PIMCO founder and co-CIO Bill Gross spoke with Bloomberg Television’s Margaret Brennan today, telling Bloomberg TV that the Fed will likely shift focus to mortgage securities to keep borrowing rates low when Operation Twist ends in June.
Link of video does not play: Bill Gross on Pimco ETF Ticker Change, Bonds, Fed
On Gross’s view that we may see a sign from Bernanke in April that QE3 will be rolled out:
“I think [Chairman Bernanke] is very satisfied…I think the Fed is outcomes-oriented. They want an outcome in terms of a higher stock market, in terms of housing starts and lower unemployment. What [Bernanke] said on Monday, in terms of the employment, he suggested that up until now, we’ve done very well in terms of reducing unemployment but it’ll be tougher going forward if only because of structural impediments that he outlined. Going forward, he’s looking at jobs, at unemployment and the housing markets. You know, future QEs will the outcome-oriented type of strategy which seeks to provide jobs and provide higher housing prices and housing starts to continue on.”
On the tool that Gross thinks the Fed might deploy in April:
“I have a sense that they’ll continue with the Operation Twist, but not necessarily in terms of buying longer-term bonds and selling shorter dated Treasuries. I think that’s basically been played out and the pension market itself in terms of liability structure has been damaged to some extent by lower 30-year yields. I think [Bernanke] will try to do is Twist in the mortgage market. Basically, buy current coupon mortgages in agency spaces and then basically Twist by repo-ing out the Treasuries that they currently own in short-term space. So, you know, a twist on another Twist I suppose, going forward.”
On the ticker change for PIMCO’s new ETF (to BOND):
“It is easy to recognize. I told my wife about it last night and in the middle of the night she started saying something about James. I hope she was referring to the ETF but you get the point… It’s more easily recognizable. In this business you want to go with a ticker and a sticker that people can recognize and pass on to their neighbors.”
On Gross’s warnings to investors about management fees:
“We’ve noted that for a long time. This is simply a cautionary element that suggests that when interest rates come down close to zero and when the discounting of those interest rates and equity prices and other financial assets produce a perspective of 4-5% total return for the combined asset class is in our view, then it’s incumbent upon a manager to keep expenses low and to alert investors as to the importance of expenses relative to lower returns in this new financial world that we speak to.”
On investor appetite for PIMCO’s new ETF:
“We wanted to be able to give investors a choice. We recognized the tremendous importance of the retail distribution network for PIMCO and for the Total Return Fund, which is now $253 billion. Thank you very much, we don’t to discourage that. But there are investors in the $10,000-$20,000 category, who find it difficult to buy PIMCO Total Return. We thought this would be a good way to do this in the actively managed ETF space. By the way, we’re outperforming the market in the first month or so by a good 200 basis points.”
On PIMCO’s appetite for Treasuries:
“We have an average appetite in terms of duration space. And to the extent that five-year Treasuries, which are being issued today and seven-year Treasuries tomorrow – they reflect a relatively firm commitment on the part of PIMCO, which reflects a relatively firm commitment on the part of the Fed that they’ll keep interest rates firm until late 2014. Bernanke mentioned yesterday that that wasn’t a commitment in total but it’s subject to a relatively slow economy and contained inflation, which is what we see now. A five-year security at slightly above 1%, to our way of thinking, as it rolls down the yield curve and becomes a four-year, produces close to a 2% return and is that a super, deeper attractive type of return? Well it’s up to history. No, it’s not….but it’s certainly better than nothing.”
“We have reduced our Treasury commitment slightly. From the standpoint of duration, we have average duration of an average maturity across the board but we have been reducing Treasuries and investing in shorter duration corporates and rather heavily in the agency mortgage market. You can get, with a Fanny or a Freddie coupon that is a 4% coupon, you can realize 3% as opposed to the 2% or 1% – I mentioned in terms of five-year space. We’re really focusing on spread and the lack of volatility going forward for the next two to three years which is really the domain of 30-year and 15-year mortgages.”
On finding investing opportunities in developing countries:
“Where is that attractive growth? Countries like Brazil, countries in Asia, China-related of course. These countries don’t come without risk. They don’t come without a rather volatile situation in terms of inflation or potential currency disorder. If an equity investor is looking for growth, you want to go developing as opposed to developed. Even a bond investor, if you are looking for higher real rates such as in Brazil, you want to go to developing as opposed to developed.”
On buying hedges against fat tail possibilities:
“What we’re suggesting now is not an extremely negative possibility. That would be the fat left tail. But also the fat right tail, we’ve had a fat right tail in equity markets for the past 3-6 months…On the left-hand side, you know, the bi-model possibility in terms of a downturn are simply a reflection of the high degree of leverage, the high degree of debt and the policy coordination which may or may not be helpful in terms of producing this smooth, rather bell-shaped mode or median we’re all used to.”
No Real-World Point to Mortgage Twist
Note that Bill Gross’ call on QE3 is not what he thinks the Fed should do, rather his take on what the Fed will do.
Mortgage-rate table from Bloomberg.
30-year mortgages are below 4% and 15-year fixed mortgage rates are near 3%. Other than goosing financial markets that are already back to nose-bleed level (if not outright bubble territory), there is no real-world point to an “Operation Twist” for mortgages.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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