The fortune of Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates exceeds the size of Morocco’s annual economy, combines the value of Ford, Twitter and Marriott International and is triple the endowment of Harvard. While few know how their wealth will be divided in the divorce, one thing is clear: breaking it up can’t be easy.
Mr. Gates built one of the great fortunes in human history when he founded Microsoft in 1975 with Paul Allen. The Gateses’ net worth is estimated to be more than $124 billion, and includes assets as varied as trophy real estate, public company stocks and rare artifacts.
There’s a big stake in the luxury Four Seasons hotel chain. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and ranch land, including Buffalo Bill’s historic Wyoming ranch. There are billions of dollars’ worth of shares in companies like AutoNation and Waste Management. There’s a beachfront mansion in Southern California. And one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.
“The amount of money and the diversity of assets that are involved in this divorce boggles the imagination,” said David Aronson, a lawyer who has represented wealthy clients in divorce cases. “There have rarely been cases that are even close to this in size.”
2019 divorce between the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his now ex-wife, the novelist and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, was bigger. Mr. Bezos had an estimated fortune of $137 billion, though mostly in Amazon stock, and Ms. Scott kept 4 percent of Amazon’s shares, worth $36 billion at the time.
But Mr. Gates has for decades been diversifying his holdings; he owns just 1.3 percent of Microsoft. Instead, his stock portfolio includes stakes in dozens of publicly traded companies. He is the largest private owner of farmland in the country, according to The Land Report. In addition to the Four Seasons, he has stakes in other luxury hotels and a company that caters to private jet owners. His real estate portfolio includes one of the largest houses in the country and several equestrian facilities. He owns stakes in a clean energy investment fund and a nuclear energy start-up.
Forbes, or $146 billion, according to the research firm Wealth-X. Including the Gates Foundation’s endowment and the Gates personal fortune, Cascade most likely oversees assets that put it on par or beyond some of the world’s biggest hedge funds in size.
Mr. Larson operates Cascade with an obsessive level of secrecy, going to great lengths to cloak the firm’s transactions so that they can’t easily be traced back to the Gateses. In a 1999 interview with Fortune magazine, Mr. Larson said he chose the name “Cascade” because it was a generic-sounding name in the Pacific Northwest.
that questions about the future of the Gates Foundation immediately arose following news of the divorce. The foundation directs billions to 135 countries to help fight poverty and disease. As of 2019, it had given away nearly $55 billion. (In 2006, Mr. Buffett pledged $31 billion of his fortune to the Gates Foundation, greatly increasing its grant making.)
Since he stepped down from day-to-day operations at Microsoft in 2008, Mr. Gates has devoted much of his time to the foundation. He also runs Gates Ventures, a firm that invests in companies working on climate change and other issues. Over the decades, Mr. Gates shed the image of a ruthless tech executive battling the United States government on antitrust to be viewed as a global do-gooder. And he appears to be keenly aware of the stark contrast between the scale of his wealth and his role as a philanthropist. “I’ve been disproportionately rewarded for the work I’ve done — while many others who work just as hard struggle to get by,” he acknowledged in a year-end blog post from 2019.
told The New York Times last year. “There’s just none.”
The stock market’s rally during the pandemic has been nothing short of amazing. But rising interest rates are raising the question of how long this bull market can last.
In the 12 months through March, the average general stock mutual fund tracked by Morningstar returned nearly 66 percent — a remarkable rebound after a three-month loss of nearly 22 percent at the start of last year.
The turnaround came after the Federal Reserve stepped in with support for financial markets and the economy, fueling much of the stock market’s exuberance with low interest rates.
But with the economy taking off, rates have begun to rise. At the start of a new quarter, it is a propitious moment to ask, how long can these strangely prosperous times last?
My crystal ball is no clearer now than it has ever been, alas, and I can’t time the market’s movements any better than anyone else. But this certainly a good time to assess whether you are well positioned for a possible downward shift.
As always, the best approach for long-term investors is to set up a portfolio with a reasonable, diversified asset allocation of stocks and bonds and then live with it, come what may.
Our quarterly report on investing is intended to help. If you haven’t been an investor before, we’ve included tips on how to get started. Here you will find broad coverage of recent trends, guidance for the future and reflections on personal finance in a challenging era.
It’s been a long, fine run for the stock market but a great deal of the upswing has depended on low interest rates, and in the bond market rates have been rising. Investment strategists are taking a wide array of approaches to deal with this difficult problem. For now, the bull market rides on.
Bonds provide ballast in diversified portfolios, damping the swings of the stock market and sometimes providing solid returns. Because bond yields have been rising — and yields and prices move in opposite directions — bond returns have been suffering lately. But adding a diversified selection of international bonds to domestic holdings can reduce the risk in the bond side of your investments.
Yes, the markets and the economy are complicated. That often puts people off, and stops them from taking action that can help them and their families immeasurably: investing.
But investing need not be complicated. A succinct article gives pointers on how to get started, and on how to navigate the markets for the long haul.
After a piece of virtual art known as a nonfungible token — an NFT — sold at auction for $70 million recently, NFTs have suddenly became an asset that you can invest in. Our columnist prefers real dollars.
Short-term demand for oil and gas is rising, but if climate change is to be reversed, consumption of fossil fuels will have to diminish. This leaves investors in a tough spot.
For other perspectives on finance, take a deeper look at our report:
Mr. Green doesn’t choose sides. He simply reports on the views of investors who say the secret to success is buying good companies at relatively inexpensive prices, as well as on others who say it is OK to pay a premium if a company has substantial growth prospects.
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But he does hammer home certain lessons he heard from the people he interviewed:
Don’t get in your own way. Don’t be emotional about your investments, and don’t chase fads.
If you don’t understand what a company does or don’t understand an investment opportunity you are being offered, stay away.
Keep enough cash on hand so you can weather the inevitable downturns without being forced to sell your holdings at a loss. And, he writes: “To achieve resilience, it’s imperative to reduce or eliminate debt, avoid leverage and beware of excessive expenses.”
Throughout the book he underscores the central premise that originality is overrated when it comes to investing. You don’t need to come up with your own unique approach. You can simply copy ideas that have worked for others.
“The overarching purpose of this book,” Mr. Green writes, “is to share what I would call ideas worth cloning.”
Throughout, Mr. Green points out lessons that can also be applied to your personal life.
“Both in markets and life, the goal isn’t to embrace risk or eschew it, but to bear it intelligently while never forgetting the possibility of an unpleasant outcome,” he writes. He adds later on: “Nothing is more essential than our capacity to survive the most difficult times not only financially but emotionally.”
As much as I like the book, there are a few things I wish Mr. Green had done differently.
Yes, these are successful men — and just about everyone mentioned in the book is male — but his appreciation of them can sometimes veer into fawning. Howard Marks of Oaktree Capital Management is described as a “philosopher-king of finance,” and Joel Greenblatt, “a giant among giants,” has “a beguiling manner and warm smile.”
Making your bond-fund portfolio less risky requires doing something that can feel like living dangerously: investing abroad.
If you’re like most people, you may have put too much of your money in bond funds invested in your home market and so failed to spread your bets around.
“People are used to thinking about diversification in their stock portfolio, and they understand how that works to control the risk,” said Rob Waldner, chief strategist for fixed income at Invesco. “You need to do that with your fixed income, too.”
Bond diversification matters all the more when traditional income producers like U.S. Treasuries are paying measly rates, he said.
1.7 percent in early April, compared with less than 1 percent in January. But rates are likely to remain relatively low by long-term standards.
Bonds come in a variety as rich — and sometimes baffling — as the screw-and-fastener aisle at Home Depot.
A well-diversified portfolio might include mutual funds or exchange-traded funds that buy bonds issued by the United States and foreign governments, and large U.S. and foreign companies, as well as ones backed by mortgages, auto loans or credit-card receivables in the United States. (Pools of these financial assets are securitized, and rights to payments from the pools become mortgage-backed and asset-backed bonds.)
“Home bias” is the financial term for people’s tendency to over-invest in their home market and shy from other places. Investment experts say it’s pervasive.
“It’s something we observe in every country,” said Roger Aliaga-Diaz, global head of portfolio construction at Vanguard.
Vanguard’s research has found that international bonds reduce portfolios’ ups and downs without hurting the total return. Internationally diversifying can provide access to securities from more than 40 countries.
“This broad exposure is important, as the factors that drive international bond prices are relatively uncorrelated to those that drive prices in the U.S.,” the report said. Lately, for example, South Korea’s 10-year government bond is yielding 2 percent, while Mexico’s is yielding nearly 7 percent.
The international bond slice of Vanguard’s target-date funds is invested in the Vanguard Total International Bond Index Fund, which owns mainly developed-world bonds. Like many international bond funds, it uses hedging to protect its shareholders against the return volatility that currency fluctuations can cause.
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Jean Boivin, head of the BlackRock Investment Institute, said his outfit’s research suggests that investors may want to be bold in their foreign bond forays and look beyond developed markets.
“You need to think about emerging-market bonds and, in particular, Asia ex-Japan,” he said.
In the past, investors could view the U.S. bond market as a proxy for the world, partly because U.S. companies often had sprawling international operations, Mr. Boivin said. But there is enormous global diversity today. Foreign markets, especially China, have risen so much that this approach doesn’t work as well.
Total Return Fund might provide a starting point for considering reasonable ranges. It recently allocated about 8.6 percent of its assets to emerging markets.
The Fidelity Total Bond Fund, another broad offering, lately had a 16 percent stake in higher-yielding, riskier kinds of domestic and foreign debt.
“Historically, we’ve owned from 8 to 18 percent in the higher-yielding sectors,” said Celso Munoz, one of the fund’s managers. “It’s appropriate for most people to have exposure to the broader fixed-income world, which would include high yield, emerging markets and bank loans.”
People may tend to shun international bonds partly because stocks overshadow bonds in the popular media, said Kathy Jones, chief fixed-income strategist at the Schwab Center for Financial Research.
“Every day somebody is talking about the S&P 500 or the Dow,” she said. “People don’t talk like that about Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index,” a leading bond index, and relatively few people plunge even deeper into the fixed-income universe.
To decide how you might better diversify your bond funds, it helps to reflect on why you own them, said Tad Rivelle, chief investment officer for fixed income at TCW.
“The existential question is do you think of fixed income as a safe asset that enables you to take risk elsewhere,” he said, “or do you expect your bonds to pull their own weight, and so you’re OK with them going down in a market panic?”
MetWest Total Return Bond Fund might work for the first group, and its MetWest Flexible Income Fund for the second.
A puzzle for all bond-fund investors is how the end of the Covid-19 pandemic might affect interest rates.
Rates usually rise when the economy grows, as it’s expected to do as the world emerges from the pandemic. As that happens, inflation may rise, which could stifle a long bull market in bonds. Bond prices rise as interest rates fall.
Yet renewed inflation has been erroneously predicted before, and Jerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, has made clear that the bank isn’t rushing to raise the short-term rates it controls.
For investors who are counting on their bond funds for income, continued low rates could create a temptation to court risk.
A more patient approach is prudent, said Mary Ellen Stanek, chief investment officer for Baird Advisors, which oversees the Baird Funds.
“You don’t own bonds for excitement and drama,” she said. “You own them for predictability and lower volatility.”
Ms. Jones of Schwab warned, too, against seeking excessive risk. She suggested investors instead rethink how they take cash from their portfolios.
“In a year when your stocks are up 20 percent and your bonds are up 2, you may want to pull out some of those capital gains and put them in your cash bucket,” she said. “Say you’re looking to generate 6 percent overall, and you’ve made 20 percent in stocks. If you have excess above your plan, you can look at that as potential income.”
No matter what path investors choose, they should always pay close attention to the costs of funds and E.T.F.s, said Jennifer Ellison, a financial adviser at Bingham, Osborn & Scarborough in San Francisco.
“Costs are really important, especially with yields where they are,” since those costs will eat up much of that scant yield, she said. “If you’re a retail investor and you’re buying a loaded bond fund, you’re giving all your yield away up front.”
Inflation is back in the news and so, of course, is interest in gold.
After years of dormancy, inflation is expected to rise a bit this summer. It is even possible that as Americans emerge from Covid-19 induced seclusion, their pent-up demand will overheat the economy and weaken the dollar.
Those concerns have put the spotlight on gold, which has long been viewed as a hedge against inflation, a declining dollar and an unstable stock market. Buy gold now and make a quick profit, or so the thinking goes.
But this analysis has problems, starting with the outlook for inflation, which isn’t necessarily that bad. The inflation rate ended 2020 at an anemic 1.4 percent, and Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, has said that despite the potential for a modest surge above 2 percent this summer, the Fed doesn’t expect inflation to move much higher between now and 2023.
Perhaps that’s why gold hasn’t been soaring lately, either. After peaking at more than $2,000 an ounce last summer, gold prices hovered below $1,750 in early April, a decline of nearly 13 percent.
Warren E. Buffett likes to point out. Finally, investors who buy physical gold face the additional risk and cost and of securing their bullion or coins.
A more cautious approach is to avoid chasing returns. Instead, keep a small percentage of a portfolio in gold and other precious metals in the hope that this will be a long-term stabilizer.
“In a world where equity prices continue to elevate untethered to any fundamentals, precious metals as a small amount of diversification makes sense,” said David Trainer, chief executive of New Constructs, an investment research firm based in Nashville.
George Milling-Stanley, chief gold strategist at State Street Global Advisors, said gold offers two benefits over the long term: protection against risk and volatility, and as asset appreciation.
“Gold is a defensive asset that really comes into its own over the long term, when you can enjoy the return stream,” Mr. Milling-Stanley said.
restrained, rarely rising above 3 percent annually and remaining around 2 percent or less most of the time. Gold prices, however, rose from $274 an ounce at the beginning of 2001 to about $1,750 at the end of March.
“We don’t need inflation,” Mr. Milling-Stanley said. Gold performed well anyway.
Some experts recommend investors stick to E.T.F.s that focus strictly on gold, which tends to lead the other precious metals, silver and platinum. Advisers warn that gold, precious metals and other commodities should make up just a sliver of an individual’s portfolio, usually no more than a total of 5 percent.
Whatever its drawbacks as an investment, gold has had an enduring appeal.
“There is a psychological component in owning gold that goes back for centuries,” Ms. Simonetti said. “It’s an asset that gives peace of mind to investors. It just makes investors feel safe and secure.”