Paulson May Have Made $67 Million in Lloyds Plunge

Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) — Paulson & Co., the hedge fund run by billionaire John Paulson, may have made as much as $67 million in 25 minutes today as Lloyds Banking Group Plc lost about 5.9 billion pounds ($8.5 billion) in market value.

Related article: Lloyds hit by £10bn HBOS losses (Financial Times)

Lloyds fell the most in 20 years after saying HBOS Plc, the U.K. lender it took over last month, would report a 10 billion- pound pretax loss. The shares plunged as much as 43 percent in less than 25 minutes of London trading.

Paulson, who made billions from betting against the subprime mortgage market, held a Lloyds short position representing 0.79 percent of the bank, or 129.3 million shares, as of Jan. 20, according to a regulatory filing. DataExplorers.com, which tracks share borrowing from London, said 1.1 percent of the stock was on loan as of Feb. 11, the most recent data available. That’s down from as much as 8 percent six months ago and suggests Paulson held the bulk of the remaining short position.

“It wasn’t really shorted at all before this share drop,” Julian Pittam, a managing director at DataExplorers.com, said in an telephone interview from London. “There’s little upside and lots of downside in banks when there’s this much political rhetoric and volatility going on.”

Armel Leslie, a spokesman for the $30 billion New York-based hedge fund, declined to comment. There’s no indication that Paulson closed his short position, and there won’t be until a subsequent filing.

Paulson’s Credit Opportunities Fund soared almost sixfold in 2007 on bets that subprime mortgages would plummet. Last year, his flagship fund returned 37 percent, compared with a loss of 19 percent for hedge funds on average.

Shares Tumble

Lloyds closed down 32 percent at 61.4 pence. Paulson’s short position would have netted a gain of $54 million, based on the closing prices of the past two days.

The Financial Services Authority, the U.K. market regulator, lifted a short-selling ban on financial companies on Jan. 16. The restrictions were imposed in September as politicians and investors blamed hedge funds for destabilizing markets.

According to FSA short-selling disclosure rules, an investor has to disclose when it has 0.25 percent of share capital shorted, and report again if it makes any changes of 0.1 percent of the overall share capital from that point, according to Darren Fox, a regulatory lawyer at Simmons & Simmons in London.

Short sellers borrow shares and sell them with plans to buy them back at a lower price. FSA Chairman Adair Turner said Jan. 22 that there was no evidence that short selling has led to a significant fall in banking shares.

Paulson & Co. said its funds made more than $3 billion for the firm in 2007 by judging that the U.S. housing market and subprime mortgages would collapse. Paulson had previously disclosed short positions in Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, Barclays Plc and HBOS, the bank now owned by Lloyds.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Cahill in London at tcahill@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: February 13, 2009 14:28 EST
By Tom Cahill

Source: Bloomberg

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