Bill Gross: Great traders adapt to changing market epochs

Man in the Mirror

My point is this: PIMCO’s epoch, Berkshire Hathaway’s epoch, Peter Lynch’s epoch, all occurred or have occurred within an epoch of credit expansion – a period where those that reached for carry, that sold volatility, that tilted toward yield and more credit risk, or that were sheltered either structurally or reputationally from withdrawals and delevering (Buffett) that clipped competitors at just the wrong time – succeeded. Yet all of these epochs were perhaps just that – epochs. What if an epoch changes? What if perpetual credit expansion and its fertilization of asset prices and returns are substantially altered? What if zero-bound interest rates define the end of a total return epoch that began in the 1970s, accelerated in 1981 and has come to a mathematical dead-end for bonds in 2012/2013 and commonsensically for other conjoined asset classes as well? What if a future epoch favors lower than index carry or continual bouts of 2008 Lehmanesque volatility, or encompasses a period of global geopolitical confrontation with a quest for scarce and scarcer resources such as oil, water, or simply food as suggested by Jeremy Grantham? What if the effects of global “climate change or perhaps aging demographics,” substantially alter the rather fertile petri dish of capitalistic expansion and endorsement? What if quantitative easing policies eventually collapse instead of elevate asset prices? What if there is a future that demands that an investor – a seemingly great investor – change course, or at least learn new tricks? Ah, now, that would be a test of greatness: The ability to adapt to a new epoch. The problem with the Buffetts, the Fusses, the Granthams, the Marks, the Dalios, the Gabellis, the Coopermans, and the Grosses of the world is that they’ll likely never find out. Epochs can and likely will outlast them. But then one never knows what time has in store for each of us, or what any of us will do in the spans of time.

What I do know, is that, like Michael Jackson sang in his brilliant, but all too short lifetime, I am and will continue to look at the man in the mirror. PIMCO, Gross, El-Erian? – yes, we’re lookin’ good – in this epoch. If there’s a different one coming though, to make our and your world a better place, we might need to look in the mirror and make a Chaaaaaaaange … Depends on what we see, I suppose. We will keep you informed.

Man in the Mirror Speed Read

  1. Investors should be judged on their ability to adapt to different epochs, not cycles. An epoch may be 40-50 years in time, perhaps longer.
  2. Bill Miller may in fact be a great investor, but he’ll need 5 or 6 more straight “heads” in a future epoch to confirm it. Peter Lynch is a “party pooper.” Warren is the Oracle, but if an epoch changes will he and others like him be around to adapt to it?
  3. No matter how self-indulgent you think this IO is, if you just looked in the mirror and saw at least a 7, you must be blind!
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