Pimco executives: 'The firm is moving forward'

Pimco executives sought to chart their way back into the market's good graces after the high-profile departure of the firm's founder, telling CNBC that a still-formidable roster of talent and an aggressive focus on equities would assure future success.

CEO Douglas Hodge and new CIO Daniel Ivascyn both said Tuesday the Newport Beach, California-based bond giant would use more of a team-based approach rather than rely on the high profile of Bill Gross, who left Pimco on Friday in a move that virtually no one outside the firm saw coming.

"It's not a triumvirate, it's a team approach," Hodge said in an exclusive interview. "We are evolving Pimco ... from a founder-led approach to a team environment. So we work together."

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Gross left after months of bad headlines that coincided with investors pulling about $80 billion from the flagship Total Return Fund, the largest bond fund in the world that still boasts $221 billion in assets. Multiple sources said that had Gross not resigned, he would have been fired.

Douglas Hodge of PIMCO
Peter Foley | Getty Images
Douglas Hodge of PIMCO

As part of a careful but aggressive public relations campaign amid a swirl of headlines, the Pimco officials walked a narrow line in addressing the Gross departure. They refused to criticize the man who opened the shop 43 years ago, but stressed that the future was the focus, free of Gross' shadow.

"Bill has made enormous contributions to Pimco over the years and in fact has made enormous contributions to our industry. We wish him luck," Hodge said. "The firm is moving forward. We are enthusiastic, we're optimistic, our clients are standing with us, the firm is on the move, and we're ready to go."

In addition to losing CIO Gross, the firm also saw the exit of former CEO Mohamed El-Erian, who departed this year after apparently feuding with Gross. The longtime confidantes had made Pimco part of the gold standard for fixed income investing before it made a wrong-way bet on U.S. government bonds and began to lag its peers in performance.

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They also became the very public faces of Pimco, appearing often in the media and offering widely followed opinions on the financial markets.

How high a profile the firm's leaders will take now remains to be seen, but it's clear through remarks from Hodge and Ivascyn as well as a series of reports the company has issued that the emphasis will be on performance.

"We communicated to the outside world through a couple of individuals, but we have more portfolio managers on our roster than ever before," Ivascyn said. "I believe my role ultimately at the end of the day is to create an environment that allows good decision-making."

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"I've been spending a lot of time particularly over the weekend reaching out not only to the large clients but also communicating to the millions of smaller individuals as well, and the feedback we've had is pretty much positive across the board," he added.

While Ivascyn said the firm's "New Neutral" thesis centering on low interest rates would inform much of Pimco's market moves, Hodge said the equities side of the business would be aggressive as well.

"We're absolutely committed to that business," Hodge said. "It's an important part of our way forward as we evolve Pimco to a multi-asset, multi-strategy firm."