Morningstar Investment Conference

Pimco: A bright future after Bill Gross' departure

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It was hard to top Pimco's performance at the 2014 Morningstar Investment Conference when its co-founder and bond-investing superstar, Bill Gross, while wearing sunglasses indoors, compared himself to Justin Bieber.

Gross left PIMCO in September amid turmoil with Pimco Total Return, at the time the largest bond fund in the world, to manage the Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund.

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This year, Pimco CEO Douglas Hodge and chief investment officer Daniel Ivascyn told the conference audience on Friday that the embattled firm has survived the crisis and is on its way back.

Pimco's assets peaked in spring of 2013 at $2.1 trillion and are now at $1.7 trillion partly due to the so-called tamper tantrum of 2013 and outflows from investors when Gross left the company. "Now the trajectory of those flows ... has changed significantly over the last nine months," Hodge said. "And as we look at the last two or three months, we are starting to see the arrows point back up."

While Bill Gross still primarily is allocated to the U.S. bond market, he warned investors at year-end that he views "the current environment with caution."
Jim Young | Reuters

Morningstar warned earlier this month that the situation at Pimco is "fluid amid continued outflows and an investment team still in the formative stages of jelling and reforging its identity."

Hodge assured the audience that Pimco had the support of its parent company, Allianz, and that Gross' department would not shrink Pimco's profit margin in a meaningful way.

"We have been part of the Allianz Group for 15 years," Hodge said. "And over the 15 years, including the last 18 months, we have delivered financial results to them in double-digit profit growth in global income."

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In 2000, when Allianz acquired Pimco, it accounted for about 4 percent of Allianz's global income. Hodge expects Pimco to contribute 18 percent to 20 percent in global income to Allianz this year. "There is nothing within the Allianz Group that has performed to the extent we have," he said.

Hodge and Ivascyn also touted their latest high-profile hire, former Federal Reserve Chairman . Ivascyn said that Bernanke participates in the firm's investment committee meetings and quarterly forums as well as informal meetings with portfolio managers. Only a few days ago Bernanke met with a Pimco manager to discuss what the Fed might do later this year, Ivascyn said.

Looking ahead, Pimco will focus on generating income in a low-rate world, its core bond funds and its alternatives business, Hodge said.

"We want to be a leader in the core bond space, where I believe we still retain one of the premier positions, and we don't want to concede that to anybody," he said.