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obsessive people

Barton Biggs

Barton M. Biggs, well-known in the investment world, runs Traxis Partners, a hedge fund based in New York City. He formerly held the title of "chief global strategist" for Morgan Stanley and was with that firm for 30 years.

Biggs has appeared numerous times on CNBC and was a member of the Barron's Roundtable.

His influence could be seen when, in 1996, some traders were surprised that India funds suddenly became popular. "Barton Biggs is there, having a look around," one trader said. "Do you need to know more?"

Biggs was named by Institutional Investor magazine to its "All-America Research Team" 10 times, and he was voted the top global strategist and first in global asset allocation from 1996 to 2000 by the magazine's "Investor Global Research Team" poll.

"He's the ultimate big-picture man," according to a piece at the Web site of Smart Money magazine. "As the global investment strategist for Morgan Stanley, Barton Biggs is without question the premier prognosticator on the international scene and a mover of markets from Argentina to Hong Kong. It wouldn't be a stretch to say Biggs wrote the book on emerging-market investing."

Correct Calls

  • He called the technology bubble and recession that declined a full year before it burst. (International Herald Tribune, 10/3/1998)

Mistakes

  • He said he was bullish on China just before the market went into a two-year slide.
  • He said he was bullish on Mexico shortly before the peso crashed in 1994.
  • Biggs did not see the rise in oil prices to nearly the level they came to by the summer of 2004.
  • He claimed, in May 2008, that the U.S. economy will grow in the second half of 2008, the Standard and Poor's 500 Index may climb to a record this summer and commodity prices will retreat as much as 30%. As of July 14th, 2008, the S&P closed at 1228.30 (down -0.903%). It's highest point was October, 2007 when it was around 1565. It's been steadily falling. Oil, per barrel, on July 14th, 2008; closed at $145.05 U.S.

Life

The son of a chief investment officer of Bank of New York, Biggs graduated from Yale University in 1955 (where he studied with Robert Penn Warren, the poet and novelist) was an English teacher at a prep school, played semiprofessional soccer and tried his hand at short-story writing. He joined E.F. Hutton in 1961, with a starting salary of $7,200 a year.

Biggs joined Morgan Stanley as a managing director and general partner in 1973. The firm's first research director, he established Morgan Stanley Investment Management in 1975.

He left Morgan Stanley in part, he said, because he found his job had evolved too much into managing people rather than formulating strategy.

Biggs likes the intellectual challenge of running a fund, said Madhav Dhar, Biggs' partner at Traxis, a global macro fund. "He lives and breathes this stuff," according to Dhar. "He always has, ever since I've known him."

Author

Biggs is the author of Hedgehogging, (320 pages; Wiley; 2006; ISBN 0-471-77191-0). The book came from a journal kept by the former creative writing major at Yale and chronicles some of the indignities of being in the hedge fund business as well as some of what Biggs calls "the very brilliant and often eccentric and obsessive people in this business."

In the book, he writes about some of the quirks of hedge fund culture: Golf, for instance, is very popular. Perhaps that's because the game, like investing, is minutely measurable, to the last stroke. "Or maybe it's because hedge-fund guys are so competitive and have such massive egos," he writes.

Biggs is also author of the 2008 book Wealth, War and Wisdom (358 pages; Wiley; January 2008; ISBN: 978-0-470-22307-9). In this book, Biggs has a gloomy outlook for the economic future, and suggests that investors take survivalist measures such as looking into "polar cities" as safe refuges for future survivors of global warming. In the book, Biggs recommends that his readers should “assume the possibility of a breakdown of the civilized infrastructure.” He goes so far as to recommend planning adaptation strategies now and setting up survival retreats: “Your safe haven must be self-sufficient and capable of growing some kind of food,” Mr. Biggs writes. “It should be well-stocked with seed, fertilizer, canned food, wine, medicine, clothes, etc. Think Swiss Family Robinson. Even in America and Europe there could be moments of riot and rebellion when law and order temporarily completely breaks down.”

Footnotes

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