Richard Fisher, a Federal Reserve official, called billionaire investor Bill Gross an “oddball” at a 2006 meeting -- then asked to have the remark withheld from a transcript that was released today by the Fed.
“I’ve known Gross for 20 years, and I know he’s an oddball,” Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said at the Oct. 24-25, 2006 meeting. “Actually, I’d like that word struck from the record.”
Fisher was worried that investors weren’t taking the central bank’s inflation-fighting resolve seriously. One example of his concern, expressed at the Federal Open Market Committee meeting, was a comment by Gross that inflation was “leveling off at admittedly unacceptable levels.” Gross runs the world’s biggest bond fund at Pacific Investment Management Co.
Gross predicted in his September 2006 “Investment Outlook” report that the Fed had finished raising interest rates and would have to start cutting them again “at some point” in 2007.
In comments e-mailed today by a spokesman, Gross said “I’m sure he was joking” and noted that Fisher’s brother Mike was Pimco’s first president in 1972. “If he’s anything like Mike, he’s a fine man with a great sense of humor,” Gross said.
Fisher cited the report to back up his argument that the Fed needed to “issue a statement that makes it clear that we’re mindful of and remain vigilant about inflationary risk.”
The Fed had halted a two-year campaign of raising interest rates in August 2006 after detecting growing weakness in the housing market. The U.S. central bank would lower its benchmark rate by half-a-percentage point to 4.75 percent in September 2007.
“We have to be very mindful, Mr. Chairman, about perception if we’re to influence what really counts, which is inflationary expectations,” Fisher said, addressing Ben S. Bernanke, the Fed chairman. “One need look no further than this morning’s Financial Times editorial or Bill Gross’s recent client letter.”
Michael Moskow, who was president of the Chicago Fed at the time, asked Fisher what word he would like to substitute for “oddball” in the transcript.
“He’s increasingly addled, but his words do carry weight,” Fisher replied. “The transcripts of these meetings will be released as we approach the centennial, and I think we have to make very clear that this FOMC, like previous ones, is extremely vigilant with regard to the greatest threat to our society, which is inflation -- at least to our economic society.”
James Hoard, a spokesman for the Dallas Fed, declined to comment.
Gross, who correctly predicted home prices would decline, is known for his colorful monthly investment outlook pieces. In June 2007, Gross said that Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s were duped by the make-up and “six-inch hooker heels” of collateralized debt obligations they gave investment-grade ratings, and that investors stood to lose all their money.
Gross is a yoga enthusiast who has credited his meditation sessions with clearing his head and helping him absorb unexpected news, such as a Fed half-point interest rate cut in January 2001. The news caught him in the middle of a “sun salutation,” which softened the blow, he said at the time.
Fisher is also known for being outspoken. He’s called the nation’s budget shortfalls a “fiscal sinkhole,” and said the U.S. has suffered from “Lindsay Lohan Congresses” because lawmakers have been addicted to debt and spending.
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