On Wednesday, I posted a chart of US Treasury Yields asking the question Yield Curve: Where To From Here? Extreme Complacency in Face of Bernanke Shift.
Today's focus is on municipal bonds, but first let's take a look at a chart from the above link.
Treasury Yield Curve
click on chart for sharper image
Since 1971, Gross, 68, has deftly steered PIMCO, the Newport Beach, Calif., investment firm that he cofounded and where he is currently co-chief investment officer, overseeing some $1.8 trillion in assets. He manages PIMCO Total Return Fund, the world's largest mutual fund and a stalwart of the fixed-income world that has returned more than 7.3 percent annually over the past 15 years, helping to earn Gross the unofficial title of "bond king." Gross recently spoke with U.S. News about what he sees as a "new normal" for the markets and for investors. Edited excerpts:
What have you done that has accounted for the Total Return Fund's impressive and continued success?
To be fair, the near double-digit returns are a function of falling interest rates more than anything else. It's sort of like a teeter-totter; when interest rates go down, prices go up. So the Total Return Fund, [just] as all bond funds, has done well in part because interest rates have gone down, down, down. We've also outperformed the [investment-grade bond] market by close to 2 percentage points a year. Individual strategies in terms of trading hopefully account for the track record. That leads, I guess, to another question: Can those returns be duplicated going forward?
I imagine that's on a lot of investors' minds. What should they expect?
You start with the obvious: The Federal Reserve has lowered short rates to close to zero. The investment-grade bond market, which includes treasuries and corporates and mortgages, all in one big pot, yields 1¾ percent. It's hard to manufacture near double-digit returns from that. It's the metaphorical concept of squeezing juice out of an orange; almost all of the juice has been extracted, so to speak.
So investors looking for a repeat of historical performance are bound to be disappointed, and that's why I wrote several months ago—which caused a ruckus in the market—about the [dying] cult of equity. It was the same thing with the cult of bonds, the "cult" meaning that there was a belief that historical returns could be projected into the future. They can't. They can't for bonds and they can't for stocks either, in my opinion.
What's your economic forecast for the months and year ahead?
An investor probably has to look forward to higher inflation. Slower growth and higher inflation—that's not a positive, by any means. Individuals would want it to be just the reverse. The de-levering and the check-writing on the part of central banks, that's really what produces the situation.
Are you worried about debt in the United States and Europe?
Slow growth and inflation have a tendency to accompany large deficits and increasing debt as a percentage of GDP. Unless we begin to reverse that course, we could resemble Greece within a decade.