Monday, May 23, 2011

Hedge fund survivalists

Barton Biggs wrote something survival strategies for the wealthy  in Wealth War and Wisdom.  Barton Biggs has been involved int the hedge fund industry almost from the start and wrote a relatively funny book on it: Hedge Hogging.  Neil Strauss in and odd sort of way also covers some of the survival for the wealthy in his Emergency.  Strauss is more worried about getting out of the country than food.  But Biggs looks at the disaster situations that occurred during the twentieth century and lays out a strategy of a small farm hide away somewhere.

Well I came across this entertaining piece about hedge funds buying up farm land, and I immediately thought of those two books.  Ht NFTB
Foster Kamer, New York Observer, 17 May 2011

The pattern began to emerge sometime in 2008. "The Hedge Fund Manager Who Bought a Farm," read the headline on one February 2008 Times of London piece detailing a British hedge fund manager's attempt to play off the rising prices of grains in order to usurp local farmland. A Financial Times piece two months later began: "Hedge funds and investment banks are swapping their Gucci for gumboots." It detailed BlackRock's then-relatively new $420 million Agriculture Fund, which had already swept up 2,800 acres of land. 

Even Michael Burry, the now-defunct Scion Capital founder and star protagonist of Michael Lewis' The Big Short-who bet against the housing bubble in 2008 with credit default swaps to enormous profit-gave a rare interview on Bloomberg TV last year, explaining that he's thrown his hat into "productive agriculture land with water on site" as it's going to be "very valuable in the future." (Like most of those asked to comment for this story to The Observer, Burry declined to discuss his investments in farmland.)

When asked if this is an end of the world scenario, the hedge-fund manager replied, “It really is. I tell my fiancée this from time to time, and I’ve stopped telling her this, because it’s not the most pleasant thought.’

is is happening in part because investors see their play as a hedge against hyperinflation. While the rest of the world uses the current calculation of the Consumer Price Index as a proxy for the cost of goods, some farmland investors are using a different equation, one from 1980. These investors assert inflation should be calculated the way it was before the Boskin Commission's 1996 reworking of the CPI formula-in which case, it would be much, much higher.

"The CPI supposedly today is something like 1.5 percent," says the hedge fund manager. "We think the actual rate of inflation is something closer to 6 or 7 percent on an annual basis. It's also not about what it's been over the last 10 years; it's about what it's going to be over the next 10 years." 
The entire story is very good.  I had to do a lot of cherry picking to whittle down to even that short quote.  Not that they are using it both as an asset acquisition strategy and (obviously) as a survival strategy as well.  Back before the housing bubble burst, timberland was a hot asset acquisition.  Now it is farmland.

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