Gross Says Growth Undershooting as Credit Creation Disappoints

Pacific Investment Management Co.’s Bill Gross, manager of the world’s biggest bond fund, said insufficient credit creation with economic growth of only about 2 percent jeopardizes the U.S. expansion.

“A credit-based financial economy, as opposed to pure cash, depends on an ever-expanding outstanding level of credit for its survival,” Gross wrote in his monthly investment outlook posted today on Newport Beach, California-based Pimco’s website. “Credit creation is essential for economic growth in a finance-based economy such as ours. Without it, growth stagnates or withers.”

If the credit growth is more than 4.5 percent a year, then private and public sectors must create about $2.5 trillion of new debt per year to pay for outstanding interest, Gross estimates. This failure to generate the required credit to fuel growth is keeping output since the recession capped, he said.

The biggest gain in U.S. business investment in over two years helped the world’s largest economy expand more than previously forecast in the second quarter. Gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced, rose at a 4.2 percent annualized rate, following a first-quarter contraction, Commerce Department data showed Aug. 28.

In July, the Federal Open Market Committee changed the language of its policy statement to highlight “significant underutilization of labor resources” as a justification for continued easy-money policies, even though the jobless rate has fallen faster than Fed officials had forecast. At 6.2 percent in July, unemployment was 1.1 percentage points below the level a year earlier.

Credit Velocity

The velocity, or turnover of credit, is also a factor and is related to the level of interest rates offered in the economy, Gross wrote. Low levels of rates on longer-term debt make holding short-term, near cash, securities more attractive.

“Today’s levels of interest rates and stock prices offer a historically unacceptable level of risk relative to return unless the policy rate is kept low -– now and in the future,” Gross wrote. “That is the basis for the New Neutral, Pimco’s assumption that the Fed funds rate peaks at 2 percent or less in 2017 versus others’ assumptions,” which forecast it will be much higher.

“Existing asset prices in the U.S., while artificially high and bond yields artificially low, may continue to be so unless the Fed oversteps its interest rate line,” Gross said.

Fed funds futures contracts show an over 50 percent chance the central bank will increase its benchmark to at least 0.5 percent in July 2015.

Fund Performance

The performance of the $222 billion Total Return Fund, returning 4.03 percent this year, puts it behind 57 percent of similarly managed funds, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Gross has 12 percent of the assets in the Total Return Fund invested in U.S. credit in July, his fourth-largest allocation. U.S. government and related securities was the largest at 45 percent, according to the data posted on Pimco’s website.

“Over the long term, however, economic growth depends on investment and a rejuvenation of capitalistic animal spirits –- a condition which currently does not exist,” Gross wrote in the note.

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