Over at TPM, we noted earlier today the news that the Federal Reserve has hired four investment firms -- BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, PIMCO and Wellington Management Company -- to manage its mortgage-backed securities purchase program, in which it will buy up $500 billion worth of mortgage bonds, in an effort to boost the housing market.
It'd be nice to know more about why all of these companies were selected, and how much they're being paid -- and we've put those questions to the Fed. But for a number of reasons, one of the four firms, bond giant PIMCO, stands out as a particularly interesting choice.
As of June 30th, 61 percent of PIMCO's holdings -- $500 billion -- were in the very mortgage backed securities that it's now being hired by the Fed to buy back on behalf of US taxpayers, according to a September Bloomberg report that cited data on PIMCO's own website.
That could explain why, as financial blogger Rolfe Winkler pointed out earlier today, PIMCO chief Bill Gross was sounding the alarm in early September about the disastrous fate that would befall the US economy unless the government started buying up troubled mortgage assets.
In a September 4 post on PIMCO's website, Gross warned:
If we are to prevent a continuing asset and debt liquidation of near historic proportions, we will require policies that open up the balance sheet of the U.S. Treasury.
Within days, the Treasury had done what Gross was asking. In other words, as Peter Cohan, a professor of management at Babson College, put it at the time in a post on Bloggingstocks.com:
Bill Gross, who manages $830 billion, has convinced the U.S. Treasury to use your taxpayer dollars to bail him out of his bad investments.
And Gross seems to have had his eye on the endgame for a while here too. Later that month, he argued in a Washington Post oped that a broader bailout -- what became the TARP -- was also desperately needed, and he seemed to suggest that his own PIMCO would be a perfect candidate to manage the funds.
He wrote (via nexis):
Calls for appropriate oversight of this auction process are more than justified. There are disinterested firms, some not even based on Wall Street, with the expertise to evaluate these complicated pools of mortgages and other assets to assure taxpayers that their money is being wisely invested. (itals ours)
PIMCO, or the Pacific Investment Management Company, is based in Newport Beach, California.
In an interview shortly afterwards with CNBC's Erin Burnett, Gross presented his willingness to take on that job as a patriotic stand, pledging that PIMCO would work for no fee, "if everybody else worked on the same basis." (It's around the 4:25 mark).
And now the Fed has given him what's essentially the same job.
Will Gross stand by his pledge to work for free? We've called PIMCO to ask, and will keep you posted on what we found out. But given how Gross has made out so far, we're not holding our breath.