Bill Alpert

Photography by Jenna Bascom

Bill Alpert is a Senior Writer at Barron’s, the Dow Jones Business and Financial Weekly, where since 1984 he has published nerdy feature stories, columns and investigative projects of use to investors. His exposes have inspired regulatory reforms in diverse areas, such as “back-door” stock exchange listings,[1] for-profit colleges[2], and the Magnitsky Act that sanctioned those involved in the death of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, and other human rights abusers. [3] The federal government recovered billions of dollars in “false claims” prosecutions, after he showed how leading pharmaceutical companies and doctors were defrauding Medicare with phony price lists [4], and “co-pay” charities to violate anti-kickback laws [5]. Many stories have led to successful prosecutions for stock fraud. [6] And ahead of those government actions, his Barron’s stories protected the savings of investors and pensioners by warning about deceptive stocks before they crashed.

In a world of dwindling investigative resources, Bill hasn’t confined his coverage to American wrongdoings. He’s uncovered swindles and corruption in Europe, Russia, China and Australia. The Australian Federal Police gave Bill a commendation in 1999 for the assistance that his reporting provided to a money laundering investigation. His December 2011 story about payments by Russian billionaires to Vladimir Putin’s right-hand man [7] was called the top scandal of 2011 by Novaya Gazeta. Collaborating with Novaya Gazeta and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Bill helped trace the flow of corrupt loot through Eastern European money laundering channels. [8]

Bill’s October 2011 story “The Trouble at Fairholme” [9] won a “Best in Business” award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers for its exposure of the bizarre behavior and nepotism behind the faltering performance at Fairholme Capital, the mutual fund firm run by celebrated investor Bruce Berkowitz. A 2010 investigation of “reverse-merged” Chinese stocks, with Barron’s colleague Leslie P. Norton, also won SABEW’s “Best in Business” award. [10]

Bill was part of an alliance of international reporters that won the first annual Sigma Award for the best data-driven reporting of 2019. Coordinated by the not-for-profit journalism group the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, 23 news organizations used a leak of 1.3 million bank records to report how Russia’s best-known private bank Troika Dialog used a web of offshore companies and Lithuanian banks to move billions of dollars around the world. In a March 2019 Barron’s article, Bill tracked down the U.S. recipients of the circuitous payments, including Citigroup, IBM and a New York religious leader who couldn’t explain how more than $100 million was transferred in his name. [11]

The well-heeled stock promoters that Alpert exposes have sued Barron’s in nearly every jurisdiction hospitable to a libel plaintiff. One of those cases set the leading precedent for where jurisdiction lies on libel claims after Internet publication – a bad precedent, unfortunately, which Alpert appealed from Australia’s High Court to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. [12]

A Barron’s story isn’t just cheap talk. Because of the billions riding on investment decisions, not to mention the threat of libel, Barron’s can’t get away with casual research. So Alpert has used cutting edge statistical analysis on a number of his projects, including a study of the stock recommendations made by CNBC guru Jim Cramer (whose stock picks turned out to be unprofitable) [13] and a “back test” of the SEC’s proposed circuit-breaker rules for the stock market, which required analyzing over 24 billion separate trades and 8,035 hours of computer processing across 60 processors in parallel. [14] With some success, he’s evangelized statistical methods and open source software programming amongst his fellow members of the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, while warning them that showing the truth about someone like Jim Cramer can make you and your colleagues personae non gratae at CNBC.

Alpert began his journalism career as a general assignment reporter for The Hudson Dispatch in Union City, N.J., where he worked from 1981 to 1982. After starting at Barron’s in 1984, he left in 1988 to become a stock analyst at a research-oriented hedge fund that managed money for several Ivy League endowments. He rejoined Barron’s in 1996.

Born in Highland Park, Ill., in 1956, Alpert graduated with honors from Yale College with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies in 1979 and received a master’s degree in journalism and a law degree, both from Columbia University. In the 1980s, he chaired the union contract bargaining committee for the Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees. He lives in New Jersey with his wife Beth Schwartz – a voice teacher and social worker. Their sons Gabe and Alex are great guys.

[1] “Beware This Chinese Export,” Aug. 28, 2010

[2] “Leveraging Up To Learn,” Nov. 9, 2009

[3] “Crime and Punishment in Putin’s Russia,” Apr. 16, 2011

[4] “Hooked on Drugs: Why do Insurers Pay Such Outrageous Prices for Pharmaceuticals?” Jun. 10, 1996

[5] “Too Close for Comfort?”
Oct. 19, 2013

[6] See, e.g.: “The Abracadabra Man,” Mar. 16, 1987; “Better Than Alchemy,” Feb. 22 1988; “Scientists and Stock Pushers,”Mar. 21, 1988; “Buyer Beware,” Aug. 25, 1997; “Dead Men Do Talk,” Nov. 8, 1999; “Pill Pusher,” Jul. 21, 2003; “Burning Questions” Mar. 15, 2004; “Can Xinhua Put Its House in Order?” May 28, 2007, and “Beware This Chinese Export,” Aug. 28, 2010.

[7] “How a Putin Aide Gained $119 Million,” Dec. 3, 2011

[8] http://www.reportingproject.net/proxy/en/following-the-magnitsky-money

[9] “The Trouble at Fairholme,” Oct. 11, 2011

[10] See note 1, above.

[11] “How a Russian Bank Secretly Moved Billions Around the World, “ Mar. 8, 2019

[12] “Unholy Gains,” Oct. 30, 2000 and “Kafka Lives, Down Under,” Oct. 25, 2004.

[13] “Cramer’s Star Outshines His Stock Picks,” Feb 9, 2009

[14] “Hitting the Switch on New Circuit Breakers,”Aug. 13, 2011