Through the second half of 2011, debate raged in financial markets over whether the U.S. Federal Reserve would embark on a third round of massive bond purchases, known as "quantitative easing," to shore up an anemic economy. Pacific Investment Management Co wasn't waiting to find out.
The giant fund-management firm, led by co-founder Bill Gross, started buying tens of billions of dollars in mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by federally sponsored agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In the third quarter of 2011 alone, Pimco's flagship Total Return Fund, the world's largest mutual fund, doubled its holdings of these securities to $80 billion, according to a Reuters review of trading and other data.
While Pimco was building its hoard, the Fed, in a surprise move long before any word on quantitative easing, said it would start buying more of the same kind of debt, known in the trade as "agency MBS." The U.S. central bank would acquire as much as $30 billion of the securities a month by reinvesting proceeds from its earlier purchases. Prices rose.
As 2011 slid into 2012, Pimco started enjoying big gains on its agency holdings. Even better, the Fed in September 2012 finally announced a third round of quantitative easing, nicknamed QE3. To keep supporting the U.S. housing market, it would buy even more agency MBS. Pimco's Total Return Fund posted billions more dollars in gains.
Pimco's winning bet unfolded like this:
* In December 2008, the Fed hired Pimco, along with three other big Wall Street firms, to implement enormous purchases of agency MBS to keep interest rates low and spur the U.S. economy.
* Over the next few years, Pimco repeatedly invested heavily in those same securities - far more than other big investors, even considering its size.
* Pimco's mortgage plays in 2009 and 2012 - when Fed buying was heavy - handed the firm and investors in the Total Return Fund a gain of $10 billion, excluding net investment flows, according to Reuters estimates.
There is no evidence of illegality or impropriety in Pimco's actions. Pimco says that it kept its employees who were helping the Fed at arm's length from those investing for its funds, and that its bond-buying bet was conceived before the Fed's program was begun. The Fed says it implemented and enforced strict controls over the trading done by the firms....MUCH MORE