Bill Gross goes to Washington
Bill Gross, co-founder and co-CIO of PIMCO, is to my mind one of the shrewdest money men around. His monthly newsletter therefore always makes for thought-provoking reading.
The following are a few excerpts from the September report:
“I proposed a solution that recognized the necessity, not the desirability, of using government involvement, which would take the form of rolling Fannie Mae (FNMA), Freddie Mac (FHLMC), and other housing agencies into one giant agency – call it GNMA or the Government National Mortgage Association for lack of a more perfect acronym – and guaranteeing a majority of existing and future originations. Taxpayers would be protected through tight regulation, adequate down payments, and an insurance fund bolstered by a 50–75 basis point fee attached to each and every mortgage. Seemed commonsensical to me. After all, Fannie and Freddie had really blown up because of the private/public nature of their charter, which incentivized executives and stockholders to go for broke with the implicit understanding that Uncle Sam would be there as a backstop should anything go wrong.
“If you eliminated the private incentive and provided a tighter regulatory watchdog, we would have no more “liar loans” or “no docs” and a much sounder foundation for future homeowners and investors. The private market, to my mind, had really lost its claim as the most efficient and judicious arbiter in this particular case. Markets and private incentives without proper guardrails were as threatening to a sound economy in the 21st century as too much regulation and government ownership proved to be in the 1970s.
“My argument for the necessity of government backing was substantially based on this commonsensical, psychological, indeed sociological observation that the great housing debacle of 2007–2010+ would have a profound influence on homebuyers and mortgage lenders for decades to come. What did we learn from the Great Depression, for instance: Americans, for at least a generation or more, became savers – dominated by the insecurity of 20%+ unemployment rates and importance of a return of their money as opposed to a return on their money. It should be no different this time, even though the Great R. is a tempered version of the Great D. Americans now know that housing prices don’t always go up, and that they can in fact go down by 30–50% in a few short years. Because of this experience, private mortgage lenders will demand extraordinary down payments, impeccable credit histories, and significantly higher yields than what markets grew used to over the past several decades. Could an unbiased observer truly believe that housing starts of two million or even one million per year could be generated under the wing of the private market? In front of Treasury Secretary Geithner and the assembled audience, I said that was impractical. Let me amend that to “ludicrous.”
“Having grown accustomed to a housing market aided and abetted by Uncle Sam, the habit cannot be broken by going cold turkey into the camp of private lending. The cost would be enormous in terms of yields – 300–400 basis points higher than currently offered, crippling any hopes of a housing-led revival to the economy.”
Click here for the full article.
Gross also shared this message in the following CNBC interview:
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