Janus Capital Group Inc., the money manager that made its name placing big bets on stocks, is trying something new to stem a five-year customer exodus.

Chief Executive Officer Richard M. Weil is introducing funds that seek to spread risk across asset classes and protect clients from sharp market drops. Instead of focusing on returns, which are difficult to forecast, the so-called asset allocation funds offer investors varying levels of volatility.

“Investors, in general, have less confidence in aggressive, active equity management than they did 5 or 10 years ago,” Weil, whose firm oversees $157 billion, said in an interview. “Risk-adjusted returns, rather than swing-for-the- fences returns, are absolutely more important.”

Janus, named for the two-faced Roman god who looked to both the past and future, is following firms from BlackRock Inc. to Invesco Ltd. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in using the promise of lower risk to lure back clients burned by losses during the stock market rout five years ago. With equities approaching record highs again and volatility declining, the industry’s latest sales pitch has been hampered by underperformance.

Asset allocation funds returned a risk-adjusted 0.8 percent in the year ended Feb. 28, compared with 1 percent for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and 1.3 percent for the Barclays U.S. Aggregated Bond Index. Over three years, the funds gained 2.3 percent, compared with 2.5 percent for stocks and 5 percent for bonds, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

‘Too Good’

Bloomberg’s calculation of risk-adjusted returns is based on total return divided by volatility, or the degree of daily price variation, giving a measure of income per unit of risk. The figures aren’t annualized.

“There’s definitely been a trend in response to the crisis of 2008 and to people’s fears about the stock market,” Josh Charlson, analyst at fund research firm Morningstar Inc., said in an interview. “There are a lot of new products designed to lower volatility while also producing some decent returns, although it sounds like a formula that’s too good to be true.”

Selling safer funds after a crisis isn’t Janus’s first attempt to staunch investor withdrawals, and it’s turning to a strategy that’s had mixed results for competitors. Sales of U.S. asset-allocation funds peaked at $59 billion in 2004, two years after the collapse of the technology-stock bubble. Investor deposits rose to $25 billion in 2012 from about $14 billion in each of the previous two years, according to Chicago-based Morningstar Inc.

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