More than five years after Pacific Investment Management Co. started its third effort to add stock-picking strategies to its lineup of bond funds, the firm is retreating again.

Pimco said Thursday that it will close three active stock mutual funds and instead focus on enhanced indexing strategies. Virginie Maisonneuve, chief investment officer for equities, will leave next month as part of the shift, and the role goes with her -- Pimco has no plans for a new CIO of equities, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

Her departure is the biggest setback yet to a plan, announced in 2009 under former investment chiefs Bill Gross and Mohamed El-Erian, to transform Pimco from a bond shop to a diversified money manager. The push into active stock funds has suffered from lackluster performance and weak investor demand, even as equities have rallied. Pimco co-founder Gross, who left the firm last year amid a power struggle, argued before his departure that the stock push wasn’t cost-efficient and that Pimco needed to retrench, Bloomberg News reported in December.

“It’s a bad sign for Pimco’s ability to diversify to other investment styles,” Todd Rosenbluth, director of mutual fund and ETF research at S&P Capital IQ, said in a telephone interview. “Investors have really not looked to it as a one- stop shop.”

Business Blip

The three stock funds being liquidated by Pimco have gathered less than $1 billion in assets since the first of them started more than five years ago, and the investment professionals who worked on them will leave as part of the transition, according to the person, who asked not to be identified since the plans aren’t public. The vast majority of the $1.6 trillion managed by the Newport Beach, California-based firm is in bonds.

“‘Blip’ is giving it too much credit for that business,” Rosenbluth said.

The firm said it will continue offering some active equity funds, including its $895 million Pimco Dividend and Income Builder Fund and its $904.2 million EqS Long/Short Fund.

Pimco is expanding its enhanced indexing offerings and this year said it was adding new strategies with Robert Arnott’s Research Affiliates. Pimco’s equity strategies, including the enhanced indexing ones, hold about $50 billion in assets.

“We are evolving our approach to focus on areas that are more fully aligned with our capabilities and clients’ needs,” Chief Executive Officer Douglas Hodge said in an e-mailed statement Thursday.