Bill Gross, co-founder and co-CIO of PIMCO, is to my mind one of the shrewdest money men around. His monthly newsletter, this month entitled “Midnight Candles”, therefore always makes for thought-provoking reading.
He concludes the newsletter as follows:
Asset appreciation in US and other G-7 economies has been artificially elevated for years. In order to prevent prices sinking even lower than recent downtrends averaging 30% for stocks, homes, commercial real estate, and certain high yield bonds, central banks must keep policy rates historically low for an extended period of time. If policy rates are artificially low then bond investors should recognize that artificial buyers of notes and bonds (quantitative easing programs and Chinese currency fixing) have compressed almost all interest rates.
But while this may support asset prices - including Treasury paper across the front end and belly of the curve, at the same time it provides little reward in terms of future income. Investors, of course, notice this inevitable conclusion by referencing Treasury Bills at .15%, two-year Notes at less than 1%, and 10-year maturities at a paltry 3.40%. Absent deflationary momentum, this is all a Treasury investor can expect. What you see in the bond market is often what you get.
Broadening the concept to the U.S. bond market as a whole (mortgages + investment grade corporates), the total bond market yields only 3.5%. To get more than that, high yield, distressed mortgages, and stocks beckon the investor increasingly beguiled by hopes of a V-shaped recovery and ‘old normal’ market standards. Not likely, and the risks outweigh the rewards at this point.
Investors must recognize that if assets appreciate with nominal GDP, a 4-5% return is about all they can expect even with abnormally low policy rates. Rage, rage, against this conclusion if you wish, but the six-month rally in risk assets - while still continuously supported by Fed and Treasury policymakers - is likely at its pinnacle. Out, out, brief candle.”