Bill Gross is relying on derivatives rather than Janet Yellen to raise his returns on government bonds.
The co-founder of Pacific Investment Management Co. sold most of the $48 billion of U.S. Treasuries held by his $221.6 billion PIMCO Total Return Fund in the second quarter, replacing them with about $45 billion of futures, according to an August filing. The contracts require small up-front payments, freeing up money for Gross to invest in higher-yielding securities including Brazilian, Spanish and Italian debt.
“They are taking the cash and buying all these peripheral bonds that have a lot of spread on them relative to Treasuries,” said Erik Schiller, a Newark, New Jersey-based senior money manager at Prudential Fixed Income, referring to bonds issued by European countries other than France and Germany. “It is levering their fund.”
PIMCO in May said that interest rates in the U.S. will remain lower than they had been before the financial crisis, as the economy enters a “new neutral” characterized by global growth converging toward lower, more stable speeds. The Newport Beach, California-based firm is recommending that clients consider strategies implemented with futures, options and swaps to lift subpar returns.
Agnes Crane, a spokeswoman for Newport Beach, California-based PIMCO, had no immediate comment on the fund changes.
PIMCO Total Return trailed 57% of peers this year through Sept. 15, with a return of 3.3%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Gross’s main vehicle ranked as the world’s largest mutual fund, with $293 billion in assets, before clients started defecting in May 2013 after the U.S. Federal Reserve signaled it would phase out its bond-buying program, sparking 16 straight months of net redemptions through August.
Gross, the 70-year-old billionaire who co-founded PIMCO in 1971 and became its sole chief investment officer after the resignation of Mohamed El-Erian in January, has been taking steps to improve returns. In May, he said in a Bloomberg Television interview that PIMCO would again rank among the leading firms by the end of 2014.
PIMCO disclosed in a Sept. 12 regulatory filing that it was changing the investment restrictions for 38 mutual funds, including Total Return, in a way that enhances their ability to carry out the derivative strategy employed by Gross on a broader scale.
Asked about the fund’s Treasuries strategy during a Bloomberg Television interview last week, Gross said the firm has been using futures in lieu of cash bonds for decades, in part because they’re easier to trade in large quantities without moving markets.
He said the proceeds from the sale of the government bonds can be reinvested in short-term corporate debt that yields 30 to 40 basis points more than lending out cash Treasury bonds through “repos,” or repurchase agreements. A basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.
“What it basically means is that PIMCO can turn a Treasury yield into a corporate yield with a Treasury quality and Treasury liquidity,” Gross said in the TV interview. “We like financial futures and it’s been one of the reasons why PIMCO has done so well for 20 or 30 years.”
PIMCO Total Return disclosed selling most of its nominal government bonds in an Aug. 29 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, while reporting that its holdings of Treasury Inflation Protected Securities rose to $31.4 billion on June 30 from $29.5 billion on March 31. The face value of futures on 5-, 10- and 30-year Treasuries more than tripled to $63 billion.