Honestly, its like Piccadilly Circus around here.
Actually IT IS Piccadilly Circus around here!
You see, at The Motley Fool weve packed up our share-weighing equipment and our stock market dowsing sticks (just checking youre paying attention) and moved to new offices.
Weve travelled from our previous haunt in the new media heartland of Fitzrovia to pitch up in the old media heartland of Soho, where were a stones throw from Londons most famous roundabout.
However, of more interest to me on my lunchtime perambulations than Eros is whats a further stroll east.
Its hip to be in the square
Because our new office is just up the road from Berkeley Square and hence within range of Londons Hedge Fund Alley in Mayfair.
At one point, nearly three quarters of all hedge funds in London were based inside this posh district.
Even multi-billion pound traders like Carlyle Group and Glencore (LSE: GLEN) have operations here.
And despite high rents and a growing industry, there are still perhaps 50% of Londons hedge funds within, well, a stones throw of Berkeley Squares epicentreif youre the revolutionary sort.
Or a two-minute ride in your black Range Rover, if youre a high net worth individual looking for a manager for the family fortune.
In fact, this part of London probably has the densest concentration of hedge funds on the planet, given that its closest rival Greenwich in the US state of Connecticut is an entire town, as opposed to a London square that can be measured in terms of the number of Porches and Ferraris parked along its length.
Theyre only human
I like to occasionally go to Berkeley Square to eat my lunch and observe the masters of the universe drinking takeaway coffee.
Thats right: coffee from Pret and Starbucks.
Because while there are certainly fancy bars and restaurants within a quick power walk of Hedge Fund Alley, on a weekday youll find branches of those chains crammed to their cookie-proffering counters with fund managers and their clients shooting the breeze.
And when I say, shooting the breeze, I mean deep in conversation about the markets, potential investments or and Ive overheard this more than once their fees.
Of course, I do realise that hedge fund managers are just normal people like you and me.
(Well, as normal as you can be when you bathe in unicorn milk and earn seven figures in a bad year.)
But its still surprising to see them dithering like me over a healthy roasted vegetable wrap versus the salt beef and salami bagel.
And it tickles me as pink as that salt beef to see this supposedly secretive industry taking a break with the same ubiquitous brews as the rest of us.
Which brings me to the other reason I like to pop to Berkeley Square.
High rents, low returns
A confession: Im not really a hedge fund groupie.
On the contrary, while I admire their smarts and I guess Im jealous of their pay packages, Ive noticed over the past few years that the returns they put up are distinctly dull, especially after their big fees.
For example, one study found that the HFRX Global Hedge Fund Index has failed to beata standard 60/40 benchmark of 60% US shares and 40% US stocks over the past decade.
And a 60/40 portfolio, lets not forget, is something you can set up for yourself using ETFs for about the price of a slap up meal for two in Pret.
Thats in sharp contrast to the huge hurdles and high charges of putting money to work with a hedge fund.
In fact, as Ive read more reports of how hedge funds have failed to live up to their promise, Ive half expected to see more of these titans nervously twitching when Ive gone manager spotting in Mayfair.
Because what if their clients find out theyre not really all that?
Well, fear not. This yearsaw total Assets under Management parked with the global hedge fund industry hit $2.2 trillion.
Thats an all-time high, despite their humdrum performance.
A sporting chance
Of course, if the super-rich want to waste their money investing in hedge funds, thats their business.
But I subscribe to the If you cant join them, beat them school of thought.
It truly amuses me to wander around Berkeley Square in jeans and a funny t-shirt, knowing my returns over the past few years may well be better than the polished money mogul who just marched by.
Indeed, in what other field can you challenge the professionals on a level playing field, and directly compare your performance to theirs?
It would require years of training to take on Usain Bolt in the 100m, if you were mad enough to try.
Alternatively you might think you can swerve a ball from the penalty spot better than Beckham but no football team is going to give you the chance.
Or maybe you believe youd have made a better fist of coaching England through the World Cup than Stuart Lancaster? (After all, nearly everyone does, from what Ive read.)
Well, dream on.
The closest youll probably get to handling pressure at the top of sports is in the last week of your Fantasy Football League.
But investing is different.
Have you got edge?
Set-up an online broking account, inject some savings, and in theory youre on an equal playing field with pros considered at the top of the game.
Thats not to say it will be easy beating them.
Quite the opposite!
There are several reasons why hedge funds are doing worse than in their glory years, but one is sheer competition.
The smooth operators I see sauntering in and out of Starbucks arent outsiders any more theyre among the smartest financial brains in the business, and theyre all running billions in funds, and trying to do it better than the next super-smart guy.
Whats more, these managers have teams with huge incentives, vast budgets, and access to data and technology you can only dream of.
Yet if you can beat a balanced 60/40 portfolio over ten years perhaps through Foolish tenets like focusing on the business and investing for the long term then you can beat the average hedgie.
Remarkable and well worth thinking about when youre next wandering through Mayfair!