrutiny of the $1.3 trillion industry after the collapse of Amaranth Advisors in September. The Financial Services Authority in the UK said earlier this year it was probing whether the funds treated customers fairly and whether they accurately valued their assets. Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder last year sought unified international rules for hedge funds after ordering a three-ministry probe into the funds.

The SEC is probing potential insider trading by hedge funds, while US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said on Tuesday his department would “continually assess their actions and impact on the market.”

Amaranth’s collapse was the biggest since Long-Term Capital Management’s 1998 demise. In Europe, rules that can help limit the effects of a fund’s collapse are already in existence, McCreevy said.