Pimco’s Gross Eliminates Government Debt From Total Return Fund

By Susanne Walker - Mar 9, 2011 11:09 AM PT
BLOOMBERG

Bill Gross, who runs the world’s biggest bond fund at Pacific Investment Management Co., eliminated government-related debt from his flagship fund last month as the U.S. projected record budget deficits.

Pimco’s $237 billion Total Return Fund last held zero government-related debt in January 2009. Gross had cut the holdings to 12 percent of assets in January, according to the Newport Beach, California-based company’s website. The fund’s net cash-and-equivalent position surged from 5 percent to 23 percent in February, the highest since May 2008.

Yields on Treasuries may be too low to sustain demand for U.S. government debt as the Federal Reserve approaches the end of its second round of quantitative easing, Gross wrote in a monthly investment outlook posted on Pimco’s website on March 2. Gross mentioned that Pimco may be a buyer of Treasuries if yields rise to attractive levels.

Treasury yields are about 150 basis points too low when viewed on a historical context and when compared with expected nominal gross domestic product growth of 5 percent, he wrote in the commentary. The Fed is scheduled to complete purchases of $600 billion of Treasuries in June.

Gross in his February commentary urged investors to reduce holdings of Treasuries and U.K. gilts and buy higher-returning securities such as debt from emerging-market nations. “Old- fashioned gilts and Treasury bonds may need to be ‘exorcised’ from model portfolios and replaced with more attractive alternatives both from a risk and a reward standpoint,” Gross wrote.

Emerging-Market Debt

Gross last month increased holdings of emerging-market debt to 10 percent, the highest since October, from 9 percent in January. He cut holdings of mortgage securities to 34 percent from 42 percent in January.

The Zero Hedge website first reported the change in assets today. Pimco doesn’t comment on changes in holdings.

Treasuries returned 5.9 percent in 2010, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch Indexes. The securities lost 0.6 percent so far this year.

Ten-year Treasury yields have risen for each of the past six months, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, the longest run since June 2006, as the economy showed signs of improvement and prices of commodities climbed.

The 10-year yield fell six basis points to 3.48 percent today.

Gross kept the holdings of non-U.S. developed debt at 5 percent in February.

Inflation Outlook

Gross’ fund has returned 7.23 percent in the past year, beating 85 percent of its peers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It gained 1.39 percent over the past month.

As the Fed maintains its target rate at a record low range of zero to 0.25 percent and has made an increase in inflation a cornerstone of its monetary policy, Gross noted that inflation may be a bigger factor than many suggest.

Gains in so-called headline inflation matter more for the U.S. economy than Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke suggests and rising oil prices may cut U.S. gross domestic product by a quarter to half a percentage point, Gross said March 4 in a radio interview on “Bloomberg Surveillance” with Tom Keene.

“Bernanke tends to think this doesn’t matter -- at least in terms of headline versus the core -- we do,” Gross said.

Pimco’s U.S. government-related debt category can include conventional and inflation-linked Treasuries, agency debt, interest-rate derivatives, Treasury futures and options and bank debt backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., according to the company’s website. The fund can have a so-called negative position by using derivatives, futures or by shorting.

Derivatives are financial obligations whose value is derived from an underlying asset. Futures are agreements to buy or sell assets at a later specific price and date. Shorting is borrowing and selling an asset in anticipation of making a profit by buying it back after its price has fallen.

Pimco, a unit of the Munich-based insurer Allianz SE, managed $1.24 trillion of assets as of December.

To contact the reporter on this story: Susanne Walker in New York at swalker33@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dave Liedtka at dliedtka@bloomberg.net

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