Since the beginning of 2000, the list of the largest mutual funds in the country has changed dramatically. Janus of Denver, which had two funds in the top 10 by assets now only has one in the top 20. Los Angeles-based American Funds' Growth Fund of America jumped from 22nd at the start of 2000, to sixth at the end of July.

And possibly the biggest change, Pacific Investment Management Co. (PIMCO) of Newport Beach, Calif.'s Total Return fund, the only bond fund in the top 25, moved from 16th to second. But for all of the changes, the list of top funds has little meaning beyond a measure of pride for the companies, according to analysts.

PIMCO has often referred to its Total Return fund as the "largest bond fund in the country." Now it can make the greater claim that it is the second-largest mutual fund in the nation. Last month, PIMCO's fund surpassed Boston-based Fidelity Investments' Magellan fund in terms of assets after Magellan experienced redemptions of $1.1 billion in July, according to Fidelity Insight, a newsletter that tracks Fidelity Investments.

Magellan held about $59.86 billion at the end of July, while PIMCO's Total Return fund stood at $61.2 billion, according to the firms. The Vanguard Group 500 Index fund remained the largest fund at nearly $77 billion, according to Morningstar of Chicago.

"It's interesting information, but does it make the fund any better or worse? No. It doesn't matter," said Geoffrey Bobroff, a fund consultant in East Greenwich, R.I.

Still, the fact that the rankings have been covered by the media makes it significant for the fund companies. A spokesman for PIMCO described the free press as "helpful not only in prospecting but also in reassuring clients they've made the right choice in bond managers."

Fidelity had no reaction to the position change, according to a spokesman. He said that the firm is not focused on having the largest fund but on performance.

"I suppose that there is some hurt pride in all of that," said John Bonnanzio, editor of Fidelity Insight. "The Magellan fund had been the nation's largest mutual fund for quite some time, playing cat-and-mouse with the Vanguard 500 Index Fund. So I'd say it's an interesting story more than an important story."

A major point for Fidelity is that the Magellan fund has been closed to new investors since 1997. Bonnanzio said that there is little reason for the firm not to reopen the fund and that he imagines that Fidelity is considering it. The fund was closed in order to stabilize asset flows, but it's unlikely that reopening it would create a disruptive flow of assets, he added. The firm has no plans to reopen the fund, the Fidelity spokesman said.

Bragging Rights

PIMCO has used the large size of the Total Return fund in its promotional materials. A brochure marketing the fund reads: "PIMCO Total Return fund is the largest bond fund in the country. In fact, it is the only bond fund among the country's 25 largest mutual funds. Unlike stock funds, bigger size isn't a problem with bond funds. It can actually be a benefit. The Fund's large asset size provides PIMCO with better access to new securities and potentially lower trading costs."

The PIMCO spokesman said that there is no change in promotional materials or advertisements planned at this time based on the fact that the fund has become the second largest overall.

While the importance of the positioning of the top funds is exaggerated by the media, according to Bobroff, there is one point of significance, he said. Investors buy individual funds now more frequently than they buy into fund families, so retaining assets within a family has become harder, he said. As a result, the losses suffered by Magellan may have more significance now than it would have several years ago, because it's less likely that those assets stayed at Fidelity.

As far as being at the very top of the list, membership comes with disadvantages. Just ask Fidelity, which has gotten the type of free press of late that it doesn't want.

"I think large is not really a crown that you want to have," Bobroff said. "Whoever is king of the road will eventually fall off the pedestal, not because they're doing anything wrong, but simply because markets change."

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