Strategy Spotlight

Building Diversified Equity Allocations: PIMCO StocksPLUS

StocksPLUS strategies seek to provide a transparent and diversifying source of potential excess returns.

Investors often have two priorities when building active equity allocations: excess returns and diversification. Confidence in a manager’s potential to deliver excess returns may come from in-depth due diligence of the manager’s resources, investment process, track record and competitive advantage. Diversification may come from combining multiple managers with complementary styles, risk/return profiles and sources of alpha. PIMCO StocksPLUS strategies can be an important component of a diversified equity allocation, seeking to provide a transparent and diversifying source of potential excess returns.

Evolution of equity diversification – from beta to alpha

Traditionally, diversification in equity allocations focused on region (developed vs. emerging markets), capitalization (large vs. small) and style (value vs. growth) – think of the classic style-box framework. While this construct did offer diversification benefits with respect to equity betas, most of the excess return potential was driven by one thing: idiosyncratic risk, or stock selection. As a result, in environments that were more challenging for stock pickers, investors risked broad portfolio underperformance.

With active equity managers as a group underperforming their benchmarks over the past decade, investors have increasingly sought to identify more reliable sources of excess returns. This trend has been most clearly observed in the rise of factor-based and smart beta equity strategies. These strategies offer the potential for outperformance arising from exposure to factors, such as value, low volatility and momentum, that have been linked to higher long-term returns. By allocating to both stock-picking and factor-based strategies, investors sought to diversify their sources of alpha in addition to diversifying their equity betas.

A step further: improving equity outcomes

Investors may seek to improve their equity allocations by continuing to identify diversifying sources of alpha potential. PIMCO StocksPLUS offers an innovative yet time-tested approach to equity investing, with a track record of more than 30 years and a nontraditional source of potential excess returns: bonds. In short, StocksPLUS seeks to provide investors exposure to the equity beta of their choice plus alpha potential driven by PIMCO’s fixed income investment process.

How it works

While the StocksPLUS strategy is nontraditional, it is nonetheless quite straightforward: 

  • We begin by providing passive exposure to the investor’s target equity index (large cap equities, small cap equities, etc.) through equity index futures or total return swaps, rather than by purchasing stocks.
  • The potential benefit of this approach is that these instruments require very little capital commitment, allowing the majority of assets to be invested in a global, flexible bond alpha strategy.
  • In this way, investors target the equity index returns they desire, and PIMCO seeks to deliver excess returns by managing the bond portfolio with an aim to outperform the money-market cost of the equity exposure.

Key benefits of StocksPLUS in an equity allocation

We believe StocksPLUS can serve as a valuable complement to more traditional equity strategies, for several reasons.

The value proposition for StocksPLUS is that it seeks to deliver excess returns if the active bond strategy outperforms traditional cash investments. Fixed income represents a large and historically reliable opportunity set from which to extract potential alpha, allowing StocksPLUS to target consistent outperformance, especially when measured over three- and five-year horizons.

This potential for more consistent outperformance means that StocksPLUS may serve as a core holding within an equity allocation, as traditional equity approaches may require a longer time horizon. Indeed, concentrated (high active share) stock-picking strategies and certain factors may be out of favor for extended periods before delivering on their long-term return expectations.

Because the performance of StocksPLUS is driven by a bond alpha strategy, excess returns tend to be largely uncorrelated (or even negatively correlated) with those of traditional active equity managers, potentially providing additional diversification benefits.


Of course, as with any active investment strategy, StocksPLUS may experience environments that are less favorable for the approach and result in periods of underperformance. However, given PIMCO’s broad resources and decades of experience managing the strategy, we believe we can continue to navigate good times and bad to deliver attractive long-term return potential for our clients.

StocksPLUS for diversification and excess return potential

Equities often represent the largest source of risk in an investor’s portfolio, so having a thoughtfully constructed and diversified portfolio is critical. While investors have long diversified across equity betas, today there are more tools available to diversify across sources of alpha as well. Indeed, many investors are looking beyond traditional equity strategies in search of excess returns.

PIMCO StocksPLUS is an innovative, nontraditional equity strategy that seeks alpha from bonds, leveraging PIMCO’s time-tested fixed income investment process. In this way, the StocksPLUS approach may provide meaningful benefits to an equity allocation by targeting excess returns from a large and diverse opportunity set with lower correlations to traditional equity alpha. In sum, StocksPLUS may serve as an important driver of performance and diversification in investors’ equity allocations.

The Author

Andrew Pyne

Equity Strategist

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Past performance is not a guarantee or a reliable indicator of future results.

There is no guarantee that these investment strategies will work under all market conditions or are suitable for all investors and each investor should evaluate their ability to invest long-term, especially during periods of downturn in the market. Statements concerning financial market trends or portfolio strategies are based on current market conditions, which will fluctuate. There is no guarantee that these investment strategies will work under all market conditions or are suitable for all investors and each investor should evaluate their ability to invest for the long term, especially during periods of downturn in the market. Outlook and strategies are subject to change without notice

All investments contain risk and may lose value. Investing in the bond market is subject to risks, including market, interest rate, issuer, credit, inflation risk, and liquidity risk. The value of most bonds and bond strategies are impacted by changes in interest rates. Bonds and bond strategies with longer durations tend to be more sensitive and volatile than those with shorter durations; bond prices generally fall as interest rates rise, and the current low interest rate environment increases this risk. Current reductions in bond counterparty capacity may contribute to decreased market liquidity and increased price volatility. Bond investments may be worth more or less than the original cost when redeemed. Derivatives may involve certain costs and risks, such as liquidity, interest rate, market, credit, management and the risk that a position could not be closed when most advantageous. Investing in derivatives could lose more than the amount invested. Equities may decline in value due to both real and perceived general market, economic and industry conditions. Swaps are a type of derivative; swaps are increasingly subject to central clearing and exchange-trading. Swaps that are not centrally cleared and exchange-traded may be less liquid than exchange-traded instruments.

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