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How Billionaire Investors Hedge Against Geopolitical Black Swans

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Investors must always be comfortable with the idea that the market bears risk.

Sometimes this risk flies under the radar and isn’t as pronounced as it probably should be.

However, in other cases, the topic of risk can catapult to the forefront of discussion. There can be specific events or signals unfolding that give investors the jitters – and during these times, investors will make adjustments to their portfolios to avoid getting caught off guard.

How Billionaires are Hedging

In the following infographic from Sprott Physical Bullion Trusts, we explain the particular geopolitical risks that have the world’s most elite investors concerned today – and what moves they are making to protect themselves from black swans.

How Billionaire Investors are Hedging Against Geopolitical Black Swans

The world isn’t predictable at the best of times – but after unanticipated occurrences such as Brexit and the election of Trump in 2016, the geopolitical tea leaves are getting even more difficult to read.

The world is approaching a major inflection point and the intense amount of global angst we’re experiencing now stems from deep, structural forces that have been building over decades.

– Reva Goujon, VP Global Analysis of Stratfor

According to Reva Goujon, VP Global Analysis of Stratfor, we are experiencing the perfect storm of “-isms”: nationalism, nativism, protectionism, and isolationism.

As a result, the following potential geopolitical risks are at the top of the agenda for experts and top investors:

Domestic risks:
Unpredictability of the Trump administration, government inaction, a trade war with China, and NAFTA renegotiations

International risks:
Economic nationalism, further “exits” from the EU, Russia and China seeking to assert authority, terrorism, escalation of Middle East conflicts, and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions

Elite Investors Taking Action

With these risks perceived to be on the table, some of the world’s most elite investors like Ray Dalio and Warren Buffett are taking action. Here’s what they are up to:

Ray Dalio
Ray Dalio, the founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, had this to say:

When it comes to assessing political matters we are very humble.

-Ray Dalio, Aug 2017

Dalio’s advice: to stay liquid, stay diversified, and not be overly exposed to any particular economic outcomes. He also recommends a 5%-10% position in gold.

Warren Buffett
The Oracle of Omaha has a similar but very different perspective.

No one can tell you when these traumas will occur – not me, not Charlie, not economists, not the media.

– Warren Buffett, Feb 2017

With this in mind and with equities expensive, the seasoned value investor holds onto piles of cash to prepare for potential buying opportunities. Berkshire Hathaway now has $99.7 billion in undeployed cash, the most in the company’s history.

Bill Ackman

Billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman took a position in “out of the money” call options on the VIX.

This will protect against stock market risk.

– Bill Ackman, Aug 2017

David Einhorn

The billionaire founder of Greenlight Capital says he is keeping gold as a top position.

The (Trump) administration comes with a high degree of uncertainty.

– David Einhorn, Feb 2017

Howard Marks

Lastly, the famous value investor Howard Marks warned his clients to move into lower-risk investments to protect against future losses.

The uncertainties are unusual in terms of number, scale and insolubility in areas including secular economic growth; the impact of central banks; interest rates and inflation; political dysfunction; geopolitical trouble spots; and the long-term impact of technology.

– Howard Marks, July 2017

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Currency

Why Gold is Money: A Periodic Perspective

Gold has been used as money for millennia. People often attribute this to beauty, but there are basic physical properties for why gold is money.

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Why Gold is Money

The economist John Maynard Keynes famously called gold a “barbarous relic”, suggesting that its usefulness as money is an artifact of the past. In an era filled with cashless transactions and hundreds of cryptocurrencies, this statement seems truer today than in Keynes’ time.

However, gold also possesses elemental properties that has made it an ideal metal for money throughout history.

Sanat Kumar, a chemical engineer from Columbia University, broke down the periodic table to show why gold has been used as a monetary metal for thousands of years.

The Periodic Table

The periodic table organizes 118 elements in rows by increasing atomic number (periods) and columns (groups) with similar electron configurations.

Just as in today’s animation, let’s apply the process of elimination to the periodic table to see why gold is money:

  • Gases and Liquids
    Noble gases (such as argon and helium), as well as elements such as hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine and chlorine are gaseous at room temperature and standard pressure. Meanwhile, mercury and bromine are liquids. As a form of money, these are implausible and impractical.
  • Lanthanides and Actinides
    Next, lanthanides and actinides are both generally elements that can decay and become radioactive. If you were to carry these around in your pocket they could irradiate or poison you.
  • Alkali and Alkaline-Earth Metals
    Alkali and alkaline earth metals are located on the left-hand side of the periodic table, and are highly reactive at standard pressure and room temperature. Some can even burst into flames.
  • Transition, Post Transition Metals, and Metalloids
    There are about 30 elements that are solid, nonflammable, and nontoxic. For an element to be used as money it needs to be rare, but not too rare. Nickel and copper, for example, are found throughout the Earth’s crust in relative abundance.
  • Super Rare and Synthetic Elements
    Osmium only exists in the Earth’s crust from meteorites. Meanwhile, synthetic elements such as rutherfordium and nihonium must be created in a laboratory.

Once the above elements are eliminated, there are only five precious metals left: platinum, palladium, rhodium, silver and gold. People have used silver as money, but it tarnishes over time. Rhodium and palladium are more recent discoveries, with limited historical uses.

Platinum and gold are the remaining elements. Platinum’s extremely high melting point would require a furnace of the Gods to melt back in ancient times, making it impractical. This leaves us with gold. It melts at a lower temperature and is malleable, making it easy to work with.

Gold as Money

Gold does not dissipate into the atmosphere, it does not burst into flames, and it does not poison or irradiate the holder. It is rare enough to make it difficult to overproduce and malleable to mint into coins, bars, and bricks. Civilizations have consistently used gold as a material of value.

Perhaps modern societies would be well-served by looking at the properties of gold, to see why it has served as money for millennia, especially when someone’s wealth could disappear in a click.

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Gold

Animation: How Billionaires are Preparing for the Next Bear Market

No one likes to lose money, even if you have billions to spare. See how the world’s most elite investors – like Ray Dalio – are protecting themselves.

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How Billionaires are Preparing for the Next Bear Market

No one likes to lose money, even if you have billions to spare.

It’s why the prospect of a bear market – a prolonged downturn which sees stock prices fall by at least 20% over two months or more – is something that keeps even the world’s most elite investors awake at night.

To hedge against this concern, the world’s billionaires use a variety of strategies and tactics to protect their wealth, including setting up their portfolios with specific asset allocations that can help soften any blow caused by an extended market downturn.

Protecting Wealth

Today’s animation comes to us from Sprott Physical Bullion Trusts and it highlights a strategy being used by billionaires ranging from Ray Dalio to John Tudor Jones II.

Because market sentiment can change so quickly in the market, these elite investors protect themselves by having diverse portfolios that include uncorrelated assets.

Correlated vs. Uncorrelated

While this sounds complicated, uncorrelated assets are simply investments that don’t move up or down in the same direction as the other asset classes in the portfolio. A small allocation to these uncorrelated items can help protect the value of a portfolio when market sentiment changes.

The King of Uncorrelated Assets

What kind of asset classes can be used for this kind of purpose?

While options like real estate, commodities, and cash can contribute to a more diversified portfolio beyond traditional stocks and bonds, many experts say that gold is the undisputed king of uncorrelated assets.

The price of gold doesn’t usually doesn’t move with the wider stock market – and often, because of its history, the yellow metal can even increase in price during the course of a bear market.

Here are some of the reasons billionaires turn towards an allocation in gold:

  • Gold has acted as a store of value for thousands of years
  • Gold can lower the volatility of a portfolio
  • Gold can act as a hedge against inflation in some scenarios
  • Gold is a traditional safe haven asset that investors flock to when the market goes astray

Billionaire Actions

To kick off 2019, a new billionaire jumped onto the gold bandwagon – along with previous advocates such as Ray Dalio, David Einhorn, John Paulson, and John Tudor Jones II.

The newest entry to the club is Sam Zell, the pioneer behind real estate investment trusts (REITs). He bought gold for the first time in January, citing that it is “a good hedge” and that “supply is shrinking” as new mine discoveries dries up.

With market volatility back in the fray, it’ll be interesting to see how many more of the world’s elite investors also jump on the bandwagon.

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