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Jeff Gundlach’s Two Cents on Janet Yellen and Interest Rates

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Gundlach doesn’t believe interest rates are rising any time soon.

Even as Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen was testifying before Congress, fixed-income maven Jeffrey Gundlach, the CEO and chief investment officer of DoubleLine, offered the Delivering Alpha 2015 audience his off-the-cuff interpretation. As always, Gundlach was unbuttoned and provocative, waving off the conventional wisdom that Yellen had definitively said that the Fed would raise interest rates this year. “I don’t think so,” he said. “Nothing new is coming out of the Fed.” Gundlach repeated what he has said in the recent past: that Yellen continues to speak in the conditional, emphasizing that if the economy improves, the central bank would act. And if that doesn’t occur, then the Fed will wait.

And that’s the rub. Gundlach is not convinced that the economy is growing quickly enough to justify a rate rise from the Fed. Again, he dismissed the common use of real GDP as a measure of growth. Instead, he argued that nominal GDP was far more useful, had generally been flat over the past three years — and that current estimates from the central bank were quite low. Gundlach also pointed out that the inflation estimate was “squishy,” with the Fed’s metrics differing from a number of other sources.

That doesn’t mean, he added, that the Fed won’t raise rates this year if the data improves. “The Fed wants to get off zero,” he said, particularly if a recession does occur and the central bank needs some flexibility to lower rates — a position Gundlach said he understands. But even if the Fed does move, it’s unlikely to be a significant one given the Fed’s view of economic growth.

Gundlach also applied a line from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises to interest-rate rises: “How did you go bankrupt? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

Gundlach added that he has been investing heavily in dollar-denominated emerging-market debt and high yield. The emerging-market debt will be fine, he said, unless the dollar strengthens further. And the high, he admitted, could be a problem in three years but for now was still relatively safe.

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