Bill Gross is Bullish On Municipal Bonds (Bearish On Treasuries)

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(FYI – We list BOND’s five largest municipal holdings at the end of this article. New Yorkers, you’re in luck)


PIMCO Lowers Exposure To Treasuries

(September 2012) At the end of July, PIMCO’s Total Return Bond Fund had 33% of its portfolio invested in US Treasures.  However, at the end of August, the number had dropped to 21%.  Why did Bill Gross sell off his treasuries?  I think the answer lies in a tweet which he made on August 24, 2012:

The 10 year Treasury at the the time was trading at 1.68%, very similar to the current yields on treasuries.  Bill Gross is essentially calling current levels for treasury yields a market bottom. Some commentators have called Bill Gross “gutsy” for making this call, because he was wrong the last time he made a similar bearish treasury call.  As a result his fund underperformed in 2011.


Municipal Holdings Are Growing In The PIMCO Total Return Fund and Are Major Focus of The Bond ETF

The natural question is where is Bill Gross putting the money that he has taken out Treasuries. The PIMCO Total Return Fund (mutual fund) has slowly been increasing its holdings in municipal bonds. (learn more about municipal bonds here) Municipal bonds currently make up 5% of the PIMCO Total Return Fund’s assets.  However, the ETF version of the mutual fund, which is both smaller and nimbler than its parent, has 9% of its assets in municipal bonds.  As its harder to build up a large position in municipal bonds than treasuries or MBS without moving prices (the typical municipal bond issue is much smaller and trades less frequently), its very logical that the ETF would be able to deploy a greater percentage of its assets to municipals. (This is one reason Learn Bonds favors the ETF over Pimco Total Return Fund.)


The Assets Under Estimate The Size Of Bill Gross’ Muni Bet

While municipal bonds are 9% of the ETFs assets, they make up 21% of fund’s duration. You can think of duration as a measure of the price sensitivity of to interest rates.  In the case of PIMCO, the fund has a duration of 4.8 years. However, the municipal bond holdings have a duration of over 10 years. Should interest rates move, the impact on the value municipal bond part of the portfolio would be twice as big as the portfolio as whole. (you can learn more about duration here)


What does Bill Gross have to say about the Municipal Bonds?

PIMCO continues to see value in high quality municipal bonds and we retain our preference for essential service  revenue bonds such as water and sewer, power, and airports.

– From Gross’s Monthly Commentary August 2012


Top 5 Municipal Bond Issues Held By BOND

Name Of Bond % of BOND’s Portfolio As Of 8/31/2012 State Of Issuer CUSIP #
NYC TRANS FIN-E-1 1.26% NY 64971QTQ6
FL BRD OF EDU-REF-D 0.54% FL 34153PT32
NY DORM INC TAX-A 0.46% NY 64990EDF1

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Marc Prosser

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