A ratings downgrade for some of PIMCO’s mutual funds could come within several weeks after Morningstar Inc. Tuesday downgraded the money management firm’s overall stewardship rating to C from B and changed to neutral from positive one of five overall indicators analysts use to rank mutual funds.
The stewardship rating involves how well the firm’s interests are aligned with those of its investors.
“There is a higher degree of uncertainty around the firm’s recent personnel changes,” Michael Herbst, Morningstar’s director of active funds research, said in an interview.
In addition to a change in management structure following the resignation of PIMCO CEO and Co-Chief Investment Officer Mohamed El-Erian, Morningstar found that the number of PIMCO portfolio managers who had invested $1 million or more in mutual funds they manage had slipped to 58% from 60% in November 2012, the last time Morningstar assessed the situation.
In a report issued Tuesday, Mr. Herbst and Eric Jacobson, senior fund analyst, said the changes to PIMCO’s stewardship grade and what is known as the “Parent Pillar” score do not automatically affect PIMCO funds' overall ratings. They added, however: “We are preparing a follow-up piece for early April 2014 that will summarize our current opinions on individual PIMCO funds.”
The report said of William Gross, a founder of Pacific Investment Management Co., Newport Beach, Calif., and its CIO: “Whatever the image that his latest personality tribulations have projected in the wake of El-Erian's departure, there remain good reasons to believe he can persevere and his success persist.”
The Morningstar report questions whether the firm’s current investment committee and broader investment team will work in a way that is conducive to the firm’s success.
“It remains an open question whether … the investment committee members will consistently voice their opinions and fuel the debate that has been crucial to PIMCO's past success,” the Morningstar report says. “That may prove daunting, given (Mr.) Gross' at-times severe and reputed retaliatory temperament.”
Mark Porterfield, a spokesman for PIMCO did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comments.