Weil on Finance, P.M.: Bill Gross, the Fed and Cinnabon
Happy Friday afternoon, View fans. And now for your reading pleasure, more cool links on stuff about finance. Enjoy.
Pimco’s secret sauce for timing the bond market?
All I want in life is an unfair advantage, as former American International Group Inc. boss Hank Greenberg likes to say. Who could blame Bill Gross of Pimco for wanting one, too? Carrick Mollenkamp and Cezary Podkul of Reuters have a provocative story linking many of Pacific Investment Management Co.’s best-timed bond purchases with the firm’s close ties to the Federal Reserve. Pimco’s Total Return Fund made a killing buying mortgage bonds backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac after the Fed hired it in 2008 to help implement the central bank’s massive mortgage-bond purchases. “A Reuters review of more than 14,000 trades by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Pimco over the past five years shows that Pimco has consistently been on the money in anticipating the Fed's actions in the agency MBS market,” they wrote. The reporters pored over the fund’s holdings and concluded that Pimco likely benefited from “its size, the Fed's choice of an intervention program perfectly tailored for Pimco to exploit, and a close relationship with the Fed.” It’s all perfectly legal, as was hiring former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan as a Pimco consultant. Part of me says “Arggh.” Another says “Buy Pimco funds!” Nice work if you can get it.
Speaking of gamed markets...
Herb Greenberg at The Street has a column under the headline “What a Gamed Market.” He’s talking about stocks with “lordy don’t mess up now” prices such as Netflix, Tesla and Linkedin: “In this Greater Fool's Theory market, as I like to call it, beyond a Fed raid the only thing that matters with these momentum stocks (and remember we're talking stocks, not the companies) is the company itself coming out and saying things aren't what they appear to be -- at least not enough to support the momentum. With the next round of pre-year-end earnings reports just a few weeks off, plenty of these pedal-to-the-metal investors will surely be holding their breath.”
Washington isn’t bailing out Detroit no matter how much the White House might act like it’s trying to help
It’s more than a little odd that the federal government bailed out General Motors and Chrysler, but not the bankrupt city of Detroit. (I’m not saying Detroit should get a bailout, only pointing out the irony.) In any case, the New York Times has a story today by Jackie Calmes about how the White House is trying to help the city in dribs and drabs, given that Congress won’t act. This quote from White House economic adviser Gene Sperling looks like classic, old-school-lefty thinking: “It’s the largest city bankruptcy in the history of our country, on our watch, and we’ve got to do something.” (Something!) So if you live in a small city that files for bankruptcy, go ahead and presume it’s probably not getting any help.
In housing, which is more important: People or markets?
This article comes from reporter Jennifer Robison of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, who says the city is about to get another case of housing whiplash: “A mere three months after a new state law eased bank foreclosure requirements, yet another state law taking effect Tuesday layers on new rules. Observers on both sides of `The Homeowner’s Bill of Rights’ agree it will throw another kink into Nevada’s moribund foreclosure segment. The question is what’s more important: Protecting homeowners who are behind on payments or promoting speedy recovery of the state’s housing market?” She notes that foreclosures and short sales made up 56 percent of all closings statewide. In Las Vegas, 40,000 single-family homes sit empty. Yet the area has less than two months of home inventory available. The shortage “has helped distort the market, driving median prices up more than 30 percent year-over-year.”
You love the Classic Roll at Cinnabon, admit it
A mere 880 calories in every “swirly pillow of dough dripping with cinnamon, brown sugar, margarine, and cream-cheese frosting,” writes Duane Stanford. There’s a business story, too, or else it wouldn’t be in Bloomberg Businessweek. But the real pleasure here is the over-the-top foodie writing, like this: “The plastic knife cuts through an outside that’s mildly crusty before giving way to a softer middle. Frosting melts into the ridges of the bun, which sits in a brown puddle of excess. Take a bite and the buttery flavor bathes the edges of the tongue as the gritty sweetness of sugar and cinnamon washes over the tip.” OK, so this has nothing to do with finance. Who cares? Have a great weekend.
(Jonathan Weil is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)