Pimco looks to stanch outflows after shock exit of Gross

Tom Braithwaite, Tracy Alloway and Stephen Foley

Pimco's new leadership team is spending the weekend trying to staunch an outflow of client money after Friday's shock departure of Bill Gross, founder and chief investment officer of the world's largest bond manager.

This weekend was supposed to be the time when Mr Gross was forced out, according to people familiar with the matter, with the decision to be voted on by top Pimco staff on Saturday and announced on Sunday with an appropriate transition period.

Bill Gross

But Mr Gross had other ideas. The arch-showman delivered two blows to his colleagues: first a flashy exit – he had not even resigned formally when he announced he was joining Janus Capital, these people said; second, the revelation that he had discussed joining DoubleLine, another bond manager that Pimco considers a rival.

The manner of his exit seemed designed to cause maximum damage to Pimco, according to the company insiders. But it had one positive effect: uniting the 2,400 employees of the battered asset manager in an effort to shore up the company in spite of their departing boss.

Executives are calling clients to assure them that there is an experienced team in place, with some people close to Pimco noting that in the past 12 months – when Mr Gross's Midas touch deserted him and his Total Return Fund underperformed industry benchmarks – many other Pimco funds, managed by people who are still in place, outperformed.

Read MoreHow Bill Gross became too hot for Pimco to handle

The man leading the rearguard action is Daniel Ivasycn. who assumed Mr Gross's role as group chief investment officer on Friday, and who cut his teeth at the world's biggest bond investor by managing mortgage securities on the eve of the subprime housing crisis.

"Dan is a brilliant investor, inspiring leader, superb manager and one of the most considerate and decent people I know. He is a great group CIO for Pimco," said Mohamed El-Erian on Saturday. Mr El-Erian left his role as Pimco chief executive after falling out with Mr Gross but remains chief economic adviser to the asset manager's parent company Allianz.

Mr Ivascyn has earned a reputation as one of Pimco's brightest stars with control over some of its riskiest investments. With sizeable positions in junk-rated corporate debt and non-agency mortgage bonds – themselves risky assets – Mr Ivascyn has also applied leverage to bolster returns in the Pimco Income Fund that he manages.

"The portfolio has displayed levels of volatility comfortably below those of its peers, despite the fund's use of leverage – a tool whose magnitude it has managed adroitly – for most of its existence," Morningstar said after crowning Mr Ivascyn and his fund co-manager, Alfred Murata, the top U.S. fixed-income managers of 2013.

Mr Ivascyn's job now – and that of the rest of the leadership team – is to deal with two interlinked challenges: stop clients redeeming and manage the market fall-out.

They scored an early success on Friday when Calpers, the largest U.S. public pension fund, said it had "no plans at this time to make changes with our Pimco mandate", worth about $1 billion.

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But David Young, a former Pimco executive who now runs Anfield Capital Management, a Newport Beach investment boutique, predicted "several hundreds of billions of dollars" could leave Pimco, which has $2 trillion in assets, as a result of Mr Gross's departure, as pension funds and their consultants will automatically now review business with the firm. On Friday Morningstar, the powerful investment advisor, already placed its ratings on Pimco funds on review.

"There will be a ransacking of Pimco, in terms of assets under management and mandates and people," he said.

For rival bond managers, from small players to major groups such as BlackRock, TCW, Western Asset Management and Bank of New York Mellon, the new round of turmoil comes after they have already spent months wooing Mr Gross's existing clients and seeking to exploit their concerns over recent adverse publicity.

"We're seeing increased inflow by FAs [financial advisors] and by clients and I'm sure we're not unique," said an executive at one larger company.

"I know they're still having net negative redemptions and I do know people there are very concerned," said another.

The price of U.S. Treasuries dipped on Friday following news of Mr Gross's move: a testament to the pervasiveness of Mr Gross's investment strategy in markets as well as the sheer size of Pimco's positions. U.S. government debt still accounts for the biggest slice of the $222 billion Total Return Fund, the flagship Pimco portfolio that was run by Mr Gross.

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But people familiar with the matter said the most pressing concern was not in big deep markets such as government bonds but disposing of less liquid positions, such as high-yield corporate or emerging market debt, in smaller markets where Pimco's size is more keenly felt. That could cause prices to drop more severely and Pimco to realise losses.

The people working through the weekend in California are angry at Mr Gross that they have been left defending Pimco's positions, according to insiders.

But some in the industry retain sympathy for the 70-year-old "bond king" who jumped before he could be pushed. Said one rival: "Good for Bill. I'm glad he didn't get knifed by those guys."