About the site, and a bit about me too

The hippalectryon, a combination of horse’s head and the rear end of a chicken, has got to be the silliest of all mythological creatures. Hence perfect as an emblem for this blog, where I defy the wisdom of keeping blogs focused on a single, very clear theme. Instead, I’ve decided resolutely to combine two topics that are no doubt best kept separate.

Jim's Hippa smiling fin white copy-2

I’m planning to cover Russian politics, with a sideline on world finance. Or finance, with occasional digressions on Russia. The split hasn’t been decided yet.

Russia.

I started learning Russian when I was a weird little boy at the age of about 11, wanting to read the Russian-language chess books that happened to exist at our small local library. God knows how they got there. The first one I checked out was a mildewy 1951 edition of the brilliant The Soviet School of Chess by Alexander Kotov, complete with an obligatory dedication to Stalin. Nobody else wanted these books, so I could keep them indefinitely. As a chess player I found the positional diagrams interesting, and I think my dad must have helped me get hold of a small paperback bilingual dictionary, or maybe he already had one at home. He was in military intelligence, in the US Army, and I believe they actually sent him to Russian lessons at one point, though he never did learn the language. Anyway, I started puzzling out words one by one, ignoring the grammar altogether. Rather easily, I could decipher some of the less-sophisticated commentary such as, “This is a mistake. A better move — pawn d5-d6, with the threat d7.”

Well, that was the beginning of a long interest in Russia that I’m not going to recount in detail right now. Suffice it to say that my direct association with the place began in the mid-1980s, before the fall of communism; and I ended up living in Moscow for more than 10 years out of the next few decades. As an Eastern Europe and Russia “expert” for a consulting company, I advised multinational clients on how to adapt and restructure their efforts in such a rapidly-changing region, Later I worked in Moscow for a German bank and then for a couple of American hedge funds. Ultimately a sequence of Russian institutions even employed me to help them get set up along Western lines. My wife Irina is Russian too, by the way (let me slip in a credit here: she drew the silly cartoon above); and I’ve made some very good friends in Russia over the years, both expats and locals — people I admire and care for. Unfortunately for too many years I’ve also had to watch the disease known as Vladimir Putin gaining total ascendancy. I left in 2008, not wanting to witness it any more. I was homesick for the US, and heartsick at what was happening. I thought I wanted nothing more to do with the place, but I found out that it’s too late. Russia has become part of me. I still keep an eye on Russian events and write about the tragedy of it from time to time, I hope not often enough to lose all bonds of commonality with friends and readers here in the West.

Finance.

The other recurrent topic for the blog will be the financial industry and international investment. I wandered into this by sheer chance, but after nearly 25 years of total immersion I can’t help but have opinions on it. I’ve worked on the sell-side for a couple of different investment banks, and on the buy-side as an analyst, a long/short equities manager and a manager of a global fund of hedge funds. During the emerging markets meltdown of 1997-98, I was at a prominent macro hedge fund, trying to stop bucketfuls of money from flowing out the door. During the subprime crisis of 2007-8, I had invested in Paulson’s Credit Opportunities Fund, and I had the pleasure of watching it rocket right through the roof. I’ve done my share of getting my boots muddy looking at private equity and deal-structuring opportunities, and I’ve trained and supervised dozens of analysts, a few of whom turned out to be exceptionally talented. I’ve modeled portfolio dynamics, looked at fixed income, supervised a Russian private equity fund, and set up new funds in the Cayman Islands and the US. For the last 6 years or so I’ve been trying to make a go of a new business that is limping along in the field of real estate private equity here in the United States. I’ve also taken an interest in blockchain and cryptocurrencies, which are much more than just a fad. Whew. As you can imagine, with such a wide-ranging background, I believe myself to have insights about finance that far exceed any likely reality. Take me with a grain of salt, and I hope some of what I say ends up being interesting.

That’s a very lengthy introduction, especially considering that you, dear reader, may not exist. I do hope you do, and that you find something you like in hippalectryon. Send a shout, I’d love to hear from you.

Jim Nail