Although he may have spent past holidays hobnobbing with the rich and powerful, perhaps including soon-to-be-president Donald Trump, legendary investor George Soros rang in the New Year this year not with a bang but with a whimper. In an op-ed published December 28, Soros shared the holiday greeting he sent to friends: These times are not business as usual. Wishing you the best in a troubled world.
To casual observers, the sight of American voters electing an elderly, conservative Caucasian man to the Oval Office may not seem out of the ordinary. To Soros, however, Trumps victory invoked memories of his childhood, growing up Jewish in Nazi-occupied Hungary, and driving him to insist that democracy and capitalism as we know them need defending. In 2016 the 86-year-old returned to the trading desk at his $30 billion family office, Soros Fund Management, to bet big against various stocks and buy gold. His bearish outlook reportedly cost him nearly $1 billion when the market rallied on the November 8 election results.
Soros Fund Management kicked off 2016 on a sour note when Scott Bessent, the chief investment officer since 2011, left to start his own hedge fund. In April portfolio managers David Rogers and Joshua Donfeld staged a team lift-out after a disagreement with Bessents successor, Ted Burdick. In August news broke that Burdick would step down after only eight months on the job.
In his year-end op-ed, Soros brooded over the wave of right-wing populism creeping across the globe, embodied by the Brexit vote and Trumps election. Open societies are in crisis, and various forms of closed societies from fascist dictatorships to mafia states are on the rise, he wrote. How could this happen? The only explanation I can find is that elected leaders failed to meet voters legitimate expectations and aspirations and that this failure led electorates to become disenchanted with the prevailing versions of democracy and capitalism. Quite simply, many people felt that the elites had stolen their democracy.
Proving once again that its lonely at the top, the ruling party of Soros native Hungary has shunned the billionaire philanthropist. Szilard Nemeth, a vice president of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party, pledged last week to sweep out nongovernmental organizations funded by Soros Open Society Foundations, which has poured more than $1.6 billion into Eastern Europe for democratic development. A spokesman for Soros did not respond to requests for comment.