PIMCO Investors: Time to Reassess, Not Panic

Gross' departure will have definite repercussions at PIMCO, but the depth of the firm's research capabilities means investors can take some time to assess how Gross' exit will impact the firm before making an investment decision, says Morningstar's Michael Herbst.

Jeremy Glaser 29.09.2014
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Jeremy Glaser: For Morningstar, I'm Jeremy Glaser. It was announced this morning that Bill Gross unexpectedly will be leaving PIMCO and joining Janus. I'm here with Michael Herbst, our director of manager research for active strategies in North America, for his first take on this news.

Michael, thanks for joining me.

Michael Herbst: Happy to be here.

Glaser: Let's start with the timing of this announcement. Was Gross' departure expected or did this really catch people off-guard?

Herbst: His departure was expected at some point, but not at this time and not in this fashion.

Our understanding is that his departure was a surprise to people at PIMCO as well. We expect to hear from PIMCO over the next day regarding who will be the next CIO of PIMCO and also as they announce the reassignment of Bill Gross' portfolio management responsibilities.

Glaser: It's obviously very early, but what's your initial take on what's going to happen to PIMCO now? With Bill Gross walking out, are they losing all their intellectual firepower?

Herbst: One of the first things that comes to mind is, this is not a one-man show. So the intellectual firepower at PIMCO did not just leave the building. On each PIMCO strategy there is a named PM-1 and a named PM-2. On any strategy where Bill Gross was the portfolio manager, his replacements have already stepped up to the plate. There is tremendous research depth and talent here across multiple sectors that few firms in the fixed-income world can match. As far as we can tell initially, most of that talent is still in place.

A third thing to remember in terms of stability for PIMCO funds, as Gross does leave the building, is that in the wake of Mohamed El-Erian's departure in January, the firm actually did name six deputy CIOs ultimately to prepare for succession planning--obviously not in this fashion. If you look at that group of people, you've got people like Mark Kiesel, Dan Ivascyn, Mihir Worah, Andrew Balls, Scott Mather. Each of these folks is backed by teams of tremendous depth on the research side and on the trading side.

We would caution investors: Even while the headline news is pretty glaring at this point, there is still a fair degree of stability behind the PIMCO funds, even if Gross is not necessarily a named manager on them.

Glaser: Even if you don't expect a lot of turmoil in the short term, this is certainly going to have huge ramifications. What are some of the impacts you're going to be looking for over the next couple of weeks?

Herbst: There will clearly be formal ramifications to this--reassignment of responsibilities, how the investment committee works. The investment committee at PIMCO is the one that set a lot of the top-down thinking for the positioning for the PIMCO funds. We'll be watching to see how that plays out. Obviously, we'll be watching for any other personnel changes, formal reassignments of his responsibilities.

There will also be informal repercussions that will likely take longer to play out. What I mean here is this: Gross was the leader at PIMCO. When you have a leader of his stature and his tenure who put such a stamp on a firm leave, inevitably there's a level of chaos that ensues. How this plays out at PIMCO in terms of who stays, who goes, who may join him at Janus--those are some of the main things that we'll be watching in coming weeks.

Glaser: So in light of this, what are we doing with our Analyst Ratings on the PIMCO funds?

Herbst: We've put all of our Analyst-Rated PIMCO funds under review. This is 50 strategies globally. The main reasons that we've done so… obviously, the impact is greatest for funds where Gross was the lead manager. But quickly trying to assess his replacements and how this affects the investment committee are two areas that we're looking at first and foremost, and we'll also be homing in on potential areas or potential risks that might coincide with some of those informal ramifications that I have mentioned.

Glaser: With all the funds going under review, if you're a current PIMCO shareholder, what should you do right now? Is this a time to think about selling out, or should you wait for more information?

Herbst: In our view, this is not a time to panic. Like I said, the research depth that remains intact ensures the stability for the funds in the short term. That said, it will be foolish to say that Gross' departure will not have an effect on PIMCO as a firm. It will. Nobody knows exactly what that impact will be yet, but we will reassess our ratings, and we will reassess our views on PIMCO funds as events at the firm unfold.

So, in the short term, this is a good time to catch your breath. We don't see it as a reason to sell out of PIMCO funds immediately, and we'll be moving quickly to reassess our ratings and analyses on the funds, and most likely it's happening already.

Glaser: Michael, I certainly appreciate your early take and look forward to getting more information as it comes.

Herbst: My pleasure.

Glaser: For Morningstar, I'm Jeremy Glaser. Thanks for watching.

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Jeremy Glaser  Jeremy Glaser is the Markets Editor for Morningstar.com.

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