While the rest of the market remains remarkably stoic about the potential threat from a long-lasting, escalating trade war with China, the world's arguably biggest money manager is not so sure: according to Bloomberg, the man running the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund is scrambling to figure out how much damage an all-out global trade war might do to his portfolio.
And with good reason: Yngve Slyngstad, the 55-year-old chief executive officer of Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, oversees investments in more than 70 countries and 9,000 companies across the globe; he also manages a total of just around $1 trillion, or 1.4% of global stocks.
And with that kind of exposure to the global economy, he’s understandably analyzing the signal - and noise - coming from the U.S. and China more closely than most (and with the S&P trading at all time highs, it is safe to say that most aren't analyzing it at all).
“It’s quite possible there will be a rupture in trade,” Slyngstad told Bloomberg TV in an interview, his caution predicated by his massive exposure everywhere, which would make it hard to avoid disruptions to the global economy when they hit.
While Slyngstad is especially concerned about the fate of China in this new world order, he also questions the future of the global supply chains that make manufacturing tick and on which companies such as Apple rely to make iPhones in China.
"The interesting part long-term is if the global supply chains will become reconfigured,” he said. “Whether that’s actually going to become two regional ones, one centered on the U.S. and another centered on China, or are we still going to have a globalized supply chain as we have today."
One month ago we profiled the worst that could happen should supply-chains break down when he discussed the "calamitous chaos" that hit Brazil's shipping industry as a result of a series of concurrent logistical strikes, which paralyzed domestic trade and left foreign trade partners in a state of limbo.
With the fund spending recent years trying to spread its investments more evenly across the world, "building a roughly 10% stake in emerging markets and even moving into frontier markets", the fallout of the trade war was hard to miss in its second-quarter report, when the fund lost 5.7% in emerging market stocks and 4% on Chinese equities, the two sectors most impacted by trade war so far.
The fund has few places to hide from a trade war, but it remains committed to its goal of spreading investments. “We just invest an equal slice all over the world,” Slyngstad said.
The silver lining for Slyngstad is that unlike most of his peers he does not have window of opportunity in which to reverse his underperformance, and thanks to its very long term investment horizon, it can easily absorb losses for far longer than most funds; instead it builds on an expectation that ethical choices here and now actually make good economic sense further down the road.
That said, the operation is not some green hipper commune and there’s no conflict for the fund between saving the environment and chasing good returns, according to Slyngstad.
In fact, in the long-term, it has only aim: "That’s trying to make money.:
“We just think about it in a very long term,” he said “That’s why we kind of look at the bigger risk picture."
That philosophy can be observed in the fund's UK investments: despite Brexit and the growing threat of hard divorce, the investor has continued to invest in the U.K. and London, where it owns large swaths of real estate, including much of Regent Street.
"Our confidence in London is strong,” Slyngstad said. “Not first of all as a financial center but as a world capital. There’s a lot of activity that goes on there that is key and crucial for the world economy so we will be long-term investors in London and the U.K. in general."
The same is not the case everywhere else; as its expansion into global cities around the world has slowed down a bit in recent years. The fund has a $26 billion real estate portfolio that it wants to build up to about 7% of its assets.
Echoing Buffett, Slyngstad said that "we haven’t really found pricing that attractive these days so we haven’t invested that much for the last couple of years."
As for whether or not the sov wealth fund's investment horizon is truly "long-enough", it will depend on the duration of the trade war, which increasingly more on Wall Street are worried my last far longer than most had initially expected.