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AQR’s Cliff Asness Loses His Cool

The co-founder of one of the world’s most successful quant firms got into a war of words on Twitter — dropping some f-bombs in the process.

It was an unusually intemperate Tweet, even by Cliff Asness standards. 

On Wednesday, the billionaire co-founder of AQR — a quantitative investment firm managing $226 billion — and Twitter raconteur engaged in heated argument on the social media platform with a user tweeting under the handle @Steinernomics. 

“Asked and answered, you stupid fuck,” Asness wrote and retweeted an earlier comment, refuting a point made by @Steinernomics in the middle of a long thread.

Asness, whose handle is simply @cliffordasness, has admitted to occasionally losing his cool on the social media platform. “My priority is always our investment process and the services we provide to our clients. I welcome an honest dialogue with them, and others, and often engage on Twitter for this reason,” Asness said in an emailed statement to Institutional Investor when asked for comment on his public statements. “While most interactions are great, a few hit a nerve and, being human, sometimes I go too far. I regret losing my temper, but I generally stand by my logic.”

His temper flared once again Wednesday after tangling with @Steinernomics, this time to a user who purported to be an AQR investor and expressed disappointment over Asness’s Twitter behavior. User @D8vidSmith had called the executive’s tweets “beyond concerning as a fiduciary and as one of your investors.”

“99% of my tweets are about fintwit [finance Twitter] or stupid humor,” Asness countered. “1% of the time after starting out reasonable and being treated unreasonably I get mad. I should do better. I’ve actually tried. But I’m human. Your lecture and threats are still uncalled for.”  

‏He later lashed out at the user, “Please redeem now as I find posturing fools in our funds ‘beyond concerning.’ Bye bye.” He also dismissed @D8vidSmith as a “fake investor.” 

By Friday, Asness had moved on, pointing his followers to a new blog post — “But What About October?” — in which he expanded on his arguments as to why a well-constructed liquid alternatives portfolio can benefit investors despite of this year’s poor performance. 

[II Deep Dive: AQR: Plain Old Diversification Still Investors’ Best Bet]

The target of Asness’s most vitriolic message last week, @Steinernomics, had been arguing in favor of a jobs guarantee. He cited (unverified) economic statistics from World War II to argue that employment is nowhere near capacity and that using the spending power of the federal government and taxation to create jobs could increase employment and help tackle big-picture issues like improving transit, addressing climate change, or installing nationwide broadband.  

Twitter users immediately jumped on the WWII comparison, arguing that wartime mobilization diverted resources away from private-sector production and that consumption plummeted due to wartime austerity measures. 

@Steinernomics argued that he was simply trying to point to 1944 “as an extreme outer bound when discussing whether there is slack in the economy for something like a [jobs guarantee] or other big scale initiatives.” Asness argued that WWII employment levels are not a good example of potential employment levels under a jobs guarantee, as they fell during “the middle of the largest war ever” and didn’t lead to economic prosperity. 

The thread quickly devolved into name-calling on both sides. @Steinernomics lashed back, noting that Asness co-signed a letter in 2010 to then-Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke expressing concern that the Fed’s quantitative easing measures posted a significant risk of higher inflation (which has not come to pass). 

Asness replied by pointing to an article he wrote for Real Clear Markets in 2014, in which he offered “half a mea culpa” but also pointed to inflation in asset prices, among other reasons, as evidence that he and his fellow letter writers were at least partly correct. When @Steinernomics responded, Asness retweeted the tweet linking to the Real Clear Markets article, but with the added profane comment.

As of Monday morning, @Steinernomics had 521 followers (the user declined to comment for this story). Asness had more than 40,000 followers, holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, spent a long and successful career at Goldman Sachs, and co-founded a phenomenally successful asset management firm — one with a large institutional client base. And some of those clients may not be happy that one of their fund managers is lashing out at people on a social media platform. 

Asness is arguably the most active major fund manager on Twitter. Like other investors on the platform, he uses it to promote his blog posts, share his thoughts on economic trends, and occasionally poke fun at himself. But sometimes, he gets salty — such as the time he called New York Governor Andrew Cuomo a “lying thief” over a proposal to tax hedge fund managers in the state. 

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