By Svea Herbst-Bayliss
NEW YORK (Reuters) -For much of Wall Street, trading this year has been like riding a wild roller coaster.
For thousands of employees of Citadel and Citadel Securities, the hedge fund and trading business founded by Ken Griffin, last weekend was spent riding the real things.
Griffin paid out of his own deep pockets for about 10,000 staff and their families to converge on Walt Disney World in Florida for three days of celebrations in the Magic Kingdom and other theme parks, Citadel spokesman Zia Ahmed said.
The billionaire picked up the tab for airfares from New York, Houston, Paris, Zurich and other cities and paid for hotels, park tickets and meals ranging from lamb chops to sushi and paella to applaud blockbuster returns and big anniversaries.
This year is shaping up to be a record for Citadel and Citadel Securities, Ahmed confirmed.
Coldplay, the British rock band that Griffin is especially fond of, played at a concert on Saturday alongside singer Carly Rae Jepsen and DJ Diplo.
News of the celebration was first reported by Insider.
The hedge fund firm, which manages $59 billion in assets, told investors its flagship Wellington fund returned roughly 32% through the end of November, a dramatic contrast to much of Wall Street and the economy at large.
The Citadel Global Fixed Income Fund is up 28.1% for the year, while Citadel Tactical Trading is up 22.4% and Citadel Equities Fund is up 17.8%, an investor said.
The average hedge fund has lost 4% and the benchmark U.S. S&P 500 stock index has plunged 16% this year as the Federal Reserve wrestles with high inflation and a potential recession.
Across Wall Street, firms are preparing for leaner times by cutting jobs and bonuses, while many Americans are struggling with rising prices for food, gasoline and rents.
After the 2008 financial crisis, Wall Street firms that were criticized for their excesses have sometimes shied away from lavish gatherings or held them in private.
For the 54-year-old Griffin, whose personal net worth is estimated at $32 billion, the festivities marked the 20th anniversary of Citadel Securities and the 32nd anniversary of the hedge fund, whose original party plans in 2020 were scuttled by the pandemic. Staff from Asia will have a separate celebration next year, the spokesman said.
'INCREDIBLE FUTURE' AHEAD
"We have built the most extraordinary team not only in our history -- but also in the history of finance," Griffin told the crowd, the spokesman said. "We have an incredible future ahead of us – and I look forward to the chapters yet to be written."
Citadel has long boasted eye-popping investment returns, but 2022's gains are especially noteworthy because they coincide with double-digit losses at other big hedge funds, including Tiger Global Management.
Citadel's returns also topped those of rivals, like DE Shaw's Composite Fund, which is up 24% for the year, and Millennium International, which is up 10.2%.
Representatives for those firms did not comment.
Over the last five years, Citadel's Wellington fund returned 172.2%, according to an investor, beating the S&P 500's 68.4% return and the average 25% return posted by hedge funds.
Florida, the state where Griffin was born, has become critically important to his business. He announced plans to relocate the headquarters of the hedge fund and trading firm to Miami from Chicago, Illinois after long criticizing the latter city's taxes and crime rates.
During the pandemic, Griffin had already moved some operations to Florida by renting out the luxurious Four Seasons hotel in Palm Beach for business continuity to ensure that a group of traders were in their own bubble to process trades and provide liquidity to retail and institutional clients.
Over his lifetime, Griffin has donated more than $1.5 billion to the arts, educational and medical causes.
Closer to home, the investor wanted to treat employees -- and their 2,500 children -- to a weekend with Mickey Mouse as a "thank you" for turning Citadel into a Wall Street powerhouse.
Coldplay played a string of rock hits, including an anthem that captured the scene.
“This could be para-para-paradise,” the band sang.
(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Lananh Nguyen, Bernadette Baum and Alexander Smith)