Cuba Fund Surges 17% on Castro's Death

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Cuba's longstanding dictator Fidel Castro barely got one foot in the grave and already investors are getting excited.

The Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund  (CUBA)  a closed-end fund known as the "Cuba Fund" because of its ticker, surged as much as 17% intraday on Monday following the Cuban dictator's death on Friday. More than 1.8 million shares of the fund had changed hands by Monday afternoon compared with normal daily volume of about 22,000. 

The Cuba Fund holds stocks poised to benefit from a normalization of U.S. relations with the island nation. Castro's death is fueling speculation that relations between the United States and former Soviet ally Cuba might continue to thaw under his brother, Raul Castro, who has led the Caribbean country in recent years. President Barack Obama announced plans in December 2014 to chart a new course of policy toward Cuba, and he visited Havana in March of this year. The country has suffered for decades under one-party socialist rule and a brutal U.S. economic embargo.

"Fidel's death is of great consequence and could lead to new era in relations between U.S. and Cuba," said Thomas Herzfeld, who manages the Cuba Fund as chairman of Thomas J. Herzfeld Advisors, based in Miami Beach, Fla. Herzfeld is also one of the fund's biggest individual stockholders, with about 5.2% of the shares outstanding, according to FactSet. He declined to comment on the price move.

The fund's top holding is industrial infrastructure firm MasTec  (MTZ)  , representing 7.6% of assets, which should benefit if Cuba moves to develop roads and airports. Other big stakes are in Copa Holdings  (CPA)  , the passenger and cargo airline, and Royal Caribbean Cruises  (RCL)  . One caveat for investors is that the fund charges hefty annual expenses of 3.2%. 

Shares in the Cuba Fund rallied even as President-elect Donald Trump signaled he might reverse Obama's policies of warmer relations with the island nation. "If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal," Trump tweeted on Nov. 28. 

Trump spokesman Jason Miller elaborated Monday on a call with reporters, saying the president-elect wants to ensure "we're not played for fools."  "Clearly, Cuba is a very complex topic, and the president-elect is aware of the nuances and complexities," Miller said. "This will be an issue that he addresses once he becomes president." 

While the Obama administration removed Cuba in May 2015 from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, the embargo remains intact. But steps by Cuba toward political freedom and a release of political prisoners could lead to a lifting of the embargo, according to Herzfeld. 

"I think what Trump needs to see, as well as what the American people would like to see, is a move towards political freedom," Herzfeld said. "What would really start that process would be a release of poltical prisoners."

Trump may find that Raul Castro is a tough negotiator who's not inclined to back down in the face of heightened pressure from a new U.S. president, according to Juan Pablo Cappello, co-founder of Miami-based law firm Private Advising Group and the former chair of the Latin American practice for Greenberg Traurig. 

"The Cubans have shown they don't mind playing the long game," Capello said. "They've waited out 11 presidents, and I'm sure waiting out a 12th president isn't something that they are unwilling to do."

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the authors held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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