Chances are that Bill Gross’ exit from PIMCO, the mutual fund company he founded 43 years ago, may have barely raised an eyebrow in your household. But this is one fund industry story you’d be wise to pay attention to. The idiosyncratic Gross ran the planet’s largest bond mutual fund with $222 billion in assets. His PIMCO Total Return Bond fund has been the plain vanilla of the ice cream mutual fund parlor. It is everywhere. More than half of nation’s 401(K)s offer the fund. In short, PIMCO Total Return is nearly as likely to appear in your 401(K) as an S&P 500 index fund.
Got your attention? Today’s question is this: Should you follow the herd of institutional investors who are dumping shares of the fund today?
Here’s what I think: You don’t have to do anything. Not right away. Look, PIMCO appointed fund managers that are top notch and were, frankly, already doing a lot of the day to day work of the fund. Mark Keisel was voted Morningstar’s Fixed Income Manager of 2012.
True, a lot of institutional investors have already pulled their money. Estimates of those lost assets range from $10 billion to 25 times that. But a bond fund isn’t a stock; you don’t lose value because investors are selling. The cautious strategy is to sit back and watch for six months and make sure that the fund performs as well as rivals.
If you’re not the cautious sort, you might consider flipping your bond investments into a bond index fund. All the major fund companies, like Vanguard and Fidelity, have a fund that mimics the index. The good news: You keep your costs low. Fees and expenses are low on index funds. The bad news is that if the Federal Reserve decides to raise rates, you are stuck in a fund that will suffer as the bond market suffers.
My suggestion is to take a look at your 401(K) statement from 2013 – a really stinky year for bond funds. If any of the bond funds you invested in recorded a positive return for the year, you might consider putting your new bond investment dollars into that fund. Chances are that fund is going to be what they call multi-sector, flexible or strategic. That means that the fund manager has the freedom to move around to different asset classes, government bonds, global bonds, etc., depending on where he finds returns.
Ultimately, you’re going to want to find a place you are comfortable, because the next few years could provide some serious change to the bond world as the Federal Reserve considers changing its easy money policies.