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Fund Times: Putnam and MFS Rumored to be Seeking Buyers

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The parents of Putnam Investments ( Marsh & McLennan Companies (MMC)) and MFS Investment Management ( Sun Life Financial Services  (SLF)) have both confirmed this week that they may sell the asset managers. The media has reported that numerous firms are exploring a deal, including Franklin, T. Rowe Price, Ameriprise (parent of the RiverSource funds), and Morgan Stanley. Putnam and MFS fundholders could benefit from a sale, according to Laura Pavlenko Lutton, the lead Morningstar fund analyst for both firms. Both families have struggled to deliver strong returns from some of their largest, best-known offerings, including  MFS Massachusetts Investors Growth Stock (MIGFX) and  Putnam Voyager (PVOYX). (Both offerings have trailed the large-growth category average for the one-, three-, and five-year periods.) An acquirer could merge these funds into stronger offerings--a move that also could result in lower fees, Lutton said.

Some of these potential combinations seem to have both positive and negative aspects to them. If MFS, for example, were merged with T. Rowe, the latter firm would finally gain some traction in the advisor world, something it has been seeking for a while, and the firm would nearly double its mutual fund assets under management, from $170 to $338 billion. Additionally, MFS' respectable international fund lineup would add to T. Rowe's offerings in that arena. However, problems could arise involving capacity constraints, particularly in the small- and mid-cap strategies the resulting firm would run. Whatever combination ultimately results (if any at all), the merger would follow a couple of other recent high-profile asset manager mergers, such as the Merrill Lynch/BlackRock and Citigroup/Legg Mason combinations. In the case of these two mergers, we think investors have on balance come out ahead, but combining two firms with potentially different cultures can be a tricky business, so we'll be watching closely as information comes out of the Putnam and MFS negotiations.

Lawrence Jones does not own (actual or beneficial) shares in any of the securities mentioned above. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.

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