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(Reuters) - Morningstar downgraded its analyst rating on the Pimco Total Return Fund to "bronze" from "gold", citing uncertainty about outflows and the reshuffling of management responsibilities after the exit of co-founder Bill Gross.
Gross, the bond market's most renowned investor, quit Pimco for distant rival Janus Capital Group Inc JNS.N on Friday, a day before he was expected to be fired from the huge investment firm he helped found more than 40 years ago.
Dan Ivascyn, one of Pimco's deputy chief investment officers, was named Group Chief Investment Officer to replace Gross. With Bill Gross' abrupt departure, Pimco's $222 billion flagship Total Return Fund has been taken over by Scott Mather, Mark Kiesel and Mihir Worah.
"The fund's Bronze Morningstar Analyst Rating reflects Morningstar's high level of confidence in PIMCO's resources and overall abilities but also the uncertainty as to exactly how all of these parts will mesh in the wake of Gross' departure," Mornigstar analyst Eric Jacobson wrote in a report on Monday.
Since the start of the year, investors have pulled $25 billion from the Pimco Total Return Fund, the world's largest bond fund, according to Morningstar data as of the end of August. This latest downgrade could set off another chain reaction of negative cash outflow momentum for the Pimco Total Return Fund.
The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that officials at the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury, have been talking to investors and warning them of the consequences of pulling their money from Pimco. (on.ft.com/1xw1Yui)
Pimco CEO Doug Hodge said on Monday that the investment group is bracing for investors to pull out money following Gross's departure but expects the vast majority of clients to stick with the firm and is confident it can handle any outflows.
"Mark, Mihir and I intend to harness our individual and collective skills to continue to deliver the same excellence to investors they have come to expect from PIMCO's Total Return Fund," Scott Mather, CIO Core Strategies said in response to Morningstar downgrade.
Morningstar evaluates mutual funds based on five key pillars, which it believes leads to funds that are more likely to outperform over the long term on a risk-adjusted basis. A "gold rating" is assigned to a Best-of-breed fund that has garnered the analysts' highest level of conviction.
"It will take some time to see how Ivascyn and the new managers will coalesce as a team in their new roles, but there are a number of reasons to believe they will be successful after the dust settles," Mornigstar said.
eporting by Supriya Kurane in Bangalore and Jennifer Ablan in New York; Editing by Kim Coghill