Jeff Gundlach's bond fund is about to score a major win

Jeff Gundlach's upstart bond fund has gone from the new kid on the block to a full-fledged grown-up in relatively little time.

In just a year and a half, the DoubleLine Capital CEO has watched the firm's Total Return Tactical exchange-traded fund emerge as a major player in the industry.

Now, Gundlach's TOTL fund is about to reach a pretty important milestone: It soon will have more assets under management than the Pimco Total Return Active ETF, an important move considering the BOND fund was started by fixed income legend Bill Gross, and the firms differ enormously in size.

Gundlach's fund most recently had $2.55 billion in assets, compared with the Pimco fund's $2.57 billion. The Pimco offering has seen $944.6 million in outflows since Gross left, according to ETF.com.

As a firm, the amount DoubleLine manages for clients recently crossed $100 billion, while Pimco manages $1.5 trillion. TOTL has attracted $664 million year to date, while BOND has seen $89.8 million in outflows.

Neither DoubleLine nor Pimco responded to requests for comment.

In terms of fund families, Newport Beach, California-based Pimco holds a healthy lead over Los Angeles-based DoubleLine. In funds alone, Pimco ranks eighth overall with $301 billion, while DoubleLine is 35th with $73 billion, according to Morningstar. Vanguard remains the largest fund manager, with $3.1 trillion under management.

Both funds are actively managed, a $25.2 billion space that makes up just a sliver, albeit a growing one, of the $2.2 trillion ETF industry. The DoubleLine fund, which began on Feb. 24, 2015, employs a broad investment strategy, avoiding only short positions and high yield. Pimco's fund, which dates to March 1, 2012, focuses on U.S. bonds and does invest up to 10 percent in junk.

Performance-wise, TOTL has had the better year, returning 2.78 percent in 2016 compared to BOND's 2.16 percent, according to Morningstar. Both are shy of the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond index, which has returned 4.4 percent, and the S&P 500, which was up 3.1 percent as of midday trading Thursday.

BOND has the higher yield — 3.47 percent compared with 2.9 percent — but carries greater duration risk, according to an analysis by ETF.com.

"Investors like the portfolio characteristics of the fund, delivering a healthy yield while taking less interest rate risk than most other intermediate-term bond portfolios," said Loren Fleckenstein, an analyst at DoubleLine. "Based on the history of our team, they trust the team to do a good job managing both credit and interest rate risk."

The ETF.com piece pointed out that investor perception has been key to TOTL's ascendancy. Pimco has been beset by managerial turmoil since the departures of founder Bill Gross and former CEO Mohamed El-Erian. Pimco has seen more than $1 trillion in client money leave, while its flagship Total Return offering, once the largest bond mutual fund in the world, has seen its assets shrink to $86 billion from a high of $293 billion.