Soros Fund Management has doubled its put option (the right to sell shares at a specified price) on the SPDR S&P 500 exchange-traded fun (which tracks the benchmark U.S. index), according to an article this week on CNBC. The asset management company founded by billionaire George Soros said it owned an option to sell 2.1 million of the index shares in the first quarter of 2016 (up from an option for 1 million shares held in the fourth quarter of 2015). Since the SEC doesn’t require a fund to disclose all of its positions, it’s unclear whether the fund’s move is a bet that the index will decline or a hedge against a separate call option (the right to purchase shares at a certain price).
Last month, Soros warned that the debt-fueled growth in China’s economy (the world’s second largest) bore an “eerie resemblance” to the conditions leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. Data from China have shown disappointing results in industrial production, retail sales and investment activity, despite stimulus attempts.
Asian markets are big for bullion, where precious metals are closely tied to economic health. In the first quarter of this year, the privately owned Soros fund purchased 19.4 million shares in Barrick Gold (ABX-CA on the Toronto exchange) after having sold its stake in the world’s top gold mining company late in 2015. The fund also bought a 1.1 million call option on the SPDR Gold Trust (NYSE Arca: GLD, the largest ETF tracking physical bullion) and cut its position in some big tech stocks (including Google’s parent company Alphabet as well as Facebook).