Who is Barton Biggs?

According to Wikipedia, Barton Michael Biggs (November 26, 1932 – July 14, 2012) was a money manager whose attention to emerging markets marked him as one of the world’s first and foremost global investment strategists, a position he held—after inventing it in 1985—at Morgan Stanley, where he worked as a partner for over 30 years. Following his retirement in 2003, he founded Traxis Partners,  a multi-billion dollar hedge fund, based in Greenwich, Connecticut.  He is best known for accurately predicting the dot.com bubble in the late 1990s.

At age 18, Barton Biggs was given a portfolio of 15 stocks worth about $150,000, but he showed little interest in finance and investing in his youth. He ended up choosing that career path after feeling left out from conversations between his father and younger brother, Jeremy, who worked at a pension fund. He took his father’s advice and read Security Analysis by Benjamin Graham and David Dodd, first published in 1934. He graduated from NYU Stern School of Business with distinction.

He “sealed his fame” as an investor when he correctly identified the dot-com bubble at a time the Dow Jones Industrial Average was posting annual gains that had averaged 25 percent from 1995 to 1999. In a July 1999 interview in Bloomberg Television, Barton Biggs called the U.S. stock market “the biggest bubble in the history of the world”, a view that was dismissed by the industry until March 2000, when the Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 78 percent.

Barton Biggs was the author of Hedgehogging, which 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 its “very brilliant and often eccentric and obsessive people”. He wrote about quirks of hedge fund culture; he noted that golf was very popular, perhaps due to its “measurable” nature similar to investing. “Or”, he wrote, “maybe it’s because hedge-fund guys are so competitive and have such massive egos”.

Barton Biggs was also author of the 2008 book Wealth, War and Wisdom.  He had 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. Biggs recommended that his readers should “assume the possibility of a breakdown of the civilized infrastructure”. He went 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 wrote. “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.”

In 2010, Barton Biggs published a novel about the stock market, A Hedge-Fund Tale.  In 2012, a final book, “Diary of a Hedgehog” was published posthumously on November 6.

One notable quote which superstar investor Warren Buffett attributed to the late  Barton Biggs is: “A bull market is like sex. It feels best just before it ends.” Warren Buffett was making the  point about the danger of a timid or beginning investor  entering  the market at a time of extreme exuberance and then becoming  disillusioned when paper losses occur (When Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger buy stocks…).