Bill Gross Explains How To Escape A Sinking Ship

Tyler Durden's picture

It is unclear if the florid analogy in Bill Gross' latest monthly letter, namely a "sinking ship" or at least a seaborne vessel on the verge of being one, is suppoed to represent the US economy, the bond market, or the Fed, but whatever it is, Bill, who is in the business of making money when bonds go up and vice versa and who nearly sank a ship while a naval officer, appears confident no ship is sinking. Yet. "The U.S. economy is not sinking, nor are the majority of global economies. Their markets just had too much risk, and in PIMCO’s opinion, too much hope for a constant QE and for the growth that it would produce. In effect, the ship was top heavy with too little ballast."

Sure it is, but while it inspired many a monthly letter bashing the Fed's ruinous policies not for Gross but for the 99%, it led to a record Total Return Fund AUM and record fees. What Bill is more confused, and even angry by, by is the dramatic bear flattening in the bond curve which was the most dramatic move in the past few weeks: not so much the move in equities, not the shift in credit spreads, not the vol in FX. Why is he surprised: because not even he had any idea to what extent everyone else was also frontrunning the Fed on a very levered basis. Which is why the TSY curve belly exploded as it did, wiping out billions in P&L form Gross and many comparable bond managers. Next comes the raging into the void by PMs who did not foresee precisely what they were warning about...

As for the economy, or bond market, or whatever, maybe not sinking, but certainly taking on water as Bill admits when he tell Bernanke's "cyclically oriented Fed" that "structural headwinds – demographic, globalization, and technology influences – that have had and will continue to have dampening effects on domestic and global growth."

However, what is lost on Bill is that as we explained yesterday, the Fed is far more concerned with collateral extraction as per the TBAC. Which means the upcoming Tapering episode will come, but following yet another very violent market reaction (has anyone seen what is going on in MBS?), it will immediatley unleash the UNtaper, and even more QE, and with it wipe out any pretense that eligible "quality" collateral (or lack thereof) matters when the S&P goes back into triple digit territory.

Because if the merest hint of just a slowdown in monetization leads to this... "Without the presence of a “Bernanke Put” or the promise of a continuing program of QE check writing, investors found the lifeboats dysfunctional. They could only sell to themselves and almost all of them had too much risk. A band somewhere on the upper deck began to play “Nearer, My God, to Thee.”... Imagine what would happen in 2014 or 2015 when the market suddenly finds itself facing a grim cravasse in which some 1000 S&P Fed-injected points are about to be "priced-out."

That said, whle Gross' piece brings up many questions, it certainly answers one: on whose side the Newport Beach bond manager is: "PIMCO, and the bond market have sailed some rough seas over the past few years. So has Chairman Bernanke. We’re all in thisi one together it seems."

Well, if one excludes some 99% of America's, and the world's, population Gross is absolutely correct...

* * *

From PIMCO's Bill Gross:

July Outlook: The Tipping Point

I’ve spun a few yarns in recent years about my days as a naval officer; not, thank goodness, tales told by dead men, but certainly echoes from the depths of Davy Jones’ Locker. A few years ago I wrote about the time that our ship (on my watch) was almost cut in half by an auto-piloted tanker at midnight, but never have I divulged the day that the USS Diachenko came within one degree of heeling over during a typhoon in the South China Sea. “Engage emergency ballast,” the Captain roared at yours truly – the one and only chief engineer. Little did he know that Ensign Gross had slept through his classes at Philadelphia’s damage control school and had no idea what he was talking about. I could hardly find the oil dipstick on my car back in San Diego, let alone conceive of emergency ballast procedures in 50 foot seas. And so…the ship rolled to starboard, the ship rolled to port, the ship heeled at the extreme to 36 degrees (within 1 degree, as I later read in the ship’s manual, of the ultimate tipping point). One hundred sailors at risk, because of one twenty-three-year-old mechanically challenged officer, and a Captain who should have known better than to trust him.

We survived, and a year later I exited – the Diachenko and the Navy for good – theirs and mine. I think I heard a sigh of relief as I saluted the Captain for the last time, but in memory of those nearly tragic moments, let me reprint an article posted on wikiHow, outlining exactly how to go about abandoning ship should you ever venture into the South China Sea or anywhere close to Davy’s infamous locker. The article is a bona fide and serious attempt to instruct would be passengers in a Titanic-like disaster. I found it, however, as comical as yours truly pretending to be a chief engineer in 1969. Judge for yourself…

wikiHow: the how to manual you can edit

How to Escape a Sinking Ship

The Basics: Before Setting Sail

1. Understand the mechanics of a sinking ship. Water usually enters the lowest point of a ship first, the bilge area.

2. As more and more water enters the ship, it will start to heel significantly. From this point on, sinking will occur quickly. Abandon ship.

If Sinking is Imminent

1. Think about your sense of etiquette. What will you do if push comes to shove?

2. If you’re in charge of the sinking ship learn how to send a Mayday. Read “How to call Mayday from a marine vessel” on the attached internet link.

3. Stay calm and don’t panic.

4. If you see someone with fear, yell at them.

5. While still on deck, watch for catapulting objects coming your way. Large items can kill you.

Abandoning Ship

6. Find a lifeboat. The best scenario is to enter a lifeboat without getting wet.

7. If jumping off the ship, always look first.

8. If you survive, be ready for the reality that others may have perished. Seek counseling.

Counseling indeed! If only I knew then what I know now: wikiHow, not experience or damage control school, is the best teacher. So, should bond investors abandon ship? And who to believe? The captain of the Fed, the co-captains of the USS PIMCO, or just trust your instincts? Well there is no wikiHow moment to guide you in this case, although it’s true that yours truly, PIMCO, and the bond market have sailed some rough seas over the past few years. So has Chairman Bernanke. We’re all in this one together it seems.

Immediate analysis of the past 6 weeks’ market action would argue that in late April, both the Fed and PIMCO observed that bond markets were approaching a tipping point. Yields were too low, prices too high, both for investors’ and the economy’s own good. The Fed’s Jeremy Stein had written a research paper outlining the risk. I, in fact, had written a March Investment Outlook outlining Governor Stein’s paper, and to be fair, PIMCO had been warning of high seas for what seems like an eternity. “Never,” I tweeted, “have investors reached so high for so little return. Never have investors stooped so low for so much risk.” True enough, history will likely record.

It will also record however, that the risk was not only in narrow credit spreads and emerging market debt/equity markets but at the heart of the credit system itself: U.S. Treasuries. What supposedly old salts like yours truly didn’t suspect was that all bonds, and yes, equities too were at risk of heeling over based upon a rather perfect storm, one that forecasters everywhere found difficult to fathom.

The forecast for bad weather as I’ve mentioned was becoming more rational with every increase in asset prices. If all markets were being artificially supported as PIMCO claimed and the Fed confirmed, then someday, someday that support via quantitative easing would have to be withdrawn. But the dark clouds seemed to be far off on the horizon. Investors worldwide piled on the leverage – not just in high yield or equity space – but in Treasuries as well. If the Fed (and BOJ) were going to keep writing checks at one trillion per year, then these two central banks alone might be buying 70-80% of all developed market future supply. The fear was that there might not be enough for others, not that there was too much leverage.

Well, that started to change with the May 22nd taper talk and, of course, with the Fed’s June 19th statement and Chairman Bernanke’s press conference. In trying to be specific about which conditions would prompt a tapering of QE, the Fed tilted overrisked investors to one side of an overloaded and overlevered boat. Everyone was looking for lifeboats on the starboard side of the ship, and selling begat more selling, even in Treasuries. While the Fed’s move may ultimately be better understood or even praised, it no doubt induced market panic. Without the presence of a “Bernanke Put” or the promise of a continuing program of QE check writing, investors found the lifeboats dysfunctional. They could only sell to themselves and almost all of them had too much risk. A band somewhere on the upper deck began to play “Nearer, My God, to Thee.”

Well I go too far in my sinking ship metaphor, but you get the point, I hope. The U.S. economy is not sinking, nor are the majority of global economies. Their markets just had too much risk, and in PIMCO’s opinion, too much hope for a constant QE and for the growth that it would produce. In effect, the ship was top heavy with too little ballast. Guess I should have known, huh?

Well where does the ship go from here? Should you as a bond investor jump overboard and risk the cold money market Atlantic Ocean at near zero degrees? We don’t think so – and not because we want to keep you on board – we just don’t think so. Why not?

1) The Fed’s forecast of the economy which prompted tapering panic is far too optimistic. If 7% unemployment is tapering’s final port of call, we simply think that we’re much further away than the Fed’s compass would suggest. We argue for structural headwinds – demographic, globalization, and technology influences – that have had and will continue to have dampening effects on domestic and global growth. The Fed, we would argue, is too cyclically oriented, focusing substantially on housing prices and car sales. And speaking of housing, since mortgage rates have risen by 1½% in the last six months and the average monthly check for a new home buyer is up by 20–25% as well, then as I tweeted several weeks ago, “Mr. Chairman are you serious?” Growth will be negatively influenced.

2) Inflation, according to the Fed’s own statistics is running close to a 1% pace. The Fed has told us that they “target,” “ target” 2% and for the next 1–2 years are willing to accept even 2½% until they reverse engines. Fed Governor Bullard of the St. Louis Fed was in our opinion correct where he dissented from the majority decision several weeks ago, citing the distant shores of 2%+ inflation and the seeming inability to even move in that direction.

3) Yields have adjusted by too much. While T.V. and the press focus on 10-year Treasuries at 2.55% as their guiding star, subjective stabs by yours truly or anyone else are difficult day to day. The technicals, as Mohamed has written, can dominate while the fundamentals are flushed to second page priorities. When analyzing the fundamentals though, I like to point to a “North Star” that is as permanent as possible within the context of current market instability. Tapering aside, if the Fed has consistently informed the market that its policy rate – Fed Funds at 25 basis points – will stay there for a substantial period of time even after the end of QE, then to my eye, Fed Funds will not increase until at least mid-2015 and even then subject to a consistently strong economy that produces 2%+ inflation. I wonder if we can get there in this decade to tell you the truth. But the beauty of this North Star Fed Funds sextant is that it can be rather directly observed in futures markets, either for Fed Funds or for Eurodollars, which are a close companion. Right now, Fed Funds futures markets are predicting a 75 basis point yield in 2015, and Eurodollars validating a similar conclusion. That would suggest a mispricing, despite the obvious caveat of professional observers that some of the 75 is a surcharge for potential volatility. In any case, if frontend curves are up to 50 basis points cheap, then intermediate curves – the 10-year Treasury – may be as much as 35 basis points too cheap. They belong in our opinion at 2.20% instead of 2.55%.

So there you have it, fellow passengers and paying clients. Don’t jump ship now. We may have reached an inflection point of low Treasury, mortgage and corporate yields in late April, but this is overdone. Will there be smooth sailing tomorrow? “Red sky at night, sailors delight?” Hardly. Will you be able to replicate annualized returns in bonds and stocks for the past 20–30 years? Hardly. Expect 3–5% for both. But sailors, don’t panic. And like wikiHow suggests, if you see someone that’s afraid, “yell at them!” Yell, “This ship’s going to make it to port,” Fed, PIMCO, and PIMCO co-captains willing. Those icy Atlantic money market waters are likely to be with us for a long, long time. Have a cocktail, tell the band to stop playing dirges, because you’re gonna be just fine with PIMCO at the helm.

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Ignatius's picture

"Yeah, that's a great story, Bill, but just one question:  Do you own physical gold as savings?"


kito's picture

I do!! I do!!!!! ooo me!!!! Me!!!

Winston Churchill's picture

Not a terible sailor then ?

Make you unusual in these parts.

THX 1178's picture

Shameless plug for PIMCO/Bonds passed off as sincere analysis. YAWN. Next...

francis_sawyer's picture

Oh Billy Billy Billy... OooooH Billy Billy Billy... This is a biggie!


Big Slick's picture

so the takeaway message is that fortunately things are worse than the Fed thinks?


FL_Conservative's picture

No, the takeaway is that "we're all in this together so, by all means (dear Chairsatan), please keep up with the QE so I can keep hitting my fund return targets by front-running your treasury purchases and people think I'm a fucking genius".  Who gives a shit about what happens when the fucking titanic sinks?  As long as he makes his money in the meantime.  Fucking self-serving asshole.  I don't give 2 shits what that fucker thinks any more.

markmotive's picture

The sheer panic I keep hearing from investors about the bond market crash is enough to tell me this is overdone. Maybe Treasuries aren't a 'buy and hold' investment, but you might make a couple bucks going long for a while.

Bond King II, Jeff Gundlach of DoubleLine, says this is overdone:

espirit's picture

Article should have been named "How to Sink a Ship".

...peeps pay for this advice?

malikai's picture

What's Bill gonna buy when Benocide's heir owns the whole market?

Stock Tips Investment's picture

Bill Gross is a smart and clever Fund Manager. However, he is part of a market that has been manipulated for 36 years. What do you think can happen now that starts the way back? I would not be in the place of Bill Gross ... and less on-site customers.

PiratePawpaw's picture

based on his quotes from himself, he was an idiot.

Am I to believe he got over it?

THX 1178's picture

Bond markets's been rigged since 1913. Thats the Fed's job: control demand for bonds.

bank guy in Brussels's picture

From Doug Noland's latest, on Gross and his ilk:

« I don’t believe the market misunderstands the Fed as much as the Fed and market participants for years have misunderstood market risk.

The sophisticated market operators will now work to "distribute" risk to the less sophisticated ...  The "sophisticated" surely don’t want to be in a situation where they’re fighting the "unsophisticated" to the exits.

The vast majority of derivative market insurance written requires some degree of "dynamic" hedging – i.e. selling of instruments to generate sufficient cash flow to pay on market insurance contracts sold/written. »

In other words, a Ponzi

- Doug Noland, Credit Bubble Bulletin, Prudent Bear

deKevelioc's picture

Noland is a much more reliable than Gross is.  I'm sick of Gross, and I have been for a very long time.  He plays the participant, when, in fact, he is an in-the-loop piece of garbage.  Do you think for one damn minute that a guy who controls nearly a trillion of sovereign paper hasn't been privy to anything the Fed and ECB are up to?  He's a running joke, along with Soros; Gross just has a better personality and proper American accent.

Colonel Klink's picture

Everyone keeps spelling it wrong, it's PimPco!

crazyjsmith's picture

Gross did own Gold, but he apparently lost it in a bad boating accident.

CrashisOptimistic's picture

Gross owns things far superior to gold.

He is the pre-eminent collector of rare postage stamps in the world.

These can be placed in an envelope in his shirt pocket and walked onto an airplane (Mohammed would have the Gulfstream so he has to fly First Class commercial that day).  Stamps won't xray.  They are not monetary instruments and don't have to be reported for the $10,000 maximum transfer.

Gold would be seen in the most cursory xray.  Stamps aren't.

So off he goes to Singapore and his safety deposit box there.  The IRS requires reporting foreign bank accounts.  A safety deposit box is not one.

It is no coincidence that there are so many stamp dealers in Zurich.

malikai's picture

There are riots everwhere. Bernanke was killed by a group of teenagers looking for food. Obama is still alive but in hiding, rumored to be dead. Half his cabinet has either fled or been killed in varous attacks against government institutions. Yesterday, 50,000 police opened fire on 2 million protesters in DC, killing over 1000. The Army has been called in, but overseas quagmire, mass desertions, and widespread looting have crippled domestic forces.

And Bill's gonna count on his stamp collection?

mjcOH1's picture

Well....they're durable.   They're easily dividable.   They're universally recognized.   They have intrinsic utility.   They've been an accepted medium of exchange for thousands of years.   So, sure.



CrashisOptimistic's picture

Given your scenario, no one in his right mind would trade food for yellow metal.

Bill will count on his stamp collection to get money moved out of the US, and then with the local currency buy farmland.  When your scenario unfolds, he has the ultimate value item -- calories.

Yellow metal did nothing for him, or anyone else.  Its window of civilization level is very narrow.

FEDbuster's picture

"Yellow metal did nothing for him, or anyone else.  Its window of civilization level is very narrow."

In the book "The Road" when the bunker full of canned food, ammo and gold coins is found, guess which of the three items was left behind as useless?  Let's hope things don't get that bad

GMadScientist's picture

There are no $500 hookers; only $500 johns.

spine001's picture

Thanks for the tip, here is a tip back: Why did Bernanke talk about Taper? Jeremy Stein gave us the answer on January 2013 "Putting it all together, my reading of the evidence is that we are seeing a fairly significant pattern of reaching-for-yield behavior emerging in corporate credit. However, even if this conjecture is correct, and even if it does not bode well for the expected returns to junk bond and leveraged-loan investors, it need not follow that this risk-taking has ominous systemic implications." and "Indeed, in some cases, it may be that the only way to achieve a meaningfully macroprudential approach to financial stability is by allowing for some greater overlap in the goals of monetary policy and regulation."

Clear isn't it? They decided that they had to intervene now and test the waters. I have been saying this before, but was just guessing based on past behaviours I have observed, now I'm convinced that my previous assertion was right on target :)

espirit's picture

Taper Trash Talk was an induced correction that would not normally have occurred, to take PM's down and also feed the hedgies to keep them from starving to death.

Meh, overanalyizing the Matrix will drive you craaazzzy!!!!

Wile-E-Coyote's picture

You know with all these boating accidents I think I will invest in a submarine.

mt paul's picture

bullion stealing beavers ...

Divine Wind's picture




Excellent article.

Excellent analogy.

Bananamerican's picture

he's enriched himself on the backs of our diminished standards of living....that's just Gross

zerozulu's picture

We are now poor and no freedom either. wtf.

Salah's picture

He's talking about the Obama Administration.   Gonna be fun this Fall, when Saturn transits the Magic Negro's Natal Neptune, and the world sees he ain't wearing no spandex.

Landrew's picture

Race is not what is wrong with O'Bummer! You can make the comment without the racism and you would be stronger for it. Now you sound like a trailer park goof.

1. More secretive then NIXON!

2. Puppet of Robert Rubin!

3. In bed with big Pharma.

4. Best friend of banksters.

Do I need to keep going?

Leave the racists comments in your head, that makes for a better argument. 

Debt-Is-Not-Money's picture

The best (and quickest) way to leave a sinking ship is to follow the rats!

Rustysilver's picture


The probem is that rats have no safe place to go.

PiratePawpaw's picture

Never "misunderestimate" the rats.

Debt-Is-Not-Money's picture

RS- Great analogy on where to "invest" our retirement money, no?

SilverIsKing's picture

It should now be apparent to all why owning physical gold and silver is a must.

With all the market gyrations recently and bond yields moving higher, the shiny stuff just sits there disinterested in what's going on. Unaffected by all the bullshit. When things get much worse, and they will, the metals will still just sit there doing what they do best.

Pareto's picture

+1 ......the metals will just sit there doing what they do best......preserving value.

PiratePawpaw's picture

My rule of thumb has been to remove $ from the equation and compare commodities.

Historicly an ounce of gold is worth about 15 barrels of oil.

Historicly 1/10 ounce of silver is worth about a gallon of gas or a gallon of milk or a lb of hamburger.

Not perfect, I know; but a reasonable guideline.

That puts gold around 1450 and silver around 40.

Ill check again in 100yrs to see if the next 100 holds true to the last.

until then, I will buy metals when I can get them for less than the historical avg.

PiratePawpaw's picture

I also look at the ag/au ratio. historicly it has ranged from 8/1 to 35/1. 

50+/1 has only been a relatively recent phenomena.

I personnaly think 40/1 is reasonable.

Midasking's picture

The only way to win is not to play - Joshua 

If you like liberty you might like this

shovelhead's picture


Nah. Too many independent decisions to make that could go wrong.

High quality oppression is far more comforting. You can't make a mistake if you do what you're told.

But thanks for sharing.

kito's picture

Bill gross is a shit talking establishment pig....the minute the world goes to hell....and his investments plunge to the depths of center earth....he will be tweeting for everybody to remain calm....bonds are safe!!! Bonds are safe!! Duck you gross!!!!!

caimen garou's picture

that is what the establishment pigs are screaming now along with  msm shit talking heads,btfd! I sleep well at night knowng I'm out of the casino! I went to rehab and am at 100% recovered...out of debt!

resurger's picture


Fuck that piece of shit