Citadel’s Ken Griffin doesn’t foresee more Melvin Capital-style meltdowns in the hedge fund world

May 19, 2022, 7:57 PM UTC

Ken Griffin is taking meme stock traders to task.

The founder and chief executive of hedge fund Citadel on Thursday criticized the pack of individual investors who collectively orchestrated a colossal short squeeze on GameStop shares in early 2021 for helping “wipe out the pension plans for teachers” in what wound up becoming a fatal moment in the life of Gabe Plotkin’s Melvin Capital.

“You feel good about that?” the billionaire Chicagoan said, while speaking at an event hosted by Bloomberg Intelligence in New York City. “It’s not Gabe’s money that you are taking down. You’re taking down the money of a pension plan that belongs to a teacher.”

Founded by Plotkin, who worked at Citadel before coming up under hedge fund titan in Steve Cohen, the eight-year-old Melvin Capital started 2021 out with $12.5 billion under management. Soon after launching, Melvin began to amass short positions in companies like GameStop, whose business model seemed to hinge on a dying brick-and-mortar set of retail stores. But, when a Reddit-fueled bonanza of buying activity from individual investors intent on sending stocks like GameStop and AMC Entertainment “to the moon” hit in January 2021, Melvin felt the pinch.

By the end of the month, the hedge fund had lost more than 50% of its investments from a number of short bets that went awry, in part, because of the Reddit-fueled bonanza among individual investors who set out to send stocks like GameStop and AMC Entertainment “to the moon.” Late in January 2021, Citadel and Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management had injected $2.75 billion into Melvin’s funds.

Melvin Capital unveiled plans on Wednesday to wind down its funds. In a letter to investors, Plotkin wrote that he would be stepping away from managing external capital. (Melvin ended 2021 down 39%, according to Bloomberg.) “I have given everything I could,” Plotkin wrote, according to a copy of the letter seen by Fortune. “But more recently that has not been enough to deliver the returns you should expect.”

Griffin said that he had not spoken with Plotkin in the weeks leading up to the decision to unwind Melvin, but called Plotkin an “iconic investor” during the event.

“This is Gabe’s business. It’s Gabe’s personal decision,” Griffin added. “I’m not going to second guess his choice in life.”

The Citadel chief does still see the Reddit-fueled bonanza that took place in the U.S. stock market in the first half of 2021 as a “COVID phenomenon,” rather than as something far more grand. “People were locked up in their basements,” Griffin said, “losing their minds.” Griffin is not concerned about what happened to Melvin happening to other hedge funds, as a result. The average life span of a hedge fund is about three years, meaning that hedge fund closures are far more common than perhaps believed. And even then, Griffin said, “the world goes on.”

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