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Bill Gross: Calling all zebras…

Forget about bulls and bears. Bulls are virtually extinct in this sorry-looking market anyway. What you need to look out for are zebras and lions. More specifically, any zebra in its right mind should watch out for preying lions around the next corner. 

This is Bill Gross of Pimco's latest thesis on the role of hedge funds in the corporate bond markets. In short, hedge funds (the lions) prey on companies weakened by bad news (a herd's weakest and slowest zebras) by shorting their bonds. By targeting the "vulnerable Baa zebras" they may force the rating agencies, anxious to look more proactive post-Enron, to downgrade these companies to junk because of their widening spreads, prompting a further sell-off and, one way or another, allowing the lions to profit.

It's hard to see why in their business hedge funds should take pity on the weakest zebras among us or what the victims could possibly do about it anyway. But Gross does conclude that in these volatile, irrational times, investing for the short term in weak corporate targets should be avoided. "The task is not to whine or complain but to find healthy zebras with sound body and stalwart character and survive to manage money another day."

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