Bill Gross Warns Investors: ‘Get Down Off This Peak’

The Janus Funds manager says today’s winning portfolio will be ‘defensive’ and ‘mildly levered to exceed cash returns’

The bond manager’s certitude about this stems from his knowledge that “all other financial asset prices are inextricably linked to global yields which discount future cash flows.

“Look at it this way,” he continues. “If 3 trillion dollars of negatively yielding Euroland bonds are used as the basis for discounting future earnings streams, then how much higher can Euroland (Japanese, UK, U.S.) P/E’s go? Once an investor has discounted all future cash flows at 0% nominal and perhaps (–2%) real, the only way to climb up a yet undiscovered Everest is for earnings growth to accelerate above historical norms.”

But that cannot happen because of the global economy’s growth-stunting structural problems such as aging demographics, high debt-to-GDP ratios and technological displacement of labor.

What that means is that “credit-based oxygen is running out” on the Everest-like asset-price peak that Gross urges investors to climb down.

“A rational investor must indeed have a sense of an ending,” Gross lugubriously intones.

Bill Gross is warning investors that the Treasury’s retreat from credit creation will slow down GDP and limit P/E ratios,…

All that said, the Janus manager proposes his own unconstrained approach to bond investing as a solution for acrophobic investors in search of peaceful sleep “’twixt 9 and 5 a.m.”

At current asset price peaks, Gross says the capital-gains approach that delivered investor returns over the past 35 years needs to be replaced with one that seeks “mildly levered income,” citing as an example his recent call on German bunds, which he called the “short of a lifetime.”

“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,” Gross writes.

Thus, a winning portfolio manager in the next 35 years “will be one that refocuses on the possibility of periodic negative annual returns and minuscule Sharpe ratios and who employs defensive choices that can be mildly levered to exceed cash returns, if only by 300 to 400 basis points,” he writes.

The fund manager also pointedly criticized his peers for the fees they charge:

“Active asset managers…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,” he writes.

Janus Funds is unique in employing a performance-fee based system that rewards management when shareholders do well while falling amid periods of underperformance.