(Recasts with comparison vs previous months; Adds analyst quote, three-year Sharpe ratio figures)
By Jennifer Ablan
NEW YORK, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Investors pulled cash from the Pimco Total Return Fund for a 15th straight month in July, though outflows from the world’s largest bond fund were substantially smaller than previous months.
The fund, run by Bill Gross, had net outflows of $830 million in July, the first time its monthly outflow was less than $1 billion since the net cash withdrawals started more than a year ago, Morningstar said on Monday.
The fund has had about $65 billion in outflows since May 2013, the data showed. It had $223 billion in assets at the end of last month, down from a peak of $292.9 billion in April 2013.
The continuation of the fund’s record outflow streak came as it posted a negative 0.52 percent return in July, lagging 90 percent of its peers, according to Morningstar. The fund is up 3.16 percent for the year as of Friday and trails 77 percent of its peers.
Analysts have said cash outflows began last year due to weak returns - the fund declined 1.9 percent in 2013, its worst performance in nearly two decades. Gross’ public falling-out with former heir-apparent Mohamed El-Erian, who shared the co-chief investment officer title, also exacerbated investors’ unease.
“The smaller cash outflow is a step in the right direction that helps Pimco rebuild the public image of their flagship product, but it’s also only one month of less-than-expected outflows and too soon to call an inflection point,” said Jeff Tjornehoj, head of Lipper Americas Research.
In June, the Pimco Total Return Fund posted $4.5 billion in net outflows.
“A core bond allocation remains an important part of a diversified portfolio, to generate returns and manage risk over the long-term,” a Pimco spokesman said in a statement. “More broadly, Pimco’s assets under management grew $53 billion this year and 94 percent of the firm’s AUM outperformed its 5-year benchmark.”
Pimco, a unit of European financial services company Allianz SE, had $1.97 trillion in assets as of June 30.
Allianz’s second-quarter earnings results are due on Friday, with net profit seen dropping 2.7 percent from a year ago, dragged down in part by asset management.
The Pimco Total Return Exchange-Traded Fund, an actively managed ETF designed to mimic the strategy of the flagship mutual fund, had net inflows of $43 million in July, its second month of inflows, according to Morningstar. Total assets in the fund at the end of July were $3.5 billion.
In June, Gross, co-founder of Newport Beach, California-based Pimco, gave a keynote address and took questions at the company’s annual investment summit in New York City. It was the largest Pimco-hosted client event ever, with over 700 institutional investors and clients.
The meeting was a sign Gross, dubbed the market’s “Bond King,” was trying to make amends with investors and the media after a brutal first half of the year.
While many say Gross appears more engaged with colleagues and clients, some institutional investors are still waiting for a turnaround in his performance.
The Pimco Total Return Fund’s three-year Sharpe ratio - a measure closely followed by pension funds, foundations and endowments - was hovering at 0.94, as of July 31. That trails the Barclays Aggregate at 1.11.
The higher a fund’s Sharpe ratio, the better a fund’s returns have been relative to the risk it has taken. (Reporting by Jennifer Ablan; Editing by James Dalgleish and Dan Grebler)