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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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Central Banks

The Silver Series: The Start of A New Gold-Silver Cycle (Part 1 of 3)

As the decade-long bull run shows signs of slowing, is it time for precious metals to shine? Here’s why it could be the start of a new gold-silver cycle.

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The world has experienced a decade of growth fueled by record-low interest rates, a burgeoning money supply, and historic debt levels – but the good times only last so long.

As the global economy slows and eventually begins to retract, can precious metals offer a useful store of value to investors?

Part 1: The Start of a New Cycle

Today’s infographic comes to us from Endeavour Silver, and it outlines some key indicators that precede a coming gold-silver cycle in which exposure to hard assets may help to protect wealth.

The Start of a New Gold-Silver Cycle

Bankers Blowing Bubbles

Since 2008, central bankers around the world launched a historic market intervention by printing money and bailing out major banks. With cheap and abundant money, this strategy worked so well that it created a bull market in every sector — except for precious metals.

Stock markets, consumer lending, and property values surged. Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve’s assets ballooned, and so did corporate, government, and household debt. By 2018, total debt reached almost $250 trillion worldwide.

Currency vs. Precious Metals

The world awash in unprecedented amounts of currency, and these dollars chase a limited supply of goods. Historically speaking, it’s only a matter of time before the price of goods increases or inflates – eroding the purchasing power of every dollar.

Gold and silver are some of the only assets unaffected by inflation, retaining their value.

Gold and silver are money… everything else is credit.

– J.P. Morgan

The Perfect Story for a Gold-Silver Cycle?

Investors can use several indicators to gauge the beginning of the gold-silver cycle:

  1. Gold/Silver Futures

    Most traders do not trade physical gold and silver, but paper contracts with the promise to buy at a future price. Every week, U.S. commodity exchanges publish the Commitment of Traders “COT” report. This report summarizes the positions (long/short) of traders for a particular commodity.

    Typically, speculators are long and commercial traders are short the price of gold and silver. However, when speculators and commercial traders positions reach near zero, there is usually a big upswing in the price of silver.

  2. Gold-to-Silver Ratio Compression

    As the difference between gold and silver prices decreases (i.e. the compression of the ratio), history suggests silver prices can make big moves upwards in price. The gold-to-silver ratio compression is now at high levels and may eventually revert to its long-term average, which implies a strong movement in prices is imminent for silver.

  3. Scarcity: Declining Silver Production

    Silver production has been declining despite its growing importance as a safe haven hedge, as well as its use in industrial applications and renewable technologies.

  4. The Silver Exception

    Silver is not just for coins, bars, jewelry and the family silverware. It stands out from gold with its practical industrial uses which account for 56.1% of its annual consumption. Silver will continue to be a critical material in solar technology. While photovoltaics currently account for 8% of annual silver consumption, this is set to change with the dramatic increase in the use of solar technologies.

The Price of Gold and Silver

Forecasting the exact price of gold and silver is not a science, but there are clear signs that point to the direction their prices will head. The prices of gold and silver do not accurately reflect a world awash with cheap and easy money, but now may be their time to shine.

Don’t miss another part of the Silver Series by connecting with Visual Capitalist.

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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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