How did hedge funds make money from the war?

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Overview of the topics

  • Stocks Highlights: China has opposed EU sanctions on national companies accused of supporting Russia's military activities.
  • Social Data: The top 10 hedge funds made nearly $1.9 billion in profits in the run-up to and immediate aftermath of the invasion.
  • Economic Data: Europe is expected to rise its defense expenses by two-thirds by 2026, potentially reaching €488 billion.
  • Onchain Data: Private crypto fundraising for pro-Ukrainian causes has outpaced Russian equivalents by a rate of 44 to one.
  • Deep Dive: Due to ongoing conflicts defense stocks may perform well in the upcoming year.

Stocks Highlights

China against the latest EU sanctions

The Chinese foreign minister, Qin Gang, has strongly opposed EU proposals to impose sanctions on Chinese companies accused of supporting Russia's military activities, stating that China will react strictly and firmly to defend its businesses.

The EU has listed eight Chinese companies allegedly selling equipment that could be used in weapons, subject to unanimous approval by member states. China has denied providing weapons to crisis regions and regulates the export of dual-use goods. The Chinese foreign minister emphasized the importance of cooperation between Chinese and Russian companies and expressed opposition to extraterritorial or one-sided sanctions on China.

Image source: Twitter

The EU is considering targeted measures to prevent sanctioned dual-use goods from reaching unauthorized parties, including Russian arms firms. In addition, the German counterpart of the Chinese foreign minister stated that it is critical to prevent indirect subversion of EU sanctions on Russia, particularly when sanctioned goods end up in the wrong hands.

The Chinese foreign minister mentioned then China's recent peace initiative for Ukraine, stating that China will have contacts with all relevant countries and play a constructive role in resolving the conflict.

Social Data

Hedge funds benefited from the war

The top 10 hedge funds alone made profits estimated at about $1.9 billion by trading in two food commodities, grain, and soybeans, in the run-up to and immediate aftermath of the invasion.

Image source: Visual Capitalist

The findings provided by Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative journalism unit, and non-profit journalism organization Lighthouse Reports have raised concerns over the role of hedge funds and other speculators in “inflating” food prices. The global cost of living crisis continues to bite, and the impact of these extraordinary profits is being felt by vulnerable people.

Graph source: UN

De Schutter, co-chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems and UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has criticized many times hedge funds and financial speculators for making profits by betting on hunger and exacerbating it. At the start of the Ukraine war, financial investors piled into grains and commodities in large numbers, seeking to capitalize on uncertainty and rising food prices, and they hit the jackpot.

It is difficult to disentangle the impact of speculation from food prices that may already be rising for other reasons, but De Schutter said speculation was likely to have played a key role. The signs are that it helped inflate a price bubble, putting pressure on food prices that were not in proportion to agricultural market fundamentals, to the actual food supply. This has affected the hunger levels of the world's poorest people.

Graph source: Statista

Doug Parr, the chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, stated governments must implement the measures they had already agreed on during the last food price crisis in 2008-09. He stated that badly regulated food commodities are engines of economic destruction. However, despite G20 governments committing to improving the regulation and transparency of commodity markets 14 years ago, the trading system is still driven by profit rather than purpose, and the international market has essentially no rules.

Economic Data

Who gains the most from war?

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has resulted in increased defense spending by countries, particularly in Europe, which is expected to rise by two-thirds by 2026, potentially reaching €488 billion.

Graph source: Eurostat

This has led to a boost in the stock prices of U.S. defense companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon Technologies, dealing with weapons, surveillance technology, and military satellites. The Invesco Aerospace & Defense ETF has also outperformed the broader market over the past year.

Graph source: Google Finance

One of the best-known is…Leonardo DRS Inc. It is a defense company that specializes in providing defense products and technologies to the U.S. military. The company also offers a range of products and services related to advanced sensor technologies and integrated mission systems. In April 2023, the company announced that it had been awarded contracts worth over $1 billion to provide integrated electric propulsion components for the U.S. Navy's Columbia-class submarine.

Graph source: Google Finance

But it’s not the only choice. Triumph Group Inc. is a defense and aerospace component systems manufacturer that designs, manufactures, and repairs defense and aerospace component systems. A third of the company's $329 million revenue in the last quarter of 2022 came from military spending.

Graph source: Newport News Shipbuilding

As last…Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. is a shipbuilding firm that designs, builds, and maintains nuclear and non-nuclear ships. During March 2023, its shipbuilding division had been awarded a $1.3-billion addition to its contract to provide detailed design and construction of amphibious transport dock LPD 32. The contract now totals $1.54 billion.

Onchain Data

How does the last conflict impact Bitcoin?

The use of cryptocurrency in international affairs has typically been viewed with suspicion and concern, particularly by the US government which fears that digital assets can be used to circumvent financial sanctions.

However, the recent events in Ukraine have shown that the role of crypto in geopolitical issues can be more nuanced. Private crypto fundraising for pro-Ukrainian causes has outpaced Russian equivalents by a rate of 44 to one in the last year, with over $200 million worth of cryptocurrencies donated to pro-Ukrainian causes, including $80 million for the Ukrainian government.

Graph source: Google Finance

Despite the positive impact of crypto in Ukraine, the pace of donations has slowed markedly since the immediate aftermath of Russia's invasion, while Russian crypto fundraising shows no signs of subsiding. Hence, virtual asset services cannot afford to be complacent about the use of cryptocurrency in geopolitical affairs.


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Deep Dive

What about defense stocks in 2023?

Due to ongoing conflicts and increasing global investments in military and aerospace equipment defense stocks may perform well in the upcoming year.

Indeed, while Japan and Germany increased their defense budgets, the US is focusing on out-competing China and assisting Taiwan.

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