Wall Street has always been big on big. Big money. Big cigars. Big cars. Big calls. Big, well, you know. But few are bigger than Morgan Stanley's
Barton M. Biggs
That was never truer than Dec. 16, when Biggs' call for a 10% to 30% correction in the market helped to erase early-session giddiness and send the
Dow Jones Industrial Average
from a gain of 50 to a loss of more than 36 points.
Big Mister Biggs has made his biggest noises recently as a bear. And not just on Dec. 16. For more than a year, he has called for a major correction at different times. Back on Oct. 17 he told
unequivocally: "Stocks will go down, not up." On that day the Dow was at 6101. Within five weeks the Dow had shot up to 6566, a gain of 8%.
One of the reasons that Biggs bears such scrutiny is that
has become one of the most important institutional firms on the Street. Its traders command billions, not only in capital, but through leveraged positions and heavy hedge-fund trading accounts. Thus, when a chin-scratcher like Biggs speaks, his voice is directly piped to a world of investor heavies.
And Biggs runs approximately $51 billion for
Morgan Stanley Asset Management
, which he built up from literally nothing in 1975. As a member of the operating and executive committee of Morgan Stanley, he has loads of juice at a firm that itself has loads of juice.
Today, he announced that his model portfolio was dumping equities, down from 74% to 56%. Bonds went from 32% to 29%. He now has 15% of his portfolio in cash.
In recent years, Biggs has become something of an emerging markets guru, touting many of the rapidly growing Asian markets. His closely followed written strategy pieces often touch on esoterica from the Gobi to the Azores.
Indeed, he's the
of the investment community, who virtually dragged the rest of the Street in search of riches in the emerging markets of East Asia in the late 1970s and '80s.
He accurately called the collapse of the Japanese market in 1990 and another turn back last year. Like everyone else he missed the collapse of the peso in 1994, but he's successfully milked profits out of Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. His lovefest with Russia puts Yeltsin and Lebed to shame. And now that the Indian market has been trashed, he loves that too. "It's really down and out, and discredited now," he told
in April. "The currency's been devalued, the stock market's going down -- so I think it's a great time to invest in India."
The knock on Biggs is that he's so drawn out in his world view, he can rarely be bothered to pick individual stocks and certainly not U.S. companies. When pressed, Biggs lists American depositary receipts.
profile this past spring, Biggs was recommending ADRs like Japan's
wouldn't return to its July 1995 heights in the mid-40s (split adjusted). Problem is, Biggs' gut check was horrible -- Microsoft is trading today at 76 3/4.
With mixed results from those picks, perhaps it's no surprise that he has an itchy trigger to get rid of stocks.
Quite often Biggs' calls fly in the face of his colleague Byron Wien, Morgan Stanley's chief U.S. strategist. These days, Wien is on the cautiously bullish side of the fence. With their constant public jibes, one can only imagine how they roil the Morgan conference rooms.
By Cory Johnson