Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Finding the real Brian Hunter

Fortune goes to Calgary for the first in depth interview with Brian Hunter, the infamous manager at Amaranth whose bets on natural gas resulted in $6 billion in losses. The story benefits from the talents of one of the most sophisticated financial writers in the business, Bethany McLean, who is credited with breaking the Enron story.

She humanizes Hunter, a man who has been demonized in the media for years (to the point where he refuses to be photographed). In a passage that should be read by all hedge fund reporters, McLean notes:

"Hunter is not especially arrogant or intense or brash. (He is Canadian, after all.) He's a family guy who talks more about his wife, Carrie, and his two young sons than about nights out on the town, and he's more of a math geek than a trader type. ("I'm a numbers guy," he says.) He's most enthusiastic when he's talking about the technical aspects (and are they ever technical) of trading natural gas. But he is self-aware enough to understand the perception of him. "I must be a bad guy," he says, ticking off the counts against him. Trader. Young. Rich. Hedge fund. "You couldn't ask for a more toxic mix. It's really frustrating, right?""

She also notes errors in media coverage of Hunter and disputes the common characterization that he was a "rogue trader." In addition, she casts a critical eye on the "Keystone Kops-like quality" of the market manipulation charges pending against Hunter.

Not many reporters have the talent nor the inclination to be as fair and balanced as McLean is in this important story.

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