Historically, Bill Gross is always capable of surprises. As the longtime Bond King during his days as head of the Pimco Total Return fund, he pioneered big—and often contrarian—plays with fixed income that few saw coming.
He is retiring from active management (he will run his own money) as a fund manager at Janus, where he retreated after a falling out with Pimco. So Gross let fly with a couple of revelations: He has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, and has reversed his Republican leanings to embrace higher taxes and large federal deficits.
These admissions, made in an interview with Bloomberg Television, add more color to the off-beat, ever-engrossing Gross saga. At Pimco, Gross was known for his daily yoga, for wearing an un-tied tie, and for padding about the trading floor in his stocking feet. He also was known for uncanny prescience, like the time he shorted Argentinean bonds because he expected a financial crisis there, which when it happened, sent the nation’s paper into a price swoon. And then there was his short fuse.
Gross, 74, said his Asperger’s condition was one reason he was a successful investor and also why sometimes he would annoy others and had a quick temper. Those with this disorder often have trouble communicating well with people but an ability to be very focused. He said he suspected he had the condition after reading Michael Lewis’ book, The Big Short, which featured an investor who had it. He went to a psychiatrist, who confirmed that Gross indeed had Asperger’s.
“It’s allowed me to stay at 30,000 feet as opposed to being on the ground,” Gross said of his condition, explaining his belief that Asperger’s likely made him a better investor, if also infamously short-tempered. “That’s not necessarily good in terms of one-to-one,” he said. “People think you’re angry or an a-hole or whatever. But it helps you to focus on the longer-term things without getting mixed up in the details.”
On the economic front, his 180 is no less surprising from this one-time staunch critic of deficit spending and the Federal Reserve’s easy-money policy, twin stimuluses used to combat the Great Recession. In 2012, he foresaw “an age of inflation” ahead, in part due to such policies.
Now, he said, the executive branch and the Fed can and should work together to rev up an ailing economy. “Why can’t the government have a $2 trillion deficit if the Fed is simply going to buy it, like they do in Japan?” Gross asked. He noted that many sages, like newsletter editor James Grant, predicted inflation as a result—and were wrong.
He described himself as increasingly liberal and even called for higher taxes on the wealthy, although he termed some liberal plans for a 70% federal tax rate as “too high.”
Regarding his investment philosophy for his $500 million family office, he said he would manage the money “conservatively.”