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AllianceBernstein Announces Layoffs and New CEO

Plus, the end of Evergreen, and more.

Morningstar Analysts, 12/29/2008

Morningstar's fund analysts cover 2,000 mutual funds. Their full analyst reports, including Stewardship Grades, are available in Morningstar Principia Mutual Funds Advanced and Morningstar Advisor Workstation Office Edition.

AllianceBernstein is the latest firm to announce cutbacks, as the deepening financial crisis has cut into the firm's profits. The $452 billion firm saw its assets under management decrease by approximately $30 billion, or 6.2%, in November 2008 alone. The layoffs will affect members of the investment staff as well as client services and marketing employees. The firm's research staff, which the firm had steadily built up within the last few years, has been reduced by an estimated 8% to 10%. After the layoffs, the count will stand at 85 growth analysts, 66 value analysts, and 62 fixed-income analysts. Four portfolio managers have also gotten the ax, including Daniel Grasman, a four-year employee of the firm who ran several target-date funds; Lipkee Lu, comanager of Bernstein U.S. Government Short Duration SNGSX and Bernstein Short Duration Plus SNSDX since 2005; Ron Brault, senior portfolio manager of the strategic research portfolio; and David Jerome, senior portfolio manager of the large-cap growth portfolio.

AllianceBernstein also announced that CEO Lewis Sanders will retire after a 40-year career at the firm. Sanders took over as CEO in early 2003 and guided the firm through a series of market-timing charges later that year. As former head of respected research boutique Sanford C. Bernstein, he worked to improve the corporate culture of the merged firm as it recovered from the scandal. With a background in investing, Sanders also had an inherent interest in revitalizing the firm's research efforts, which grew substantially over his tenure.

Peter Kraus will replace Sanders as CEO. Kraus comes from an investment management background, most recently working for Merrill Lynch. Previously he spent 22 years at Goldman Sachs, including an eight-year stint as co-head of the investment management division.

End of the Evergreen Era
The Evergreen Investments brand will soon be defunct. As Wells Fargo prepares to take over Evergreen's parent company, Wachovia, at the end of 2008, the struggling Evergreen funds will become part of the Wells Fargo Advantage lineup. The merger will create a $242 billion asset-management firm, the 12th largest in the nation. Meanwhile, Peter Cieszko, who was pegged to become chief executive of Evergreen when current head Dennis Ferro stepped down at the end of the 2008, has announced he is leaving the firm.

BlackRock Fund Reopens
The $860 million BlackRock Health Sciences Opportunities SHSAX will reopen on Jan. 2, 2009, after experiencing net outflows for 16 consecutive months. The fund has one of the best long-term records in the health category and has also weathered the market meltdown relatively well, outpacing nearly 80% of its peers in 2008.

Sentinel's Switch
Paul Kandel is out as lead manager of Sentinel Mid Cap Growth SNTNX. Though the fund has struggled in 2008, Kandel showed promise. He took over the lackluster fund in mid-2006 and led the fund to a top-quartile ranking in the mid-growth category in 2007. Charles Schwartz and Betsy Pecor, who run the successful Sentinel Small Company SAGWX and the fledgling Sentinel Small/Mid Cap SMSMX, were named comanagers.

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