Pioneer Group Inc. is expanding its bond fund business through a combination of building and buying.
Last week the Boston-based mutual fund company announced it had hired Margaret D. Patel, a veteran high-yield bond fund manager, from Third Avenue Funds, a New York-based investment firm.
And it has a preliminary agreement to take over the Third Avenue High Yield Fund, which Ms. Patel manages. The acquisition would become final in 90 to 120 days, a Pioneer spokeswoman said. Until then Pioneer will subadvise the $8.8 million fund for its current owner.
The developments come four months after Pioneer quietly rolled out a strategic income fund.
Pioneer plans to develop offshore versions of certain bond funds, but perhaps the biggest challenge for the company is to get its 27 wholesalers and the brokers who sell its funds to start thinking of the company as a provider of fixed-income products.
"For 71 years we've been 'the equity shop,' " said David Tripple, president of Pioneer Investment Management Inc.
Indeed, that traditional emphasis on stock funds has led to problems in the past. During the tumultuous third quarter, assets fell by $3.5 billion, leaving it with $20 billion of assets under management.
That was partly because Pioneer had about $20 of equity assets under management for every $1 of bond assets far higher than many of the company's rivals -- and stocks got hit hard.
In fact, the gap has widened, to about $24 of equities for every $1 in fixed income. But Mr. Tripple said the important thing is that the company has made a start in reshaping itself.
"We've just taken the first step, which is to create the product,'' he said.
Geoffrey H. Bobroff, a mutual fund consultant in East Greenwich, R.I., questioned Pioneer's strategy, arguing that financial advisers are increasingly cherry-picking funds for their clients and are more likely to pick Pioneer's well-established equity funds than its upstart bond funds.
"Today, the need for full fund families is less of an issue than it has ever been,'' he said.
Michael S. Beall, an analyst with Davenport & Co., disagreed. Fleshing out its core business is a sound move for Pioneer, especially when compared with ill-fated business ventures such as a gold mine in Africa, he said.
"They could do a lot worse,'' he said. "And they have.''
If nothing else, Pioneer's bond funds are a place for clients to shift their money in the event of a stock market downturn, Mr. Beall said.
Mr. Tripple said Pioneer is considering a range of incentives to get the fixed-income products on the radar of wholesalers and brokers.
Those may include financial incentives such as temporarily giving the brokerages the full sales load without taking a cut for the distributor.