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Lessons Learned From the Hedge Fund Crisis

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Robert Lawton no longer manages his own hedge fund.

Like so many others in the battered industry, Lawton exited the business as the stock market crashed last year. He fared better than most, however, since he simply agreed to sell his firm and expects it to keep thriving.

He still invests money for a living, too, although he now works as an old-fashioned stock broker. Lawton no longer calls himself a "hedge fund manager," a title that now carries enormous pressure and a hefty dose of taint, though he shares their newfound caution.

Lawton has abandoned the one high-risk strategy that actually worked wonders during the market plunge last year. Reversing a decade-long practice, he finally stopped shorting stocks that seem overvalued and destined for big losses. Since late November, when the market fell to its lowest level in years, he has stuck with bullish bets on stocks that look ripe for sudden gains.

In today's brutal market, however, Lawton often rushes to cash in. He wound up taking profits on Bank of America (BAC), for example, only to buy the stock at a higher price so he could make money on it once again.

"I've been kind of spinning in and out of stuff," Lawton admits. "I have sort of mixed feelings about that. I used to work with a guy who had this sign that said, 'Traders die broke,'" he explains. "And I've lost tons of money doing all the wrong things, including trading. But there are so many opportunities on the long side that I feel good taking my profits and walking away."

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