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Bill Gross says market risk is highest since before 2008 crisis

Specialist Anthony Matesic, left, and traders Richard Newman, second left, Gordon Charlop, third left, and Peter Tuchman work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, June 6.

Richard Drew/AP

U.S. markets are at their highest risk levels since before the 2008 financial crisis because investors are paying a high price for the chances they're taking, according to Bill Gross, manager of the $2-billion Janus Henderson Global Unconstrained Bond Fund.

"Instead of buying low and selling high, you're buying high and crossing your fingers," Mr. Gross, 73, said Wednesday at the Bloomberg Invest New York summit.

Central bank policies for low-and negative-interest rates are artificially driving up asset prices while creating little growth in the real economy and punishing individual savers, banks and insurance companies, according to Mr. Gross.

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The U.S. economy is expected to grow 2.2 per cent this year and 2.3 per cent in 2018, according to forecasts compiled by Bloomberg. Trump administration officials have said their policies will boost annual growth to 3 per cent.

Despite being concerned about high asset prices, Mr. Gross said he feels required to stay invested and sees value in some closed-end funds. Examples he gave are the Duff & Phelps Global Utility Income Fund and the Nuveen Preferred Income Opportunities Fund. He also said he has about 2 per cent to 3 per cent in exchange-traded funds to get yield and add diversification.

"They're appetizers, not entrees," he said in an interview outside the conference.

Mr. Gross's fund has returned 3.1 per cent in the year through June 6, outperforming 22 per cent of its Bloomberg peers. It has posted a total return of 5.4 per cent since Mr. Gross took over management in October 2014 after he was ousted from Pacific Investment Management Co.

"If there's a common factor it's the expansion of credit," Mr. Gross said on Bloomberg TV Wednesday. "And the credit that's being generated by central banks. Money is being pumped out into the system and money that is yielding less than nothing seeks a haven not only in bonds that are under-yielding but in stocks that are overpriced."

Mr. Gross said in the current environment "you basically tell your investors that it's a changed world, that returns are going to be lower and that if you want to sleep at night, to accept the market as it is. Low volatility requires low returns."

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Janus Capital Group and Henderson Group completed a merger May 30 to form Janus Henderson Group Plc, creating a global investment manager overseeing more than $330-billion. It seeks to use its combined size to compete with lower-fee rivals, such as Vanguard Group, at a time when costs are rising for compliance and technology.

Mr. Gross said the merger will help his fund since Henderson will add to asset growth.

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