Rachel Benepe, a protege of stock-picker Jean-Marie Eveillard at First Eagle Investment Management LLC and manager of its $1.5 billion First Eagle Gold Fund (SGGDX:US), has died. She was 37.
She died on Nov. 2 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, according to her mother, Sharon Benepe. The cause was cancer, which was diagnosed several months ago.
The First Eagle Gold Fund, which Benepe (pronounced BEN-e-pea) managed since 2009, has outperformed competitors in recent years as gold prices declined. The fund beat 96 percent of its peers over the past three years, with an average annual decline of 19 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
An analyst of gold, metals and mining, retail, automobiles and beverages, Benepe also helped manage New York-based First Eagle’s Global, Overseas and U.S. Value funds as a senior analyst on the company’s Global Value team.
“No words can adequately express our sorrow over her passing or our gratitude for the meaningful contributions she made at First Eagle,” the firm said in a statement. “Those of us who knew and worked with Rachel experienced her unwavering passion for investing and admired the diligence and care she brought to her work.”
Chairman and Chief Investment Officer John Arnhold, in a e-mailed statement today, called Benepe “a highly respected and valued member of our company.”
A graduate of Columbia Business School in New York, Benepe had a career that coincided with surging investor interest in gold and other precious metals. Gold prices have risen every year since 2001, reaching a record $1,921.15 an ounce in September 2011. That run is set to be broken this year, as prices averaged $1,315.91 in October.
The First Eagle Gold Fund was started by Eveillard in 1993 when the parent company was Societe Generale Asset Management Corp. In 1999, New York investment bank Arnhold & S. Bleichroeder Inc. bought a majority interest in that company from Paris-based Societe Generale SA and brought the funds under its First Eagle brand.
Under Benepe’s management, the Gold Fund had 21 percent of its assets in bullion as of Sept. 30, according to the company. It also invests in mining and other gold-related companies, and its top equity holdings (SGGDX:US) were Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. in Toronto, Goldcorp Inc. in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Randgold Resources Ltd., based in Jersey, Channel Islands.
Benepe succeeded Eveillard as the fund’s manager in March 2009. She managed the fund with Abhay Deshpande until March 2012, by herself from March 2012 to March 2013, and with Matthew McLennan since then, according to the company.
“As a portfolio manager she traveled all over the world, visited the mines and the gold companies,” her mother said today in an interview. “It developed into a very big deal.”
She said Eveillard, who became a senior adviser to the firm in 2009, was her daughter’s “teacher and mentor, and she had the utmost respect for him.”
Unlike some gold bugs who see the metal as a get-rich investment, Benepe viewed it as “the ultimate downside protection,” she said at a Bloomberg Precious Metals conference in New York in 2012.
She recommended that investors allocate 5 percent to 10 percent of their investable assets to the precious metal. More than that, and “you’re speculating that the price of gold is only going to move up, and that’s not necessarily true,” she said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in May 2010, days after gold reached $1,249 an ounce.
“Once fear starts to subside a little bit, people will move out of gold,” she said. “It’s not always going to be a one-way trade. It’s really there as a hedge, to protect your money in the face of that risk actually coming to fruition, rather than that you should own it because it’s an investment and you’re going to expect to make money.”
Rachel Mara Benepe was born on June 10, 1976, in St. Paul, Minnesota, the youngest of three children of John Benepe, a dentist, and the former Sharon Shear. Her father died when she was a teenager.
She attended St. Paul Academy, a private school, and, in 1998, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, where she studied history and was a letter-winner in softball in 1995 and 1996. She joined Prudential Securities in New York City as an investment-banking trainee, then moved to research at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., focusing on metals and mining.
After receiving a master’s degree in business administration from Columbia Business School in 2003, she researched beverages at Gabelli & Co. in Rye, New York, and at Citigroup Inc. (C:US), then worked as an investment analyst focusing on consumer, retail, media and industrials for New York-based Artemis Advisors LLC, which ran funds that sought to profit from stocks rising and falling.
She joined First Eagle in April 2008.
Her interests included squash and golf, her mother said.
Survivors include her mother and two older brothers, Adam and Jason.
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