Gross Says to Buy Utilities

Bond guru Bill Gross of PIMCO is finding value in at least one area of the stock market: utilities.

In his monthly investment commentary on PIMCO’s web site, Gross talks extensively about the sub-1% money market yields that investors are faced with amid the Federal Reserve’s low-interest-rate push. While that might have been acceptable during the financial crisis last year, the stabilizing economy and resurgent asset prices have meant many investors “are suddenly waking up to the opportunity cost of 0% cash versus appreciated assets at renewed double-digit annual rates,” Gross says.

What to do? Gross reiterates his belief that we’re entering a “new normal” of lower growth and lower returns, because of deleveraging, increased government involvement, and other factors. “As banks, auto companies and other corporate models become more regulated and therefore more like utilities and less like Boardwalk and Park Place, they will return less,” he says. “I figure, why not just buy utilities if that’s what the future American capitalistic model is likely to resemble.”

Gross notes that utilities are only about halfway between their ’07 peak and ’08 lows, and says their earnings growth should mimic that of the U.S. economy, as it traditionally has. “Most importantly,” he says, “they yield 5-6% not .01%! In a low growth environment, it seems to me that a company’s stock should yield more than its less risky debt, and many utilities provide just that opportunity. Utilities and even quasi-utility telecommunication companies now yield between 5 and 6%, whereas their 10- and 30-year bonds yield less and at a higher tax rate to you the investor.”

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