Oct 17, 2010

Janet Tavakoli on how Bill Gross's Pimco Total Return Fund benefitted from Fed intervention in 2008

On July 15, 2008, ex - Goldman Sachs banker and then Treasury Secretary Henry ( “ Hank ” ) Paulson asked Congress for the authority to buy stakes in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Paulson asserted: “ If you have a bazooka in your pocket, and people know you have a bazooka, you may never have to take it out. ” In my experience, boasting about a big bazooka just tempts the curious to see how you measure up in exciting circumstances, and the person to do that might be named Mr. Gross. Bill Gross manages the Pimco Total Return Fund, the world’s largest bond fund with large exposures to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (and AIG along with a number of investment banks as of September 2008). Gross is a fan of Fed intervention, and his investments reflected it. His fund reportedly gained $1.7 billion after the U.S. government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Sept 7, 2008.


Bill Gross’s Pimco Total Return Fund had sold $760 million of default guarantees (as credit default swaps) on AIG, and it would have cost him if AIG went under. 22 Mr. Gross might have thought he had a good idea of how the Fed would behave. Pimco had hired Alan Greenspan as a consultant. I was not surprised when Bill Gross said the Fed intervention was a “ necessary step. ”


Pimco ’ s Bill Gross found there is a limit to the Fed’s largesse, and his Lehman investment lost money. In March, Bear Stearns, the fifth largest investment bank, was deemed too big to fail, but the Fed refused to help Lehman, the fourth largest investment bank. As Jim Rogers predicted, larger investment banks than Bear Stearns had problems, and the Fed had other problems besides investment banks — Fannie, Freddie, and AIG. Pimco’s investments were only partially protected by the Fed. The Total Return Fund’s return slumped, and it will be interesting to see if Gross ends up a net winner or a net loser as the market struggles for balance.

~ Janet M. Tavakoli, Dear Mr. Buffett: What An Investor Learns 1,269 Miles From Wall Street, Chapter 10

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