Bill Gross: Here's What a Successful Money Manager Will Have to do in the Next 35 Years

Lever up!

Pimco’s Gross Puts $4.4 Million Own Money Muni Bond Rebound

Bill Gross, co-chief investment officer of Pacific Investment Management Co.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Bill Gross - fixed-income fund manager and lover of cats - is calling the end of the bull market “supercycle” for both stocks and bonds in his latest investment outlook for Janus Capital Group.

Central banks' attempt to cure a debt crisis with more debt doesn’t have much further to run, which will end a rally that’s lasted three and a half decades, the 71-year-old manager said.

Naturally, the prospect of both bonds and stocks running out of steam creates something of a dilemma for fund managers who are paid to invest in things.

On that note, Gross put in his two cents as to what it will take for a portfolio manager to be successful over the next 35 years. In short, managers may have to get used to the occasional negative returns and - shock, horror! - even lower fees.

But what should this rational investor do? Breathe deeply as the noose is tightened at the top of the gallows? Well no, asset prices may be past 70 in “market years”, but savoring the remaining choices in terms of reward/risk remains essential. Yet if yields are too low, credit spreads too tight, and P/E ratios too high, what portfolio or set of ideas can lead to a restful, unconscious evening ‘twixt 9 and 5 AM? That is where an unconstrained portfolio and an unconstrained mindset comes in handy. 35 years of an asset bull market tends to ingrain a certain way of doing things in almost all asset managers. Since capital gains have dominated historical returns, investment managers tend to focus on areas where capital gains seem most probable. They fail to consider that mildly levered income as opposed to capital gains will likely be the favored risk/reward alternative. They forget that Sharpe/information ratios which have long served as the report card for an investor’s alpha generating skills were partially just a function of asset bull markets. Active asset managers as well, conveniently forget that their (my) industry has failed to reduce fees as a percentage of assets which have multiplied by at least a factor of 20 since 1981. They believe therefore, that they and their industry deserve to be 20 times richer because of their skill or better yet, their introduction of confusing and sometimes destructive quantitative technologies and derivatives that led to Lehman and the Great Recession.

Hogwash. This is all ending. The successful portfolio manager for the next 35 years will be one that refocuses on the possibility of periodic negative annual returns and miniscule Sharpe ratios and who employs defensive choices that can be mildly levered to exceed cash returns, if only by 300 to 400 basis points. My recent view of a German Bund short is one such example. At 0%, the cost of carry is just that, and the inevitable return to 1 or 2% yields becomes a high probability, which will lead to a 15% “capital gain” over an uncertain period of time. I wish to still be active in say 2020 to see how this ends. As it is, in 2015, I merely have a sense of an ending, a secular bull market ending with a whimper, not a bang. But if so, like death, only the timing is in doubt. Because of this sense, however, I have unrest, increasingly a great unrest. You should as well.

Head over here to read Gross's entire investment outlook.

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