Are Hedge Funds Still Interested In Gold?

The price of gold suffered a decline in the fourth quarter of 2012 from $1,800 to $1,650 an ounce. However, several well-known hedge funds are still maintaining exposure to the safe-haven asset.

Late Thursday, many institutional investment managers filed their mandatory 13-F with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The 13-F is a quarterly report of equity holdings required by managers that oversee more than $100 million in qualifying assets. The form must be filed within 45 days of the end of each quarter. The 13-F provides a peek at what hedge funds did in the previous quarter, but investors should keep in mind that hedging and trading strategies of each fund are still unknown.

Listed below are details on how popular hedge funds invested in gold names in the fourth quarter of 2012:

Billionaire fund manager, John Paulson, is known for betting against subprime mortgages during the housing bubble, but he is also a vocal advocate for gold. Last year, he said in a letter to investors, “By the time inflation becomes evident, gold will probably have moved, which implies that now is the time to build a position in gold.”

Some have speculated that his eventual unwinding of SPDR Gold Trust shares would collapse the ETF’s price, but this has yet to occur. In fact, Paulson continues to keep a very large position in the fund. His firm Paulson & Co. Inc. held 21.8 million shares at the end of December, unchanged from the previous quarter, but higher than the 17.3 million shares held in the beginning of 2012.

Paulson kept his stake in NovaGold Resources the same at 36 million shares in the fourth quarter. The miner is focused on permitting and developing its flagship property, Donlin Gold, one of the world’s largest known undeveloped gold deposits. Paulson also kept his positions in Agnico Eagle Mines, Barrick Gold, Gold Fields, and IAMGOLD unchanged.

Interestingly, he added a new position in Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold of 9 million shares, worth more than $300 million at the end of 2012. After months of negotiations behind closed-doors, Freeport announced in early December that it agreed to purchase Plains Exploration & Production for approximately $6.9 billion in cash and stock, while also buying McMoRan Exploration for about $3.4 billion in cash. The development sent shares of Freeport plunging more than 14 percent to their lowest level since July. Perhaps Paulson used the decline as a buying opportunity?

George Soros, the billionaire hedge fund manager known for breaking the Bank of England, once claimed that the “ultimate asset bubble is gold.” Apparently, Soros’ management team does not feel the same. His firm decreased its holdings in the SPDR Gold Trust, but still held 600,000 shares worth $97.2 million at the end of the fourth quarter. Soros Management decreased its holdings in the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF and its junior counterpart, but still held more than $100 million between the two funds. The firm also found Freeport attractive. In the fourth quarter, Soros Management held 1.36 million shares of the miner, up 5 percent from the previous quarter.

Greenlight Capital’s David Einhorn wrote a colorful piece criticizing the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy last year, relating the central bank to force-feeding someone too many jelly donuts in hopes of a sugar rush. With the Fed maintaining record low interest rates, Einhorn explains, “As a result, I will keep a substantial long exposure to gold, which serves as a jelly donut antidote for my portfolio.” While it is unknown how large of a physical bullion position Einhorn holds, he maintained his position in the miners. The hedge fund manager showed an unchanged position in Barrick Gold and the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF of $68.9 million and $278.6 million, respectively.

Third Point, the hedge fund founded by Daniel S. Loeb, maintained a modest stake in the SPDR Gold Trust of 130,000 shares, worth about $21 million at the end of the fourth quarter.

Although many hedge funds kept their positions relatively unchanged in the fourth quarter, Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors LP increased its stakes in Eldorado Gold and Gold Fields by 54.7 percent and 27.5 percent, respectively. The firm also nearly tripled its positions in AngloGold Ashanti and Kinross Gold, but almost completely sold out of Barrick Gold.

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Disclosure: Long EXK, AG, HL, PHYS