Earlier today we were surprised when none other than uber central-planning skeptic, not to mention bond fund manager, Bill Gross threw in the towel and in his latest letter advocated the purchase of risk assets - and Bill Gross is the last person needing reminding that in a day and age when the 10 Year yields just barely over 2.5%, this means not bonds but stocks. The surprise, however, promptly disappeared when we realized that PIMCO is merely the latest entrant in the scramble for yield game following, with a substantial delay to all of its other "alternative" asset management peers, right into ground zero: European toxic debt.
WSJ reports that Pimco quietly has raised $5.5 billion to buy bank assets in the U.S. and Europe and has closed the fund to new investors, according to a person familiar with the fundraising. The Bank Recapitalization and Value Opportunities II fund, or Bravo II, is being led by deputy chief investment officer Dan Ivascyn and will target a range of unwanted assets on the balance sheets of banks, including residential and commercial real-estate assets.
In other words: toxic, non-performing debt, which is something Europe's bank certainly have a lot of. How much? Recall that it was the IMF itself which said in October of 2012 that European banks needs to sell $4.5 trillion in assets until 2014. Naturally, they are way behind schedule, which means vulture investors will have a buyer's market in setting the price as banks have crossed the desperation point in finding buyers.
But it's toxic debt? How are non-performing loans, on which the obligor has most likely defaulted several times over, a good investment under any price? Well, the hope here, of course, is that as those tens of millions of unemployed workers find their way back into the work force, that the debt will be "worked out" and that recoveries on the said debt will make the purchase at deep distressed levels profitable.
Investors are lining up to snap up the unwanted loan portfolios and real-estate assets. Many of the targets lie in Europe, where banks have been busy shrinking their balance sheets primarily to meet stricter capital requirements.
The good news is that PIMCO will not have difficult finding willing sellers of such debt:
Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that two of Italy's biggest banks, Intesa Sanpaolo and UniCredit were in talks with U.S. private-equity firm KKR regarding the sale of some of their restructured loans.
Commerzbank said in February that it had sold €710 million of Spanish commercial real-estate loans to investors. In the U.K. late last year, the Royal Bank of Scotland sold its first portfolio of U.K. commercial property assets to hedge fund Varde Partners, and in August, Spain's 'bad bank'—set up to house assets from the country's bailed out banks—sold its first real-estate assets to private equity group HIG.
Why is PIMCO doing this? Simple - following consecutive months of outflows, even the biggest bond manager in the world has finally "yielded" to the chase for yield, or as we described it last May - FOMO, aka Fear of Missing Out.
Pimco's new Chief Executive Douglas Hodge told Financial News last month that he wants to broaden the firm's equity expertise, including backing the hiring of teams by equity chief Virginie Maisonneuve. The firm offers products in derivatives, multi-asset, real estate, private equity, real return and emerging markets, but is still 90% exposed to fixed income
So as PIMCO too joins the great flood of one time skeptics who dare not look at themselves in the mirror and are willing to blindly follow the herd, one wonders: just how much more incremental dollars are out there left to chase assets that others are already selling. Because readers certainly remember that while algos, retail and momo speculators, not to mention TV pundit that invest with monopoly money, are rushing into the parabolic blow off top phase of the market, the smart money can't wait to get out, and its advice as of last August was simple: "sell now."
They can now also count PIMCO among the FOMO buyers.