If You Follow the (Smart) Money, Gold is Clearly the Smart Play

Money Morning Staff Reports

At 53 years of age, John A. Paulson manages about $30 billion in his hedge funds. Over 2007 and 2008, he pocketed $10 billion in profits after he correctly bet that the subprime-mortgage market would crash.  His Credit Opportunities Fund earned nearly 500% gains in that year.  In 2008, his fund returned 37%  – in a year where the typical hedge fund lost 19%.

Since last September, Paulson earned nearly $420 million shorting the stocks of some U.K.-based bank stocks – specifically Lloyds Banking Group PLC (ADR: LYG), and the former HBOS PLC (which Lloyds absorbed in January).

Paulson clearly does his homework, and now he’s turned his attention to gold.

In a recent move that garnered much industry attention, Paulson acquired an 11.3% stake in AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. (ADR: AU). At $32 per share, that acquisition set him back a cool $1.28 billion. British mining giant Anglo American PLC (ADR: AAUK) was the beneficiary of Paulson’s acquisitiveness, for it sold Paulson the AngloGold shares from its own stake in that company.

So let’s think about this for a moment. A single transaction shifted a significant portion of ownership, and more than $1 billion in cash, strictly between two parties:  No banks and no stock markets took part in the deal.

Besides his 11.3% stake in AngloGold (the world’s fifth-largest gold miner by market cap), Paulson also owns 4.1% of Kinross Gold Corp. (KGC), making him that gold company’s fourth-largest shareholder. 

It seems this prescient investor is in good company, too.  David Einhorn, founder of Greenlight Capital Inc., with $5 billion in assets, also began buying gold earlier this year – for the very first time.

Noted value investor Jean-Marie Eveillard holds $1 billion in gold in a vault near Times Square as “calamity insurance.” What’s more, as much as 8% of his First Eagle Global Fund is comprised of bullion and gold miners’ shares.

In the case of Paulson, the billionaire hedge-fund investor, his exceptional skill lies in his ability to foresee extreme financial episodes. From there, he decides how to position his funds to benefit from a likely outcome.

And that’s why we should all pay close attention to his most recent actions.

The very day after Paulson’s acquisition of AngloGold, the U.S. Federal Reserve announced that it would buy back a total $1.25 trillion of long-term Treasury bonds and Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) mortgage junk. That is essentially a monetization of the debt.  And that’s a red-carpet invitation for inflationary times (which is also the best time to play gold).

Pure coincidence? Maybe. But it’s a lot more likely that one of the savviest investors of our recent era is really onto something.

[Editor’s Note: For an exclusive report on how gold producers are bucking the credit crunch and are financing the deals themselves, please click here. The report, which appears elsewhere in today’s issue of Money Morning, is free of charge.]

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