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Gundlach: Low rates, stimulus have been 'a very deep punch bowl spiked pretty heavily with 100-proof liquor'

·Former Correspondent
·4 min read

Billionaire "Bond King" Jeffrey Gundlach says the stimulus and the Federal Reserve's low interest rates have "been a very deep punch bowl spiked pretty heavily with 100-proof liquor," and "once this party ends, the hangover is going to be in the form of a sharp drop in economic growth."

Gundlach, the founder and CEO of $137 billion DoubleLine Capital, explained that the economic picture in the U.S. is "very hard to divine" because of the government's intervention.

"It's like pushing on like a waterbed or something. As you push on the side of the waterbed, the other side goes up, and weird things happen, and you can't really compare it to a time period where you're not pushing on a waterbed," Gundlach told Yahoo Finance Live exclusively on Monday, adding that "it's very hard to discern what's going to happen."

The 61-year-old bond investor noted that the employment situation in the U.S. "is really fascinating, and it's kind of seminal to the screwed-up nature of the economy."

In the U.S., GDP has recovered from the depths of the pandemic and is essentially flat compared to the fourth quarter of 2019, and that's with 5.8 million fewer jobs compared to February 2020. Meanwhile, the latest JOLTS report showed job openings in the U.S. reaching 10.1 million.

"Everywhere you go, almost any profession you ask, they say they have a hard time getting workers. Well, no surprise. People are making more money or the same amount of money by not working, and the government continues to support that," he said.

Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive and chief investment officer of DoubleLine Capital,  speaks during the Sohn Investment Conference in New York May 4, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive and chief investment officer of DoubleLine Capital, speaks during the Sohn Investment Conference in New York May 4, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Gundlach argues that when the stimulus programs ultimately end or when the moratorium on evictions is lifted, "There's going to be tremendous economic disruption." On the eviction moratorium, when that ends, Gundlach believes there will be "all kinds of consequences," including rents going "way up."

"The officials have a tiger by the tail, and for now they are not getting clawed or mauled by the tiger. But if you let go of the tail of the tiger, you're going to very likely get mauled. And that's what's going to happen," Gundlach said.

The investor also highlighted that the rebound in GDP, which is 70% consumption, has been fueled by the stimulus.

"As this economy has rebounded back on a GDP basis, it's done so with tremendous increase in the trade deficit. Multiple percentage points of GDP have come from an increase in the trade deficit — that's not real GDP," Gundlach said.

He argued that consumption is "not really the economy," but instead, the economy is about production.

"And when you buy goods produced in Asia with stimulus money, it shows up as GDP, but it's really Asian GDP, it's consumption for the United States. So the economy isn't really that strong, as you point out, with 5 million fewer jobs. It shows up as correctly, mathematically, in the productivity equation, but it's really Chinese productivity," Gundlach said.

Elsewhere, Gundlach believes that one reason consumer sentiment recently cratered in the most recent reading "has to do with the fact that people are aware that maybe stimulus is getting a little shakier in terms of our ability to predictably rely if it's coming again."

The University of Michigan's preliminary reading on consumer sentiment for August fell 11 points to 70.2, the lowest level since the coronavirus pandemic began and one of the worst declines in the survey's more than 50-year history.

The bond investor also brought up the Misery Index, an economic indicator that's the sum of CPI and the unemployment rate, which is back in the double-digits. The U.S. Misery Index is currently at a level of 10.77, down from the prior month's 11.29 reading. 

"Maybe the consumers are feeling the inflation. I think people are starting to realize that inflation is out there. If you ask people what the big thing worrying you about the economy, overwhelmingly right now, what comes across is inflation because people see it at the gas pump, at the supermarket. As long as there's stimulus happening, I see food inflation as continuing," Gundlach said.

Julia La Roche is a Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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