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In the first quarter of 2020, as the novel coronavirus pandemic began to roil the global economy, the overall value of public securities held by Harvard Management Company plummeted 32 percent, from $945 million to $639 million.
HMC reported the losses in its latest filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which requires investment managers who oversee more than $100 million to disclose public securities holdings each quarter. The first quarter ran from Jan. 1 through March 31.
John M. Longo, a professor at Rutgers Business School and the Chief Investment Officer for Beacon Trust, called the 32 percent drop “disappointing” compared to overall market performance.
“By comparison, the S&P 500 fell roughly 20 percent in Q1 and the MSCI World Index, a common global equity benchmark, fell about 22 percent,” Longo wrote in an email.
Still, HMC’s losses may not reflect the current state of its holdings. Since the filing period came to a close, markets have improved — for example, the S&P 500 has risen 31 percent since it bottomed out on March 23.
Longo said the drop HMC experienced in the first quarter could also stem from the reallocation of funds to a different part of the endowment.
Last valued at $40.9 billion as of June 2019, the University’s endowment is divided between a number of asset classes, including public and private equities, hedge funds, real estate, and natural resources.
In the first quarter, HMC also substantially increased its SPDR Gold Shares, by nearly 38 percent.
Longo wrote the decision to purchase gold shares “may be considered a defensive measure” against an unstable stock market.
“Gold often rises when stocks fall, since it is viewed as a ‘flight to quality’ asset,” he wrote. “In addition, the massive monetary and fiscal programs enacted by The Federal Reserve and Congress to blunt the economic fallout of COVID-19 may negatively impact the value of the U.S. Dollar going forward. Gold often rises when the U.S. Dollar weakens.”
In total, the University’s gold shares were valued at over $14 million.
HMC increased its shares in Uber for the second quarter in a row, this time by nearly 56 percent. By the end of the quarter, it held more than 2.8 million shares valued at $78 million.
HMC also increased its shares in Palo Alto Networks Inc., a cybersecurity company, by roughly 31 percent. Still, the value of its holdings decreased by 6.7 percent to $193 million.
At the same time, HMC significantly reduced its shares in Google, by almost 60 percent.
Though Longo wrote that portfolio managers “routinely change equity holding based on their views,” he said some of their decisions could be linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It could be something as simple as the manager believing a decline in advertising revenue will negatively impact Google, while increased spending on software related security products may benefit Palo Alto,” Longo wrote. “Arguably, Uber may be a near-term beneficiary of COVID-19 as fewer people take mass transit and their package and food delivery segments increase.”
HMC also sold its shares in Booking Holdings Inc., the parent company of a number of travel-related businesses. Booking has previously been criticized for listing properties in the occupied Palestinian territories on Booking.com.
They also bought shares in two new companies: Ping Identity Holding Corp., a software company that went public in late 2019, and Revolution Medicines Inc., a biopharmaceutical company that develops drugs for cancer treatment.
Both purchases fall in line with the rest of HMC’s portfolio — five of the ten public companies that HMC invests in are tech firms, while the other five are pharmaceutical companies. The remainder of HMC’s public investments are in exchange traded funds and gold.
HMC spokesperson Patrick S. McKiernan declined to comment on the filings, citing HMC’s policy not to comment on specific investments.
—Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.
—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.
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