PIMCO and Bill Gross were synonymous with each other. So when the “Bond King” announced that he was leaving the firm he helped start and that he was moving rival Janus Capital (JNS) to run a much smaller mutual fund, the news shook the investment world.
After all, Bill Gross was the leader of PIMCO’s flagship $200-plus Billion Total Return Fund (PTTAX). However, Gross was also quickly becoming synonymous with another investment type: exchange traded funds (ETFs).
PIMCO’s ETF version of Total Return (BOND) was one of the most successful fund launches of all time and featured the bond king’s best ideas. Assets under management swooned and BOND become one of the few success stories in the active ETF space.
The problem is that Gross’s new home doesn’t offer ETFs as an investment option. That fact, along with Gross’s arrival, could explain the recent moves at JNS and could be setting up the fund company for something great.
Janus Buys Into The Market
For a mere $30 million cash consideration, Janus Capital is now a player in the ETF industry. The asset manager, which has traditionally been a growth investment shop, has agreed to purchase specialized ETF sponsor VelocityShares.
VelocityShares has around $2 billion in assets under management across its entire platform, but is most well-known for its products linked to various Chicago Board Options Exchange Market Volatility Indexes. That includes the VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX Short-Term ETN (TVIX), which is insanely popular with traders. These funds bet on the implied volatility of S&P 500 index options — essentially, the expected movement in the S&P 500 over the next 30 days.
VIX options are generally a trader’s game, and longer-term and retail investors really don’t have any need to dabble in volatility. In fact, the iPath S&P 500 VIX Short Term Futures ETN (VXX) has lost around 90% of its value since its inception.
So why would Janus Capital — a firm which has traditionally catered to retail investors — buy such a specialized ETF sponsor? The answer has nothing to do with volatility or leveraged inverse gold ETFs.
It’s actually quite difficult to jump into the ETF game from scratch — especially if you’re planning on doing some sort of active ETF offering. The SEC is pretty strict on the rules, and several filings have actually spent years in limbo. Janus, along with several rivals like T. Rowe Price (TROW) and Eaton Vance, have all been waiting to begin offering non-transparent and active ETFs.
The difference is that Janus has basically found a backdoor to the problem.
By buying VelocityShares, Janus can skip the regulatory hassles and rebrand any of the funds as its sees fit — assuming shareholder approval. Reconfiguring an existing ETF into a new one can be a cheaper and relatively painless way to grow assets under management. For example, Exchange Traded Concepts pulled the plug on the Sustainable North American Oil Sands ETF by reimagining the portfolio as the YieldShares High Income ETF (YYY). YYY has grown in assets and remains a popular option for income seekers.
Janus is now free to do the same thing.
It could rebrand VelocityShares’ “less than stellar” options as its own funds with new objectives. That could mean that a whole host of new active managed offerings coming from Janus over the next few months. Perhaps an unconstrained fixed-income fund headed by its newest employee.
After all, Morningstar reports that around 18% of BOND’s assets ($630 million) have flown the coop since August. The vast bulk of that money has been since key man Bill Gross announced his departure from PIMCO. That money could find its way back to Gross in a new Janus-run ETF.
Janus Capital’s Shrewd Buy
For Janus, the $30 million it’s paying for VelocityShares could be its BlackRock (BLK) iShares moment in the world of ETFs. If you remember, BLK bought the brand from struggling bank Barclays during the recession and turned it into the juggernaut of today. While the VelocityShares buy won’t turn Janus into the next iShares, it does allow it to really get focused on offering new funds to its clients.
It could also could provide Gross with another vehicle to test out his ideas — one that could become hugely successful. It might also provide several other managers at Janus — like Andy Acker at Janus Global Life Sciences T (JAGLX) or Daniel R. Kozlowski at Janus Contrarian T (JSVAX) — the shot at their own ETFs. Hey, it worked at PIMCO’s ETF unit. And that’s the thing with active ETFs. You really are betting on the manager, and there’s something to be said for star-power.
At the same time, it enables Janus Capital to cross-sell VelocityShares more sophisticated products — like TVIX or the $774 million VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short-Term ETN (XIV) — to its institutional clients.
For investors in JNS stock, the best things for the company could be in the year ahead. As for Janus Capital fund investors, Gross’s arrival was step one in the process, the addition of ETFs to its mix is a very powerful step two. I suspect that Janus Capital will make some pretty interesting fund announcements over the next few months.
As of this writing, Aaron Levitt did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.