Nassim Nicholas Taleb was in his native northern Lebanon last week, thinking about instability in the pricing of goods and services. He also was shopping for olive orchards.
The mathematical finance scholar who lectures at New York University and wrote the 2007 book ‘The Black Swan’ said he is as pessimistic as ever about the prospects for sustained global economic recovery. He suggests that investors around the world strap in for a wild ride of deflation and inflation. And, therefore, he said, it makes sense for him to pour money into farming, especially olives, which are indispensable to the Mediterranean world.
‘Healthy investments are those that produce goods that humans need to consume, not flat-screen TVs,’ Prof. Taleb said by phone from near his family’s ancestral home in Amioun. ‘Stocks are not a robust investment. Make sure you have a garden that bears fruits.’
Some of the world’s biggest investors are planting the same seeds. The Santa Monica, Calif., investment firm Mr. Taleb helped start and still advises, Universa Investments LP, is in talks with China’s $300 billion sovereign-wealth fund, China Investment Corp., and Middle East government funds about investing in Universa, according to a person familiar with the matter. Specifically, sovereign-wealth funds are willing to pay the firm in the hopes that if the market dives, at least some part of their portfolio will profit.
Panic is a profit-driver for Mr. Taleb, who has gained renown for his pessimism, a viewpoint that proved prescient in the market collapse of 2008. The interest from the likes of the Chinese and Middle East funds, which control some of the world’s biggest pools of money, suggests more mainstream adoption of Universa’s bearish conviction.
The outcome of the talks isn’t certain, according to a person familiar with the matter. But if the investments materialize, they likely would boost the Universa fund’s client assets from $6 billion to about $10 billion, two people familiar with the matter said.
CIC didn’t respond to a request for comment. Mr. Taleb said he couldn’t discuss Universa client talks. But he has consulted with several sovereign-wealth funds about his ‘black swan’ philosophy in recent years.
Such an approach represents an extreme downside hedge for China, whose export-heavy economy depends on global growth.
The term ‘black swan’ refers to a long-held belief that all swans were white. Explorers then discovered black swans in Australia. The image came to reflect the occurrence of something highly unexpected, including events that could make markets nose dive.
For investors wanting to guard against such events, Universa started the Black Swan Protection Protocol, a vehicle different from a typical hedge fund in that clients don’t hand over their entire account for the firm directly to manage. Instead, clients designate a certain pool of assets, a notional value, that they seek to hedge, or protect against extreme losses.
Universa is run by 39-year-old Mark Spitznagel, a former Chicago Board of Trade pit trader and longtime collaborator with Mr. Taleb. His five traders buy put options on specific stocks and stock indexes.
The goal is for the value of the puts to pay off 60% if the market drops by 20% or more in a month. A put conveys the right to sell a security at a specified price.
This year, Universa clients on average have lost about 2% of their notional account value, one person familiar with the matter said. This year’s volatility hasn’t been extreme enough, or its losses steep and sudden enough, for Universa’s strategy to pay off.
Universa’s clients also lost money last year, when the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index gained 23%. At year-end, client portfolios were down an average of about 4%, one person close to the matter said.
But 2008 was different. That year, extreme market losses helped many Universa clients profit more than 100%.
数理金融学者塔勒布（Nassim Nicholas Taleb）上周在黎巴嫩北部的老家，思考着商品和服务定价的不稳定性，与此同时他还在购买着橄榄园。
塔勒布在纽约大学担任教授，并在2007年撰写了《黑天鹅》（The Black Swan）一书，他说他像以往那样对全球经济持续复苏前景表示悲观。他暗示，全球投资者应该为通缩和通胀的剧烈动荡做好准备。因此他认为将资金投入农业更有意义，尤其是橄榄，这在地中海沿岸地区是不可或缺的农产品。
全球一些最大投资者也在播下同样的种子。知情人士说，塔勒布帮助建立并仍担任顾问的投资公司Universa Investments LP正与管理着3,000亿美元的主权财富基金中国投资公司进行洽商，并与中东政府基金洽谈向Universa的投资事宜。这家公司位于加州圣莫尼卡。主权财富基金尤其希望投资该企业，因寄望如果市场下跌，至少部分投资组合将获利。
针对那些希望防范这些事件的投资者，Universa建立了黑天鹅保护协议（Black Swan Protection Protocol），这与典型的对冲基金不同，客户不把他们全部的帐户交给Universa直接管理，而是客户指定一部分资产，他们希望对冲这些资产的名义价值，或保护它们不受极端损失影响。
Universa由39岁的斯皮兹纳戈尔（Mark Spitznagel）负责运营，他以前是芝加哥期货交易所（Chicago Board of Trade）的场内交易员，也是塔勒布的长期合作者。他的五个交易员对特定股票和股指买入看跌期权。