It’s the Weirdest Time in History for Finance
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    HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $1,603,134 (+0.55%)       elbourne $989,193 (-0.36%)       Brisbane $963,516 (+0.83%)       Adelaide $873,972 (+1.09%)       Perth $833,820 (+0.12%)       Hobart $754,479 (+3.18%)       Darwin $668,319 (-0.54%)       Canberra $993,398 (-1.72%)       National $1,033,710 (+0.29%)                UNIT MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $748,302 (+0.18%)       Melbourne $497,833 (-0.44%)       Brisbane $540,964 (-1.56%)       Adelaide $441,967 (-0.38%)       Perth $442,262 (+1.33%)       Hobart $525,313 (+0.38%)       Darwin $347,105 (-0.72%)       Canberra $496,490 (+0.93%)       National $528,262 (-0.02%)                HOUSES FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 10,189 (-104)       Melbourne 14,713 (+210)       Brisbane 7,971 (+283)       Adelaide 2,420 (+58)       Perth 6,383 (+298)       Hobart 1,336 (+6)       Darwin 228 (-12)       Canberra 1,029 (+8)       National 44,269 (+747)                UNITS FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 8,795 (-1)       Melbourne 8,207 (+293)       Brisbane 1,636 (+1)       Adelaide 421 (-4)       Perth 1,664 (+15)       Hobart 204 (-1)       Darwin 404 (-2)       Canberra 988 (+12)       National 22,319 (+313)                HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $800 (+$5)       Melbourne $600 ($0)       Brisbane $640 (+$10)       Adelaide $600 ($0)       Perth $660 ($0)       Hobart $550 ($0)       Darwin $700 ($0)       Canberra $690 ($0)       National $663 (+$2)                UNIT MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $750 ($0)       Melbourne $590 (+$10)       Brisbane $630 ($0)       Adelaide $490 (+$10)       Perth $600 ($0)       Hobart $475 (+$23)       Darwin $550 ($0)       Canberra $570 (+$5)       National $593 (+$4)                HOUSES FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 5,364 (+80)       Melbourne 5,428 (+4)       Brisbane 4,002 (+12)       Adelaide 1,329 (+16)       Perth 2,113 (+91)       Hobart 398 (0)       Darwin 99 (-5)       Canberra 574 (+39)       National 19,307 (+237)                UNITS FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 7,687 (+257)       Melbourne 4,793 (+88)       Brisbane 2,098 (+33)       Adelaide 354 (-11)       Perth 650 (+5)       Hobart 135 (-1)       Darwin 176 (-9)       Canberra 569 (+14)       National 16,462 (+376)                HOUSE ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND       Sydney 2.59% (↑)      Melbourne 3.15% (↑)      Brisbane 3.45% (↑)        Adelaide 3.57% (↓)       Perth 4.12% (↓)       Hobart 3.79% (↓)     Darwin 5.45% (↑)      Canberra 3.61% (↑)      National 3.33% (↑)             UNIT ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND         Sydney 5.21% (↓)     Melbourne 6.16% (↑)      Brisbane 6.06% (↑)      Adelaide 5.77% (↑)        Perth 7.05% (↓)     Hobart 4.70% (↑)      Darwin 8.24% (↑)        Canberra 5.97% (↓)     National 5.84% (↑)             HOUSE RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 0.8% (↑)      Melbourne 0.7% (↑)      Brisbane 0.7% (↑)      Adelaide 0.4% (↑)      Perth 0.4% (↑)      Hobart 0.9% (↑)      Darwin 0.8% (↑)      Canberra 1.0% (↑)      National 0.7% (↑)             UNIT RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 0.9% (↑)      Melbourne 1.1% (↑)      Brisbane 1.0% (↑)      Adelaide 0.5% (↑)      Perth 0.5% (↑)        Hobart 1.4% (↓)     Darwin 1.7% (↑)      Canberra 1.4% (↑)      National 1.1% (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL HOUSES AND TREND       Sydney 29.7 (↑)      Melbourne 30.9 (↑)      Brisbane 31.2 (↑)      Adelaide 25.1 (↑)      Perth 34.4 (↑)      Hobart 35.8 (↑)      Darwin 35.9 (↑)      Canberra 30.4 (↑)      National 31.7 (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL UNITS AND TREND       Sydney 30.0 (↑)      Melbourne 30.5 (↑)      Brisbane 28.8 (↑)        Adelaide 25.2 (↓)       Perth 38.3 (↓)       Hobart 27.8 (↓)     Darwin 45.8 (↑)      Canberra 38.1 (↑)      National 33.1 (↑)            
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It’s the Weirdest Time in History for Finance

What to know about bubbles in cryptos, meme stocks, and NFTs.

By Jack Hough
Wed, Nov 10, 2021 10:25amGrey Clock 8 min

Two days after Halloween, there were more costumes than usual in New York’s Times Square. Outside Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant, one man wore a mirrored face shield and knit beanie to resemble a CryptoPunk pixelated character. A vehicle transformed to look like a cockroach made from junk played a slow-speed rap about “stacks of cash” to market a digital art gallery. A cowboy crooner in underpants, himself as familiar as a pretzel stand to regular passersby, had been commissioned by a man and woman in matching onesies to sing about their holographic worm.

This was NFT.NYC, a conference promoting nonfungible tokens, which signify ownership of digital assets and can be flipped by profit-seekers. The zaniness of the attendees felt strained, but that of their virtual source material can hardly be overstated. Finance the world over is weirder now than it has ever been. A decade of near-zero interest rates has fueled a bubble of bubbles across assets real and virtual. But not everything is overpriced, and savers needn’t despair or pile into fun-house speculations.

Step back for a moment from individual reports of wild price gains for odd things, and take in the scope of it all. Just this year, NFT auctions have ended with US$11.8 million paid for a CryptoPunk, $24.4 million for a collection of cartoon apes, and $69 million for a large assortment of drawings from a digital artist known as Beeple. These are not framed, one-of-a-kind pieces, but rather tokens proclaiming ownership of digital images that are copied freely across the internet.

That is nothing compared with cryptocurrency, an asset class younger than the iPhone. It is closing in on $3 trillion in market value, equal to about a quarter of the world’s mined gold, or the money supply of the United Kingdom. Dogecoin, a dog-themed, unlimited-supply parody crypto, is valued at $35 billion. It was eclipsed by Shiba Inu, a dog-themed parody of Dogecoin, which was worth $40 billion this past week—until it tumbled 20% on Thursday. In comparison, Hershey (ticker: HSY), the 127-year-old chocolate maker with operations in 85 countries, has a market value of $36 billion.

In meme stocks, GameStop (GME) and AMC Entertainment Holdings (AMC) at different points this year were up more than 20-fold. In special-purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, Digital World Acquisition (DWAC) rose 15-fold after announcing that it would merge with Trump Media & Technology, whose best-known work is a slide deck of vague intentions to compete with Twitter, Facebook, Amazon.com, Apple, Walt Disney, and Netflix.

What can compare with all of this? Not Dutch tulips selling for as much as houses in the 17th century. That was a cosmopolitan folly, not, as was misreported many years later, a ruinous mania, as University of Southern California historian Anne Goldgar has shown. The South Sea bubble comes a bit closer, but it featured a stock that gained tenfold in 1720 and set off a rush of dubious new offerings, which is nothing that the trend-chasers on Reddit haven’t seen.

Dot-com stocks in the late 1990s? That was a frenzy, sure, but it was directionally correct, if a couple of decades early, before some of the best companies had blossomed. Japan in the 1980s? America’s Roaring ’20s? OK, those were doozies, and the economic aftermath was profound. But judging solely on weirdness, it’s unclear that credit-driven run-ups in stocks and real estate beat today’s run on virtual smiley faces, ironic stocks, and funny money.

This isn’t a valuation screed—not solely, at least. The world doesn’t need another asset-allocation traditionalist carrying on about Bitcoin not having cash flows. This is a hopeful note for ordinary savers and investors who no longer recognize their surroundings—who see abstract things selling for startling prices and wonder, on one hand, whether that’s dangerous for stocks, bonds, and traditional money, and, on the other, whether it’s too late to grab a stake in some new, fun, potential moon rocket.

Crypto assets don’t seem for now to present the sort of systemic risk that took down banks, or threatened to, during past crashes. “We could have another 1929 event, but the question is, who is it going to affect?” says Amy Lynch, a former financial regulator and founder of FrontLine Compliance, which advises money managers. “As long as the major financial players are actually not offering their own crypto exchanges and cryptocurrency trading platforms, then we are quote-unquote safe from the systemic risk.” To Lynch’s point, a fast-gaining cryptocurrency themed after the Netflix series Squid Game collapsed to zero this past week in an apparent swindle. Only its unlucky holders were harmed.

Last month, Mastercard (MA) said that it would make it easier for merchants and banks to offer crypto services. But it will do so at arm’s length. Newly listed Bakkt Holdings (BKKT) will handle the plumbing.

Strategists who disagree sharply on crypto can nonetheless agree that stocks still make sense. David Kelly, chief global strategist for J.P. Morgan Asset Management, calls crypto a “cult masquerading as a currency,” and attributes its gains and other rampant asset inflation to the world’s central banks. “They’ve no business keeping long-term interest rates this low for this long,” he says. But he’s not altogether put off by stocks at current valuations.

Kelly says the top 10 stocks in the S&P 500 index trade at about 30 times forward earnings estimates, which is “too high,” but that the rest of the index trades at 20 times, “and that’s OK given where interest rates are.” And he reckons that shares in the rest of the world are 30% cheaper than those in the U.S.

Liz Young, head of investment strategy at SoFi Technologies (SOFI), a provider of smartphone-centric financial services, including crypto trading through a partnership with Coinbase Global (COIN), says that stocks should always be part of a long-term growth portfolio. Bonds no longer offer enough downside protection to offset stock risk, so investors should consider adding alternatives, and that can include crypto, she says.

With 8,800 cryptocurrencies to choose among, she views a shakeout as possible. “You don’t really know that you’re in a bubble until after it bursts, right?” she says. “So, then we look back at it and say, ‘Oh, 8,800 coins was an indication, or this many SPACs and NFTs.’ ” But Young says she expects crypto to endure as an asset class.

Crypto’s ever-evolving technology is easier to make sense of than its pricing. Bitcoin was conceived as a store of value and payment system existing outside the purview of central banks, with limited supply. Ethereum, the No. 2 crypto, is these things, plus more of a platform for new products, like NFTs. Both are viewed by critics as restrictive and slow for everyday transactions, and it takes shocking amounts of electricity to create new coins.

Two other top-10 cryptos, Polkadot and Cardano, were created by Ethereum co-founders, and are designed to address these shortcomings. Polkadot founder Gavin Wood tells Barron’s that his ambition is to create a foundational technology for the world’s financial system. Jeff Pollack, chief financial officer at IOHK, the company behind Cardano, says he can envision poor countries that lack a robust banking infrastructure adopting decentralized finance to level the field.

Neither can fully explain what makes Polkadot, up 500% this year, worth $60 billion, or Cardano, up 1,000%, worth $68 billion, but that is a question for buyers, not builders. Both seem less than thrilled by the run-up in parody coins distracting from their work. “I do get kind of exasperated,” says Wood. Pollack says, “I don’t like the projects that delegitimize the legitimate projects.”

For nonfungible tokens, as with crypto, it’s unclear how potential usefulness relates to pricing. The technology could provide artists with new ways to make money from their work, and power trading in unique, virtual objects within videogames or other online worlds. Hot Wheels is launching NFT Garage, packs of virtual cars with random rareness that can be sold for crypto or cash. Dolce & Gabbana recently auctioned a nine-piece collection of garments and crowns intended for museum display, with corresponding NFTs—a “way for the metaverse and the universe to coexist,” it said.

Jefferies, the investment bank, expects NFTs to reach $25 billion in value in the “very near term.” The global market for physical collectibles is pegged at $370 billion.

Some investors in digital assets have developed novel ideas on risk. “If you talk to people in the crypto space, and you tell them that you’re 100% invested in Bitcoin, they think that you’re super-risk-averse,” observes SoFi’s Young. “It’s like the boomer coin.”

That isn’t far off from what we heard from Ranae Arnette, 33, who was in Times Square this past week to promote a prelaunch NFT marketplace called Snow Crash. Her personal portfolio consists of stock options for “daily plays” and cryptocurrency for long-term investment, but only a little Bitcoin. “It’s not going to give you the same return as if I were to invest in Shiba, which is like five decimals less than a penny,” she says.

Arnette was down $1,500 for the day, but had made $5,600 the day before, “so it doesn’t even feel like a loss,” she says. She learned about investing from podcasts and YouTube videos while stuck at home in the early days of the pandemic.

“I remember the first time that I opened my Robinhood app and I had made my paycheck in a day—in the first, like, 10 minutes of the stock market,” she says. “And I kind of just remember sitting at my desk at home with my computer in front of me, like, should I quit?” She went on to teach her mother, sister, brother, and friends to trade.

There is a temptation among seasoned investors to moralize about risk-taking in meme assets, and to expect a comeuppance at any moment for those who trade them. But another view is simply that digital natives have developed a way to monetize their ability to spot chat-room trends faster than the rest of us. It might be weird finance, but the same could be said of endless national budget deficits, years of negative real interest rates, and six-figure college degrees that lead to low-paying jobs.

And there is surely a path from meme-flipping to long-term savings.

This reporter, when in his early 20s, made a tidy little profit in a four-cent stock of such low quality that when it soared past $1, then died, one major newspaper called it “Nasdaq’s Billion Dollar Absurdity.” He didn’t turn to off-track betting or slots next. He backpacked through cheap countries until his winnings ran out, and has spent the decades since as a boring but content plunker of regular savings into the broad stock and bond markets.

And today, any promised comeuppance might take a while. J.P. Morgan’s Kelly expects only a gradual rise in interest rates, beginning late next year, with perhaps years more of silly asset pricing. FrontLine Compliance’s Lynch says that new regulations could dampen some of the excitement in crypto and bring down prices, but also that rule makers are “not going to move fast enough, I guarantee you that.”

What to do? Buy something preposterous, by all means. A bubble like this is not to be missed. But spend entertainment funds, not investment capital. And while tastes vary, consider not using terms like “correlation” to justify the purchase. Wall Street has always been prone to physics envy and over-mathematization, but in truth, it has only a rough idea of how stocks behave, and those are four centuries old. Let’s all agree to skip the regression analysis on five-year-old cryptocoins.

Don’t confuse a quick success with a strategy. When it came to momentum trading, even the author of the laws of physical momentum was no Newton, shall we say. Sir Isaac sold his South Sea holdings for a profit, and then jumped back in and took a bath. And don’t imagine that everyone else is getting rich from meme assets. Winners blab, and losers clam up, skewing perception.

Crypto dabblers should track tips on Twitter and the WallStreetBets forum on Reddit—buzz is everything for such assets. Crypto skeptics should brace for the angry mob when sharing their views. That is standard bubble stuff. For those who can’t decide whether to stick a toe in, there are always crypto-adjacent stocks with plenty of risk, like Coinbase, an exchange platform, and publicly traded companies that set computer rigs to work in “mining” digital coins: Marathon Digital Holdings (MARA), Riot Blockchain (RIOT), and Hut 8 Mining (HUT), to name a few.

Above all, keep return expectations low—both for crypto flings and for nest eggs invested in more mundane assets. BofA Securities estimates that the S&P 500, not counting dividends, is now priced for 0.5% annual price declines over the next decade. The 10-year Treasury yield is percentage points below the latest reading on inflation.

One place to search for good deals is within cyclical stock sectors. They can boom and fizzle, but tend to perform in line with the market over time, and now they are cheaper compared with the market than they have been 91% of the time since 1945, according to James Paulsen, chief investment strategist at The Leuthold Group. Think materials, industrials, financials, and consumer-discretionary stocks and exchange-traded funds.

BofA says reinvested dividends could make the difference between positive and negative returns over the next decade. Goldman Sachs expects S&P 500 payments to rise by 5% a year over that stretch. Boring? Consider: Regular cash payments to shareholders were the breakthrough that centuries ago allowed joint venture companies to begin operating in perpetuity, instead of dissolving after each trip to split the profits. Dividends gave rise to stocks, not the other way around. They are at least as innovative as ape NFTs. Buy iShares Core Dividend Growth ETF (DGRO), yielding just over 2%, and tell your friends you’re a fintech investor.

Resist financial nihilism. We suspect that stocks and even bonds will compare well with Shiba Inu long term, and we are confident they will outdo Squid Game crypto this quarter. But this era of easy gains in nearly everything is probably close to winding down.

Reprinted by permission of Barron’s. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: November 6, 2021.



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The Secret Retreats That Have CEOs, VIPs and Billionaires Jockeying for Invites

Ultra exclusive conferences are booming. In Sicily, Aspen and Stockholm, Elon Musk and Margot Robbie mingle with bank leaders and media moguls. ‘There’s always another VIP level.’

By SARA ASHLEY O’BRIEN, EMILY GLAZER, JESSICA TOONKEL
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The crowd at the St. Regis hotel in Aspen, Colo., on one weekend last fall was handpicked, and if you had to ask to be invited, you wouldn’t be on the list. Guests, including Ron Howard, Karlie Kloss and Goldman Sachs Chief Executive David Solomon , were given Barbour vests, offered a walk-and-talk with Olympic running champion Allyson Felix, take a golf clinic with professional golfer Michael Block or bike with Gen. David Petraeus. The bike route climbs more than 2,000 feet starting from an 8,500-foot elevation.

One morning, a man in his 50s in a dark sweater was speaking to a group, while his security staff stood off to one side, an attendee recalled. He was Elon Musk , talking with the author of his newly released biography, Walter Isaacson , in an off-the-record conversation moderated by CBS anchor Gayle King. It was one of the hottest tickets on a packed agenda at the ultra exclusive and secretive conference known as the Weekend, co-hosted by Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel and other business, tech and finance leaders.

Musk and others attending the Weekend, and gatherings like it, get to exist for a brief time in a buffered safe space where CEOs, celebrities, athletes and political leaders know that no one will tweet a photo of them working out or waiting in line for Champagne. They are invitation-only, and attendees often arrive via private jet and tinted-out SUVs. The talks are off the record. No one who goes cares what it costs.

“There aren’t that many places for these people to have these conversations,” said Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff , who hosts his own intimately curated gatherings of business leaders and has attended other people’s as well. (In the parlor game of invitations, his dinners can feel like a rung up from anything called a conference.)

It has been 40-plus years since Allen & Co. put on its first so-called summer camp for the billionaire set in Sun Valley, Idaho, now an executive’s rite of passage, and more and smaller and intimate ultra-VIP conferences are exploding on the scene—from media mogul and venture investor Jeffrey Katzenberg ’s in Montecito, Calif., to restaurateur Danny Meyer’s in Tuscany. There are new ones popping up nearly every month.

Helping fuel the desire for invitations is the lore of what Sun Valley has spawned: Sam Altman connected with his most important investor, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella , at Allen & Co.’s annual July conference; Disney finance chief Christine McCarthy and CEO Bob Iger got some facetime over lunch at the same event a different year, a few months before Disney’s board ousted CEO Bob Chapek and reinstated Iger; Jeff Bezos ’ purchase of the Washington Post stems back to Sun Valley moments.

The newer events make the World Economic Forum’s Davos—with its pop-up media spaces and Getty photographers scattered about—look like a Vegas trade expo. There is a summer excursion to Stockholm for the humbly named Brilliant Minds gathering hosted by Spotify CEO Daniel Ek ’s foundation, which some attendees consider the most fun in the elite event lineup.

The Weekend in Aspen is in September, pre-ski season, but invitees to boutique bank LionTree’s conference called MediaSlopes head to Deer Valley, in Park City, Utah, in March and skiing is abundant in Davos in January. Google’s annual VIP camp has been held in Sicily at a resort with four outdoor thalassotherapy pools. The Brilliant Minds gathering included a cruise around Stockholm’s archipelago, and MediaSlopes offered high-intensity exercise classes taught by the CEO of video game company Take-Two, Strauss Zelnick , who prides himself on his physique. There is usually a concert—the Killers and John Mayer have played MediaSlopes (anyone who goes just calls it Slopes).

This account is based on interviews with people who attended the gatherings, event materials and social-media posts.

Benioff, who also owns Time, has attended the Weekend and Allen & Co.’s Sun Valley event, but says he “can’t do them all” and loves to host his own, even more exclusive events.

At Benioff’s gatherings, there is usually “a small group of somewhere between 25 and 35 people around a table,” he said, adding that he’s hired people he has met at such events. At a recent one, restaurateur Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin prepared the food and briefly spoke with attendees. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld performed and so has Japanese rock star and fashion designer Yoshiki. The gatherings have taken place in New York, Japan, Australia, France and the U.K .

Always a celebrity chef, he said. “We actually end up with a regular set of celebrities and entertainment who are our favourites, and there’s just people we feel very connected to,” Benioff said. “There’s the right level of quality.”

Who’s invited, and where?

At last year’s Slopes, which attendees call the cool Sun Valley, Margot Robbie swapped her Barbie pink for black to be jointly interviewed with Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz by LionTree Chairman and CEO Aryeh Bourkoff. Bourkoff has been one of the most prolific dealmakers in media, including as a lead banker in AT&T ’s 2022 $43 billion spinoff of Warner Media to Discovery. This year, Lionel Richie performed.

The competitive juices flow, too. Univision CEO Wade Davis has won annual slalom races. And there is a game-show style quiz focused on trends in tech, telecom and media. This year included the question: Who is the biggest streamer? (Answer: YouTube)

The Verdura resort, with “230 hectares of sun-kissed Mediterranean coastline” in southern Sicily, has been home base for what’s known as Google camp in recent years—the tech giant’s annual, invite-only retreat.

Google camp’s theme for 2024, according to a bare-bones website, is artificial intelligence’s role in scientific breakthroughs and addressing global challenges. The site doesn’t say if this summer’s camp will also be in Sicily.

Alicia Keys performed one year on a stage set against ancient ruins. YouTube star Lilly Singh snapped a photo amid the ruins with actress Charlize Theron. “We’re going to change the world. @charlizeafrica  #GenEndIt  #GirlLove ,” @Lilly posted on Instagram. Google owns YouTube.

Google said the majority of guests are customers and partners of Google and discussion sessions make up most of camp. It wouldn’t confirm names.

Jolie Hunt , who advises CEOs among others as founder of marketing and communications firm Hunt & Gather, said she increasingly fields calls from executives and powerful people about which VIP conferences are worth their time, alongside how to get a Birkin bag and book the best driver for Davos.

Part of building the allure of the events is the selective invite lists, with nobody there to pitch their agenda out of turn, some attendees said. Organizers manage the guest list, looking for buzz and mix, and asking for an invite isn’t a good look.

Midnight sun in Sweden

If Sicily didn’t make the calendar, summer’s lineup also includes Stockholm’s Brilliant Minds gathering—the brainchild of Spotify CEO Ek and Swedish entrepreneur Ash Pournouri, who hosted the first one in 2015 before establishing a foundation by the same name three years later.

Actor Jared Leto, Reddit co-founder and startup investor Alexis Ohanian and VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuk were among 2022 attendees who boarded a boat for a tour around Stockholm’s archipelago that included a stop on one of the islands for dinner. Their cocktails were garnished with slices of fresh watermelon, and they took in a private concert by Florence & the Machine.

The intention is to bring together creative and influential figures with a goal of creating an impact, a representative for the organisation said. Brilliant Minds’ theme this year is “Discovery,” and so far, Harvard Business School’s Debora Spar , self-help personality Jay Shetty and Stockholm School of Economics Wellbeing, Welfare and Happiness professor Micael Dahlen are expected to present. Past attendees include former President Obama, filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, Snap’s Evan Spiegel , NBA All-Star Draymond Green and Malala Yousafzai.

Anu Duggal, founding partner of the Female Founders Fund who has attended Brilliant Minds and interviewed Trevor Noah and Yousafzai there, said the formal programming runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., adding that the gathering emphasises bringing people together through fun experiences. “They take advantage of the natural beauty of Sweden,” noting the late sunsets at that time of year. Her firm invested in a startup that took part in a pitch competition where she served as a judge.

Stagecraft opportunities

Sometimes attending Allen & Co.’s Sun Valley conference is about making a very public statement from a very secluded place. Bill Gates used the gathering in 2021 as a soft launch for his return to public after the announcement of his divorce from longtime wife Melinda French Gates . Gates was spotted walking and chatting with Evan Greenberg , CEO of insurance giant Chubb . Gates wore khakis and a navy sweater, and both business leaders had white name tags.

In the summer of 2021, as reports emerged of a deteriorating partnership between Facebook ’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and then-Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg , the two appeared in photos strolling together along the lush grounds. Sandberg, in a T-shirt with the words “just love” scrawled in cursive, smiled as Zuckerberg, in a navy hoodie, looked at her, also smiling.

Marc Ganis, founder and president of the sports-industry consulting firm Sportscorp, said he has been attending more invite-only retreats or gatherings than ever before, estimating he attends three or four a year in addition to industry-specific events.

“This is where the ideas for business can be developed,” said Ganis. “What makes one better than the other is who actually attends.”

A relative newcomer is an invite-only conference for sports executives put on by Bruin Capital and Penske Media’s Sportico held on Kiawah Island in South Carolina. Bruin CEO George Pyne and Penske Media CEO Jay Penske bring together about 150 attendees including billionaires, commissioners, team owners and investors to play golf and talk about more than sports. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the former prime ministers of New Zealand and Finland, Jacinda Ardern and Sanna Marin , spoke this year—the event’s third year—as did former Pimco CEO Mohamed El-Erian .

The world’s biggest advertising agency, WPP, calls Stream, its invite-only event for about 300 invitees, an “unconference.” Attendees, this year in Santa Barbara, Calif., determine discussion topics, which have included “Should we teach robots how to lie?” Its website describes “two days of off-record debate alongside dancing robots; slam poetry; drone races; a space launch” and more.

WPP CEO Mark Read says the event is unique for its lack of PowerPoint slides and that the idea is to foster chance meetings among people in the business. In 2023, Linda Yaccarino spoke after Musk at Stream—a few days before she resigned from NBCUniversal and Musk announced her as X’s new CEO. Also last year, Paris Hilton ran a breakout group, said Read. “We had one famous music executive who turned up and couldn’t deal with the lack of structure and left,” he said.

The surge in exclusive events comes as the World Economic Forum’s conference, held in January in Davos, Switzerland, has ballooned over the past several years. In 2024, more than 800 CEOs and chairs attended Davos, in addition to government leaders and others, according to a WEF spokesperson.

Musk has knocked Davos, tweeting in December 2022 : “My reason for declining the Davos invitation was not because I thought they were engaged in diabolical scheming, but because it sounded boring af lol.” Organizers for the World Economic Forum later said Musk was not among the invited.

But at the Weekend in 2022 Musk got personal. During a conversation with Carlyle Co-Chairman David Rubenstein as Musk’s acquisition of Twitter was pending, Musk said he lost 25 pounds, attendees recounted. He said—in a self-deprecating way—that topless photos of him on a yacht from the summer that circulated around the internet motivated him to lose weight, which he said he did through intermittent fasting.

“It’s craziest when you’re around people like this—there’s always another Champagne room, always another VIP level,” one attendee said, and quipped: “Even the CEO of Goldman Sachs isn’t treated like a VIP. That’s a third-tier guest.”

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