Billionaire George Soros prepared last quarter for gloomy times, dialing back his U.S. stock investments by more than a third, betting against the equities while banking on gold.
The value of Soros Fund Management’s publicly disclosed holdings dropped by 37 percent to $3.5 billion as of the end of March, according to a government filing Monday. The firm disclosed owning bearish options contracts on 2.1 million shares of the SPDR 500 ETF Trust, an exchange-traded fund that tracks the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, with a face value of $431 million as of March 31.
Soros also bought bullish options contracts on 1.05 million shares in the SPDR Gold Trust, which tracks the price of bullion. What’s more, the fund took a stake in the world’s biggest producer of the metal, Barrick Gold Corp., worth $264 million at the end of March, the filing showed. Soros acquired 1.7 percent of Barrick, making it the fund’s biggest U.S.-listed holding.
Soros, who built a $24 billion fortune through savvy market wagers, has warned of risks stemming from China, arguing its debt-fueled economy resembles the U.S. in 2007-08 at the onset of the global financial crisis. In January, the former hedge fund manager turned philanthropist said a hard landing in the Asian nation was “practically unavoidable,” adding that such a slump would worsen global deflationary pressures, drag down stocks and boost U.S. government bonds.
Soros’s former chief strategist, billionaire investor Stan Druckenmiller, is also bullish on gold. Earlier this month he called the yellow metal his largest currency allocation as central bankers experiment with the “absurd notion of negative interest rates.”
Gold for immediate delivery jumped 16 percent in the first three months of the year, the biggest quarterly surge since 1986, according to Bloomberg generic pricing. Shares of Toronto-based Barrick have more than doubled this year as the miner accelerates cost-cutting efforts and reduces debt. Barrick is up 39 percent since March 31.
Soros returned money to outside investors five years ago and his New York-based firm now manages his own wealth. Michael Vachon, a spokesman for Soros, declined to comment on the firm’s holdings.
Soros sold a stake in Level 3 Communications Inc. which was worth $173 million as of Dec. 31 and a holding in Dow Chemical Co. that was worth $161 million, according to the filing. The family office also divested its stakes in Endo International Plc and Delta Air Lines Inc.
Glenview Capital Management, the hedge fund run by Larry Robbins, Citadel Advisors and Millennium Management also cut investments of U.S.-listed stocks last quarter. The value of Glenview’s equity holdings fell by 22 percent to $13.6 billion; Citadel’s dropped by 29 percent to $38.8 billion and Millennium’s declined by 17 percent to $36.5 billion, filings show.
Money managers who oversee more than $100 million in equities in the U.S. must file a Form 13F within 45 days of each quarter’s end to list those stocks as well as options and convertible bonds. The filings don’t show non-U.S. securities, holdings that aren’t publicly traded or cash.