George Soros

, the famed market speculator, has positioned his firm's flagship Quantum hedge fund to be 90% in cash, according to two sources familiar with

Soros Fund Management


While Soros' negativity on the market is not news - he articulated it in an April 29 announcement -- his extreme stance was not then made clear.

Soros announced on April 29 that his two top investment managers were quitting, and that he would be taking a more conservative approach going forward -- assuming less risk in exchange for less reward. Soros said that he expected no more than $3 billion in customer withdrawals from the $14.2 billion funds managed by SFM.

Soros also said that he had already liquidated sufficient positions to meet redemption requests of that magnitude. The anticipated withdrawals would leave Soros with $11.2 billion, of which $8.5 billion is in the Quantum Fund.

The 90/10 ratio means that Quantum has about $7.7 billion in cash -- an amount far in excess of anything needed to meet redemptions. A spokesman for Soros had no comment.

So what gives? The famed speculator is basically terrified of the market, according to one source.

Why? Such intense fear cannot be explained entirely by Quantum's roughly 20% decline through April. After all, that drop merely took the fund's net asset value back to its mid-December level. Soros has faced similar losses in the past -- as recently as early last year, the fund was down 20%. And many other money managers suffered an analogous fate.

Something else seems to be at work here. A source suggests that it's is almost as if Soros, who has not been directly running Quantum for more than 12 years, suddenly looked at the SFM portfolios and freaked.

He does personally have a lot to lose. Soros, 69, has about $4 billion invested in Quantum. (He has an accumulated U.S. tax liability of roughly $1 billion on that money. But as long as he keeps that money offshore, Soros does not have to pay the tax. That helps explain why when he does bring money into the U.S. most of it goes to charity.) Last year, excluding his capital gains from Quantum's 42% rise, Soros received about $300 million as his share of the investment management fees charged by SFM. He has billions more in other investment vehicles.

One could chalk up Soros' fears to the irrational behavior of a rich man who at this stage in life cares only about wealth preservation. His age and wealth certainly could explain part of his "cash-is-king" stance. But let's not forget who we are talking about here -- the greatest speculator in memory turning his back on the risk/reward equation in favor of no risk/no reward.

When financial markets seem intent on punishing the greatest number of investors possible, it may mean something that Soros is now out of the market. What is not exactly clear. Is his withdrawal a cautionary sign? Or is it a contrary indicator, a buy signal?

No one will know except in retrospect. But unlike so many investors who say they are worried about the market but have yet to lighten up, Soros has bailed out. We will see at some point whether he is a fool or a genius to have done so. And of course, the rest will get graded too.