Wall Street Analyst

Damien Hoffman '00
August 1, 2010

Rejane Cytacki

When Damien Hoffman was a boy, his grandfather started teaching him about the stock market and about legendary investors like Peter Lynch and Warren Buffett. "Stocks, along with sports, became a favorite topic for me," says Hoffman. "I remember going to the mall to see what the hot new thing was, finding out which company made it, and then looking up their stock ranking."

When Hoffman came to Duke, he chose to major in public policy because it allowed him to explore his interests in economics, sociology, and psychology—subjects relevant to understanding the stock market and other Wall Street-related trends. But Hoffman also had a strong entrepreneurial spirit that led him to launch a start-up Internet company after graduating and, later, work for a boutique sports-investment company.

Today, Hoffman oversees a financial website called Wall St. Cheat Sheet, which combines his enterprising mindset with his interest in financial markets. Based in Asheville, North Carolina, Hoffman starts his day by scrolling through his Google Reader subscriptions, which aggregate headlines from more than fifty financial and economic websites. "Our website doesn't recycle opinions; we look for hard data and then form our own opinions from that," he says. (Hoffman's brother, Derek, is the site's CEO.)

In addition to analysis and reporting, Hoffman conducts interviews with Wall Street insiders and analysts. Headlines and stories run the gamut, from sovereign debt to debates over the future of newspapers and the costs of cap-and-trade policies, to fluctuations in the gold and silver markets. Wall St. Cheat Sheet is designed for investors and financial professionals, but its tone is more laid-back than buttoned-down. After Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein was quoted as saying he was simply a banker doing "God's work," Wall St. Cheat Sheet packaged a story called "What Would God Say About Goldman?" that included video interviews with clergy discussing money and ethics, among other topics.

Funded through a combination of advertising and subscribers (there's a premium content portion of the site), Wall St. Cheat Sheet is the starting point for other Web-based "cheat sheet" sites that include the real estate, technology, and leisure sectors. "It's part of a long-term business plan. We want to trademark the 'cheat sheet' model and build it out in the same way that the 'for Dummies' brand has," Hoffman says, referring to the plethora of how-to books marketed to beginners (Antiquing for Dummies, Anger Management for Dummies, etc.).

Wall St. Cheat Sheet has created a buzz in financial circles. The Wall Street Journal called it one of the top finance blogs on the Web, and it has been mentioned by The Atlantic and USA Today along with general-interest websites such as The Huffington Post. Hoffman says that unlike outlets that are owned by media conglomerates, Wall St. Cheat Sheet is able to provide objective reporting that is both informed and unvarnished.

When asked to provide his prediction of how the markets will perform in the coming year, Hoffman observed that "on the economy side, it will be slow going until we are able to start adding jobs in a significant way. And even when we begin adding jobs again, it will take five to eight years for employment rates to get back to where they were before the [2008] crash. On the stock-market side, the Federal Reserve is basically printing money, and as long as that happens, the money will need to find a home. The real-estate market is awful, and there aren't a lot of other investment opportunities, so people are putting money back into the stock market. Even though the economy is still puttering along, the stock market is starting to look good again."