STOCK MARKETS

Billionaire hedge fund manager known as 'China's Warren Buffett' in dramatic highway arrest for insider trading

Investment wizard likened to Warren Buffett is latest casualty in probe of market irregularities

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 November, 2015, 12:11am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 November, 2015, 3:20am

In scenes more akin to a Hollywood movie than reality, authorities have arrested China's legendary hedge fund operator Xu Xiang - known more famously as 'Big Xu' - for suspected insider trading offences.

On Sunday night a squad of Chinese highway patrol cars sealed off the Hangzhou Bridge for more than 30 minutes while officers surrounded Xu’s car, eventually leading the Armani-clad billionaire off in handcuffs.

Simultaneously, police moved in on Xu’s company offices in Shanghai and Beijing, confiscating documents and computers as well as interviewing employees. 

Police and regulators have had their eyes on Xu Xiang, general manager of Zexi Investment and regarded by many as China's No 1 hedge fund manager, ever since the losses caused by the chaos in mainland stock markets this summer climbed into trillions of dollars.

READ MORE: ‘China’s Warren Buffett’ mocked by internet users in China after he is arrested in ‘dodgy jacket’

And now they have pounced. Xu and several other executives of Zexi were arrested on Sunday on charges including insider trading and stock market manipulation, Xinhua reported yesterday, citing the Ministry of Public Security.

Many had thought Xu was in the clear after an earlier interrogation by regulators over suspicious trades following the boom-to-bust cycle in the A-share market in mid-June.

The detention of Xu, whose aura on the mainland is akin to that of Warren Buffett in the West, is the latest crack to appear in the country's securities industry - cracks that have been appearing despite Beijing's efforts to bolster investor confidence.

A fund manager said Xu was well-connected with senior government officials and a "cunning" asset manager who could fully take advantage of regulatory loopholes to profit.

READ MORE: Crackdown on Chinese stock market meltdown trades exposes faults in the system

"It was widely believed that he was safe after being interrogated," the fund manager said. "He understands the rules better than any other fund manager and it should have been difficult for police to spot his illegal behaviour."

Zexi's hedge funds recorded at least 140 per cent growth in net asset value this year, making the company controlled by Xu the standout performer in the mainland's securities industry.

His detention shows there is no God in this market at all
Zhou Ling, Shanghai Shiva Investment

"He was viewed as the best of the best before the investigation into him was announced," said Zhou Ling, a hedge fund manager at Shanghai Shiva Investment.

"His detention shows there is no God in this market at all.

"It was the inside information and conspiracy that helped him to make a killing."

The benchmark indicator jumped nearly 120 per cent between October 2014 and mid-June 2015 before slumping more than 32 per cent in three weeks.

READ MORE: China detains Shanghai private equity executive as inquiry goes on into alleged insider trading: Xinhua

Beijing shelled out more than 1 trillion yuan (HK$1.22 trillion) in rescue funds to underpin the falling market, but in vain.

In recent months, more than a dozen powerful industry figures including Zhang Yujun, an assistant chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, and Cheng Boming, president of Citic Securities, the mainland's largest brokerage, have been taken away for investigation.

Meanwhile, Beijing has placed responsibility for the market rout on a handful of government officials and key market players.

Since July, mainland police have been investigating what officials describe as "malicious short-selling".

The move is part of a widespread crackdown on market irregularities targeting corrupt regulatory officials and unethical fund managers.

In late September, Zexi Investment said it did not even own a stock-index futures account for short selling.

Xu's rags-to-riches tale inspired hundreds of securities industry employees in China.

After graduating from high school, he turned his attention to stocks in 1993 with an initial investment of 30,000 yuan. Mainland media estimate he is now worth billions of yuan.