As you may or may not be aware, Pacific Investment Management Co. founder Bill Gross has left the investment management firm that he founded over 40 years ago. In addition to his role as head of the well-known bond shop, Gross managed several mutual funds including Pimco Total Return (PTTRX) the largest bond fund in the world. Total Return is a staple for many investment advisers and is offered (in various share classes) in a large number of 401(k) plans, perhaps even in yours.
Here are six considerations for Pimco investors as you decide what to do going forward.
Don’t Make a Move Based on Media Hype
Gross’ departure for Janus Capital Group, Inc. (JNS) was the culmination of what has been the closest thing we may ever see to a reality T.V. show in the investment world. Perhaps not on a par with the Kardashians, but still pretty racy stuff for a stodgy investment manager like Pimco. (For more, see: Choose a Fund with a Winning Manager.)
The reality is that the firm’s flagship fund, Total Return, has been a relatively poor performer over the past several years and Gross was the fund’s manager. The fund ranked in the bottom quartile of its peer group in 2011 and year-to-date through Sept. 30 of this year. Additionally, the fund finished in the bottom half of its peer group in 2013 as well. Outflows from the fund and from Pimco overall have been well-documented over the past couple of years.
Outflows, poor performance, and Gross’ reported autocratic management style made this a perfect storm for Pimco’s parent Allianz SE (AZSEY) to let him go, which was reportedly supposed to occur the day after Gross announced his departure.
What investors should not forget is that Pimco is more than Bill Gross. The firm employs a lot of very talented fund managers and support staff; their bench is very deep. With Total Return in particular, and broadly with other Pimco funds, time will tell where the new fund managers and the new CIOs (chief investment officers) take things. While some investors and their advisors will decide this is a good time to make a switch, investors who stay the course may find themselves glad they exercised patience. (For more, see: What Bill Gross, Steve Jobs and Steve Wynn Have in Common.)
Your 401(k) has a Limited Number of Choices
Most 401(k) plans have a limited set of investment choices. Total Return or any other Pimco fund offered may be the only alternative in that asset class. Additionally, it will be up to the plan’s investment adviser and perhaps the plan’s investment committee as to whether Total Return would stay in the lineup or be replaced by another fund. (For more, see: Pick 401(k) Assets Like a Pro.)
If Total Return is a choice in your employer’s plan you will need to decide whether to stay the course or reinvest these dollars in another option. Perhaps there is a bond index fund or perhaps the plan includes a different type of bond fund or a stable value fund. If you make a change you will want to be sure that the new fund is in line with your desired asset allocation.
Understand the Impact of Outflows from the Funds
Whether a bond fund like Total Return or a stock fund, the impact of heavier-than-normal cash outflows from a mutual fund means that the managers need to have sufficient cash on hand to meet those outflows. Holding extra cash in reserve means that this money can’t be invested in the stocks or bonds that are the core strategy of the fund. Unless the market is heading down, the cash will serve as a drag on the fund’s performance.
Fears About Pimco's Closed-end Funds May be Overblown
Besides all of the publicity surrounding Total Return, Bill Gross managed several of Pimco’s closed-end funds. In addition, he had some $240 million of his own money invested in a number of Pimco’s closed-end funds as of Sept. 30. The fear is that he might sell all of his shares and cause a decline in the share prices of the impacted funds. The reality is that this would cause him harm as well and this seems unlikely. (For related reading, see: How's your Mutual Fund Really Doing?)
Are There Better Alternatives?
While this might seem obvious, make sure that if you do decide to sell your Pimco fund(s) that you’ve done your homework and that the new funds are truly a better alternative. Certainly, the changes at Pimco might be a valid reason for you to move out of Total Return or other Pimco holdings, but doing so just because of the media hype or because others are doing so is a poor reason to make a fund change. Analyze your alternatives and if making a switch is the right decision for you do so because you feel that you are truly moving to a better alternative.
Weigh the Costs of Making a Change
Depending on a number of factors, including the fund share class you hold and which custodian you are using, there may be transaction costs involved in selling your Pimco mutual fund. If you sell one of their closed-end funds the transaction costs will be the same as if you were to sell an ETF or an individual stock.
Capital gains taxes can be a factor as well if your Pimco holdings are in a taxable account. Check with your financial or tax advisor as to the potential amount of these capital gains and as to the type of capital gains (short or long-term). (For related reading, see: Why the Best Financial Advisor Might be you.)
Note that none of the costs above apply to holdings within your 401(k) account.
The Bottom Line
Anytime an actively managed mutual fund goes through a manager change this is a red flag that should cause investors to review the fund and whether or not they should stay invested in that fund. In the case of Bill Gross and his well-publicized departure from Pimco, the questions for investors go beyond just evaluating a mutual fund or two, but rather include looking at what will be likely be a whole new culture at Pimco. In my opinion, investors should refrain from making knee-jerk, emotional decisions and rather look at the pros and cons of moving out of their Pimco holdings. (For more, see: Your Mutual Fund: It's Risker Than You Think.)