PIMCO Global Advantage Strategy Bond avoids heavily indebted nations, but still has its risks.
PIMCO Global Advantage Strategy Bond
Managers Andrew Balls, Mohamed El-Erian, and Ramin Toloui channel PIMCO's broader macroeconomic views when taking active bets versus the benchmark. Dialing down risk has been a firmwide mantra this year, and the managers have reduced the fund's duration, credit, and currency risk. Those moves included underweighting its exposure to longer-dated maturities and reducing its emerging-markets stake. Despite such caution, this fund's midteens emerging-markets stake was a headwind as that sector was particularly hard-hit when bond markets sold off from May through July. As a result, the fund's 5% loss for that period was worse than 70% of its peers. The fund lagged in a similar fashion during the flight to quality of August and September 2011.
Over time, that positioning has been advantageous when risk-taking is rewarded, though, helping it retain an edge on the world-bond competition since its February 2009 inception. Because the fund's profile has caused it to perform in sync with riskier assets, it's a tough sell for investors seeking stability. But those who can handle the added volatility have an interesting option. The managers behind this fund have excellent resumes for the task at hand, and PIMCO has a proven record of avoiding trouble spots, including its anticipation of the U.S. housing bubble and the eurozone crisis. The managers rely on a well-coordinated, globe-spanning team of portfolio managers and analysts, which is another notch in this fund's favor.
PIMCO designed this fund's benchmark, the PIMCO Global Advantage Bond Index (GLADI), to avoid the shortcomings of traditional capitalization-weighted indexes, which emphasize countries with the heaviest debt burdens, increase exposure to bonds as they appreciate in price, and overlook faster-growing markets. The GLADI weights regions by gross domestic product rather than debt outstanding, which emphasizes issuers with better balance sheets and higher income levels, as well as countries where capital markets are in their early stages of development.
The GLADI provides roughly equal exposure to three areas within each region: sovereign interest rates and inflation-protected bonds, investment-grade corporate debt, and securitized assets (or currencies in emerging markets). Emerging-markets bonds and emerging-markets currencies take up roughly one third and one fifth of the index, respectively, as opposed to more widely followed global bond indexes, which are dominated by the U.S., the eurozone, and Japan. To illustrate, the Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index devoted roughly 5% to emerging-markets issues in early 2013. The GLADI is administered and calculated independently from PIMCO by Markit, an unaffiliated global index provider. The fund's managers take active bets versus the GLADI by adjusting the portfolio's exposure within each region, and they use a mix of cash securities and derivatives to gain exposure.
A GDP-weighted approach has some drawbacks, including the added complexity involved in determining how much weight to assign to various issuers and instruments at a more granular level, and the lack of liquidity available in some developing markets. The managers channel PIMCO's broader macroeconomic views in order to sidestep those challenges. For instance, the team's concerns over Europe's debt crisis led it to minimize the fund's exposure to European corporate bonds in 2011. It opted instead to allocate most of those assets to German bunds, which rallied that year.
Since early 2013, the team has focused on reining in risk, another firmwide refrain, by dialing down the fund's duration, credit, and currency risk versus the GLADI. That saved the fund some pain since the bond market sell-off began in May, though its heavier emerging-markets exposure relative to most world-bond peers served as a headwind. (Its overall emerging-markets stake was 13% of the fund's duration as of June 30, down from 22% on March 31.) Similar to the views expressed in PIMCO's emerging-markets bond funds, the managers have also favored local rates in Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa, as well as quasi-sovereign credits in Brazil, Mexico, and Russia, while downplaying the debt and currencies of lower-quality countries, particularly those located in Eastern Europe.