Jim Rogers' Home Truths
By Amey Stone
Investor and adventurer Jim Rogers has a newfound fascination with squirrels. As the autumn leaves fall, the author of the best-selling travelogue Investment Biker and the upcoming Hot Commodities, has taken to keeping a stash of nuts in his pockets. During a recent interview in the backyard of his town house in Manhattan's Morningside Heights neighborhood, he periodically lobbed a nut at one of the furtive creatures, hoping to convince it to stick around a while.
The reason? Rogers' 17-month-old daughter, Hilton Augusta, loves squirrels and was soon to return from the nearby park. Rogers, now 62, is married to Paige Parker, with whom he completed a three-year journey around the world, chronicled in Adventure Capitalist, his second book. Their Baby Girl, as he calls Hilton Augusta, has become the focal point of his life, a fact the former long-time bachelor and motorcycle aficionado exults in.
MEN AND BARS.
Rogers is currently a big draw among the Wall Street money-management crowd due to his prescient 1998 call to invest in commodities as well has his status as the co-founder of George Soros' Quantum Fund. Anyone invited to one of his speeches, or who catches him on Fox News, where he's often a guest commentator on business topics, will soon learn that Hilton Augusta is being raised to be bilingual in Chinese ("the 21st century will be the century of China, whether we like it or not," he says) and that she has opened a Swiss bank account. After all, Rogers jokes, "she knows the U.S. dollar is in decline."
He says he always felt sorry for people encumbered with the care of small children -- until he had one of his own. "How wrong I was," he says now. "I'm sure glad I didn't miss it. It has given me feelings I didn't know I had."
Such sentiment seems striking coming from a man who boasted in Investment Biker that he could say "beer" in 40 languages (he can't anymore) and mused about what he views as the universal need for men around the world to retreat to bars for male companionship.
GENEROUS AND DEMANDING.
Not that fatherhood has dulled Rogers' sharp edges. He's still an iconoclast who declares both Presidential candidates to be "toads". And he still exults in contrarian investment views. "Bonds are finished," he says. "Stocks are finished. Not that they're going down, they're just going to fluctuate like they did in the 70s for a while."
Asked about his net worth -- a guessing game on Wall Street (is it $100 million or more like $1 billion, money managers wonder?) -- he sternly says, "Of course I'm not going to answer that." He once sparred so testily via e-mail with a business school student over investing in Russia that the string of acerbic missives has become cult reading among the hedge-fund set. "I should have kept my mouth shut," Rogers admits now.
"He can be quite blunt," says Leon Louw, president of the Free Market Foundation of Southern Africa, an economic think tank in Johannesburg. He met Rogers during his Investment Biker world tour and has stayed in Rogers' home several times when visiting New York. "He's very generous, but he's also quite demanding. He doesn't hesitate to say if he thinks someone is speaking nonsense."
LONG BULL MARKET.
What does he like to talk about? These days, it's commodities -- it's the subject of his upcoming book, due out in December from Random House, and also the centerpiece of his investment strategy (or rather, Hilton Augusta's investment strategy). As he explains simply, "Supply and demand are out of whack." Not only is growth in China fueling demand, but a lack of investment in productive capacity for the past 20 years means supply isn't sufficient to keep prices from booming.
He believes the bull market in commodities started six years ago and, judging by past commodities booms, thinks it should run for at least another nine years, probably longer. He points to the first serious academic study, published in June by Yale and Wharton professors, that shows that commodities offer higher returns and less risk than stocks. That empirical proof should convince a lot more institutional money managers to invest in commodities than ever before, which should keep the bull market running even longer, he believes.
If Rogers has put his money where his mouth is, he has done very well for himself lately. He doesn't manage a fund open to outside investors, and so he doesn't have to disclose his investment returns. But one indicator of his results: He invests in the Rogers International Commodities Fund, an index he created that's run as a fund by a third party. It gained 33% in 2002, 32% in 2003, and 26% through September, 2004, according to information at www.rogersrawmaterials.com. "I've done some things right recently," is all Rogers will say about his performance.
Even then, he admits that only in the context of explaining his current goal of simplifying his life to have more time with his family. After retiring at age 37, Rogers spent about the next 25 years traveling around the world on his motorbike, investing in emerging markets, and collecting treasures from exotic lands. Many of these unique and valuable pieces are now displayed in his lovingly restored and lavishly decorated home, which he jokingly refers to as his walk-up in Harlem (watch the interview with Rogers and see his home in this video clip).
Now he says he's in the process of selling off some of his far-flung positions in Africa and elsewhere and hopes to rid his living room of the clutter of many precious objets d'art.
"He's all talk," jibes his wife, Parker. And Rogers, enjoying the jab, acknowledges that she's probably right. What's evident, however, is that Rogers, the tireless world traveler and intrepid investor, has not only made some good investment calls lately, but also seems very comfortable at home as a father these days.
Editor's Note: Rogers will be BusinessWeek Online's guest for a live chat on America Online's Personal Finance channel on Thursday, Oct. 28, at 4:30 p.m.
Stone is a senior writer at BusinessWeek Online and covers the markets as a Street Wise columnist
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