PIMCO Total Return Fund vs. BOND

People have been talking about how the PIMCO Total Return mutual fund (Nasdaq:PTTAX) is being outperformed by the PIMCO Total Return ETF (NYSEARCA:BOND). The controversy is that both bond funds are actively managed by the same person: Bill Gross, the "Bond King" otherwise known as the "man in the mirror."

If you're a shareholder in the PIMCO Total Return mutual fund(s) is it time to bail in favor of the lower cost BOND ETF?

Head-to-Head ComparisonsThe PIMCO Total Return mutual fund has as 26-year track record, $289 billion in assets, and is widely regarded as the crme de la crme of active bond funds. On the other hand, BOND is just over a year old and has just $4.7 billion of investor's assets. 

The PIMCO Total Return fund comes in maze of different share classes, each with a different fee structure.

For instance, the institutional share class (Nasdaq:PTTRX) has no sales load and charges annual fees lower than BOND of just 0.46%, but requires a minimum $1 million investment. In contrast, the A-shares have a minimum investment requirement of just $1,000 but charge an onerous upfront sales load of 3.75% along with annual expenses of 0.85%. By comparison, BOND has no load (ETFs are bought and sold on exchanges and have trading commissions) and annual expenses of just 0.55%.

What about performance?

Although much ado has been made over how BOND has outperformed the PIMCO Total Return mutual fund by approximately 5% over the past year, a one-year time frame is really too short to judge performance consistency.

Other Key FactorsIn a piece titled, "Upstart Fund Beats its Daddy," Jason Zweig of the Wall Street Journal did a good job of contrasting the portfolio characteristics or differences between both funds.

PTTAX has around 31% invested in cash and equivalents, whereas BOND holds just 9%. Likewise, PTTAX has higher exposure to U.S. Treasuries (28%) and less exposure to mortgage securities (26.22%) and municipal bonds (3.05%) compared to BOND.

Another big difference is intraday liquidity. If you want the flexibility of being able to determine a specific purchase or selling price for your fund, along with the ability to buy or sell shares during market hours, BOND is probably the right choice versus its mutual fund counterpart.

Besides the cost and tax ramifications of bailing on PTTAX in favor of BOND, investors better not overlook manager tenure. (Watch: Trading Commission Free ETFs the Smart Way)

Here's what I mean: Before buying into BOND or even PTTAX, investors need to guess how much longer Bill Gross will continue managing either of these funds. Gross turns 69 on April 13th and is still a sharp guy. But betting your money on an aging horse is a risky proposition for an investor with a 20 to 30 year time horizon. On the other hand, for someone with a five to 10 year horizon, it might not matter. 

Today, there are 58 actively managed U.S. listed ETFs with $12.9 billion in total assets, according to AdvisorShares.

Cannibalizing ThyselfWhy would PIMCO offer Bill Gross's coveted investment management services via BOND - a lower cost package? The first reason is that PIMCO understands that ETFs are a viable threat to its mutual fund business. (Of course, besides understanding that ETFs are just plain viable.)

The second reason is competitive. PIMCO would rather risk losing mutual fund assets to its own ETFs versus a competitor's ETFs. Basically, it's the Starbucks business model of self-cannibalization.

Naomi Klein, author of NO LOGO explains, "Its (Starbucks) cannibalization strategy preys not only on other Starbucks outlets but equally on its real competitors, independently run coffee shops and restaurants. The idea is to saturate an area with stores until the coffee competition is so fierce that sales drop even in individual Starbucks outlets." Could the same thing happen in the mutual fund industry?

Although PIMCO can't create an additional ETF share class of its existing mutual funds (Vanguard owns the patent), it's established the almost perfect template or model for not just itself, but other mutual fund companies with the same problem; how to package all-star fund managers inside lower cost ETFs. Up until now, BOND proves the model works.

For mutual fund executives concerned about the risks of self-cannibalization, I'll offer up some good advice given to me by a beloved late uncle years ago. At the time, he was trying to convince me to buy a laptop computer. "How much will it cost me," I asked him. "You're asking the wrong question," he retorted. "How much will it cost you if you don't buy it?" Needless to say, I bought the laptop and never looked back.  The ETF Profit Strategy Newsletter provides timely insight into the world of ETFs. It includes a weekly Technical Forecast along with an updated list of highest yielding ETFs, top performing sector ETFs, and mega investment themes.