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Allianz shareholders urge action on Pimco arm

Alice Ross and Stephen Foley
Mohamed El-Erian, former chief executive officer and co-chief investment officer of Pacific Investment Management Company LLC.
Pete Marovich | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Investors in Allianz are calling on the insurer to take action amid concerns over the health of its US fund business Pimco, following sweeping changes at the top of its management team.

Executives at Allianz are keen to insulate the US fund manager against further so-called "key man risk" following the shock departure of Pimco's chief executive Mohamed El-Erian last month amid reports of friction with chief investment officer Bill Gross.

Investors are questioning whether personnel issues at Pimco will harm its ability to face an increasingly tough environment for fixed income, as Allianz prepares to reveal fourth-quarter results on Thursday. Pimco is a valuable jewel in Allianz's crown, contributing about 30 percent of operating profit to the overall group.

"It looks like the very long bull market in fixed income is coming to an end and just at the time when you'd want people to pull together and present a united front it looks like there are cracks in the story," said one investor in Allianz, who said there had been a lack of communication from the German insurer with its shareholders over the issue.

"I think profit generation for the group is so related to one man's high profile that it's quite a risk in some ways."

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Investors had been quitting Pimco's underperforming flagship Total Return Fund since the middle of last year amid a general downturn in the fixed income market triggered by uncertainty over the Federal Reserve's plans to pull back from monetary easing.

(Read more: Tell-all on Pimco was 'overblown,' Gross says)

Outflows from Mr Gross's Total Return Fund totaled $41.1bn for 2013 after a period of underperformance last summer. Firm-wide, Pimco has now had eight straight months of outflows, according to Morningstar.

Pimco a tough place to work: WSJ's Zuckerman

Some investors believe Allianz should step in to do more to control Pimco in the wake of Mr El-Erian's departure. Traditionally, the insurer has given its subsidiary considerable autonomy, in deference to the high profile and long market experience of Mr Gross and Mr El-Erian.

Pimco replaced Mr El-Erian's role of co-chief investment officer with six new deputy CIOs, taken from the ranks of more junior fund managers, in a move that Allianz executives hope will add more stability in an industry that can be highly dependent on a handful of "star" managers.

"It's positive from an investor standpoint as the risk is more diversified now," said another investor in Allianz. "Bill Gross's influence is a bit broader so Allianz might be able to control [Pimco] better now."

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Eric Jacobson, Morningstar analyst, said the performance of Pimco funds was likely to remain a bigger factor.

"The 'Bill and Mohamed' show is a circus sideshow to most retail investors, who are willing to tolerate almost any amount of drama if they think they are going to get great performance."

Analysts have pointed out that net outflows slowed in January even after the departure of Mr El-Erian, with the fund losing $3.5bn compared with a $4.2bn loss in December.

(Read more: Gross on Pimco: Better 'than we were before')

"Pimco has tried to a certain extent to stabilise things," said Michael Huttner, an analyst at JPMorgan. "They're having a bit of a wobble but it's nowhere near a real problem. Their reputation is intact."

The German insurer is expected to announce net income of €1.33bn for the fourth quarter when it reveals its full-year results in Munich, according to an average of analysts polled by Bloomberg. That would be a rise of 9 per cent on the fourth quarter of 2012.

—By Alice Ross and Stephen Foley