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Funds Collide in Bank Merger

J.P. Morgan Chase's (JPM) planned acquisition of Bank One (ONE) will bring Morgan's $103.1 billion fund business and Bank One's $103.8 billion fund group under one roof. So what will it mean for the new company's fund operations?

There will undoubtedly be significant overlap among Morgan's 62 funds and Bank One's 49 funds, which will almost certainly lead to some fund mergers and foldings, says Don Cassidy, a senior research analyst with Lipper, a Reuters company. "They'll want to increase efficiencies and reduce costs for the advisers," Cassidy says. "But it will be a while before that happens."

Essentially, all the funds will be paired up to determine the amount of overlap. Then Morgan executives will debate which funds to fold into its counterpart, choose the management team for the fund and decide what name to give it. And while much of this has likely been talked about in general terms, "they're going to need to get people around a table to make some decisions," Cassidy says. "And that can take three months from the time the merger is approved."

In the meantime, this news serves as a good opportunity for investors to evaluate their fund holdings. Investors in Morgan or Bank One's OneGroup funds would do well to review the positions those funds hold in their portfolios. The key question investors need to ask themselves is whether they would buy the fund for the first time today. If not, examine the reasons and perhaps consider selling. But if either bank's funds still fulfill the role they were initially selected for, then the merger is no reason to sell.

Bank One's OneGroup funds were among the first to be targeted by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer four months ago, although no charges have been filed and no settlements reached. In the meantime, though, OneGroup President Dave Kundert has instituted a number of "excellent reforms," according to Morningstar analyst Russ Kinnel. Among them: The firm ended soft-dollar deals and added a chief compliance officer who reports to the fund boards. The firm also said it will begin disclosing fund managers' holdings in its funds, explain in the prospectus how management is compensated, provide quarterly disclosure of proxy votes and disclose fees in dollar terms as well as a percentage of assets.

The lengths OneGroup has gone to in its effort to restore investor confidence seems to have worked -- the fund family netted $90 million in inflows in November, according to the Financial Research Corp.

Morgan also has a 45% stake in American Century funds, but that fund family will continue to operate independently. "It's business as usual for us," says spokesperson Laura Kouri. "We're not expecting any changes, especially no fund mergers."

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