| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Prominent hedge fund manager John Paulson kept a major stake in gold in the third quarter of 2012, a confidence boost to bullion's appeal as a hedge against economic uncertainty, a U.S. regulatory filing showed on Thursday.
Paulson has to date been the biggest holder of SPDR shares, using them to hedge currency exposure. Just last week, a Paulson executive said at an industry conference that the firm stayed bullish on the yellow metal.
Analysts read the third-quarter filing by Paulson as a sign that the manager, who found fame and fortune on a bet against the U.S. housing market in 2007 and also a well-known gold bull, has not lost his faith in the precious metal as a long hedge against inflation.
"It does show that while we've seen a number of hedge funds getting out of industrial commodities in general, there are still big players who are willing to put themselves out on the limb," said Bill O'Neill, partner of New Jersey-based commodities investment firm LOGIC Advisors.
Turnout from other major fund managers with positions in SPDR Gold was mostly bullish, as billionaire financier George Soros raised his shares in the ETF by a half.
Paulson & Co owned 21.8 million shares in SPDR Gold Trust at the end of September, unchanged from his stake on June 30, a U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission filing showed.
His bet on gold resulted in a paper gain of nearly $364.7 million for the company as the value of its ETF holdings rose to $3.75 billion from $3.39 billion. The increase was due to an 11 percent jump in gold prices during the third quarter.
Paulson also kept his stakes in major gold miners including NovaGold Resources, Iamgold and Barrick Gold and about half a dozen others, while he trimmed his shares in African gold producer AngloGold Ashanti.
In the second quarter, Paulson raised his stake in gold for the first time since the first quarter of 2009.
Bullion's 11 percent rise in the third quarter was largely driven by the Federal Reserve's aggressive stimulus program in September to pump $40 billion into the U.S. economy each month until it saw a sustained upturn in the weak jobs market.
On Thursday, spot gold fell 1 percent to around $1,710 an ounce on recession fears related to the so-called "fiscal cliff," tax hikes and spending cuts set to trigger early next year should the U.S. Congress fail to act.
Mihir Dange, COMEX gold options floor trader for Arbitrage LLC, said funds which liquidated their gold investments could stay put with their bets until they are more certain on the macroeconomic outlook.
WINDHAVEN CUTS SPDR, TIGER BULLISH GOLD MINERS
Other well-known managers also stayed bullish on gold at the end of September.
George Soros, who had called gold "the ultimate bubble" last year, boosted his position in SPDR Gold to 1.32 million shares in the third quarter from 884,000 shares in the second.
Last year, Soros dumped his massive stake in the gold ETF before the metal ran up to a record peak of $1,920.30 an ounce in September.
Tiger Management's Julian Robertson, another legendary manager, increased his exposure to gold in the third quarter. The firm raised its stakes in Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF and Junior gold miners ETF and Barrick.
However, Windhaven, a major shareholder in SPDR gold, cut its stake to 2.1 million shares in the third quarter, down by 46 percent or 1.8 million shares valued at $226 million.
Third Point LLC's Daniel Loeb, who previously said he favored more discreet investments in physical bullion, slightly reduced his stake in SPDR gold to 130,000 shares during the third quarter.
SPDR Gold Trust is the world's largest gold-backed, exchange-traded fund that held 1,336.3 tonnes in physical gold bullion valued at $74 billion - which also makes it among the world's top ETFs in terms of market capitalization.
(Additional reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss, Katya Wachtel, Aaron Pressman, Samuel Forgione and Manuela Badawy; Editing by Maureen Bavdek and Sofina Mirza-Reid)