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Firms Extend Ratings to Newer Products

The growth of non-mutual fund investment products is presenting opportunities, and some headaches, to the firms that make the products and for the organizations that are beginning to track them.

Firms that track and analyze funds and mutual fund sales are expanding their coverage to include alternative products and new markets, according to executives at money management companies and consulting firms. Money management companies want consultants to provide new data and more detailed analysis as the firms' executives consider whether to offer new products and enter new markets, executives and consultants said.

"Good data begets good analysis," said Christopher L. Davis, executive director of the Money Management Institute of Washington, D.C., a trade group formed in 1997 in part to track sales and asset trends in the managed account business.

Money management company executives are most interested in performance rating and ranking data and analysis about sales trends for a range of new or increasingly popular existing non-fund financial products and services, executives said. The products and services include exchange-traded funds, managed accounts and commingled funds in retirement accounts. There also is demand for more research and tracking of sales trends internationally, consultants said.

Given the velocity of change in the money management business, what new products get tracked and how the products' performance is measured will be hot issues over the next several years, said Edward Rosenbaum, director of research for Lipper of Summit, N.J., the fund tracking firm.

"The kind of rapid changes that we are looking at are not going to slow down," Rosenbaum said.

Money management companies want increased data and analyses to help executives plan for development of new products and distribution efforts, executives and consultants said. But data also can help raise the profile and credibility of a new product, executives said.

Phoenix Investment Partners, Ltd. of Hartford, Conn., for example, has pressed tracking firms to monitor asset growth and sales trends in the managed-account industry, said John Sharry, president of the retail division for Phoenix. Managed accounts are individual accounts of stocks and bonds that, unlike mutual funds, can be adapted to the needs of high-net-worth investors. Phoenix saw its own managed account business rise from $7.3 billion in assets as of Dec. 31, 1998 to $10.4 billion a year later.

Reporters cover the mutual fund industry in part because there is an abundance of readily available data that measures the industry's size and identifies the industry's winners and losers in sales and performance, Sharry said. Sales and performance-oriented media coverage is a necessary ingredient in popularizing an investment product, he said.

"The business pages today look as much like sports pages as anything," Sharry said.

The need for sales and asset data was one of the reasons The Money Management Institute was formed, Sharry said. In addition to serving as a basis for member-firm research and as a resource for the media, the Money Management Institute provides data to regulators and legislators when issues arise that concern the group's membership, Davis said. There are approximately 50 members of the Money Management Institute, Davis said.

On the retail level, fund ratings offer investors a means of comparing non-fund investment products to funds. Morningstar Associates LLC, the investment advisory arm of fund tracker Morningstar of Chicago, will evaluate and provide profiles of 12 commingled separate accounts for Cigna Investment Management of Hartford, a division of Cigna Corp., Cigna announced March 15. Cigna offers the accounts, known as the Cigna Charter Funds, in Cigna-provided 401(k) plans.

Morningstar's profiles will enable plan sponsors and participants to better compare Cigna's offerings with those of retail mutual funds, said Ken Ferraro, a spokesperson for Cigna.

"It's a convenience," Ferraro said.

Expanding data collection and analysis to non-fund products is not always easy for the tracking firms, however. Mutual funds are required to file reports with the SEC at least semi-annually, disclosing their holdings. That sort of data is not always so easy to obtain about new fund products, fund trackers said. Consulting firms largely must rely on voluntary cooperation from firms that sell the new products in order to evaluate the products and track sales trends, consultants said. It can be difficult to obtain that information, they said.

Cerulli Associates of Boston, a consulting firm, relies on data from other firms as a basis for some of its analysis, said Ryan Tagal, a senior consultant. But Cerulli gathers its own data when existing information does not provide sufficient detail or fails to cover new markets or products, Tagal said.

For example, Cerulli is expanding its coverage of distribution of investment products in non-U.S. markets, Tagal said. While asset and sales information for fund-like products is readily available in some countries, in others, obtaining that information requires a great deal of work, Tagal said. Cerulli recently hired a new consultant to expand its international research, said Andrew Guillette, a senior consultant.