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Fund Firms Take Stage

The market's October swoon may have already caused investors to forget the third-quarter rally. If so, this week's earnings reports from asset managers should jog their memories, even if valuation concerns keep a lid on share prices.

"Average assets under management rose last quarter, and that's how the group makes its money, so you should see some strong performances," says Matt Snowling, analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey. "We won't see the effects of the recent market pullback until next quarter."

For the benefit of those traders whose memories have taken a pounding along with their positions since the start of this month, the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000 indices were up 3.1% and 4.4%, respectively, from July through September. The Nasdaq Composite rose 4.6% over that time.

In turn, the average diversified U.S. equity fund was up 4.7%, according to Lipper, a healthy return that has forced a number of analysts to up their earnings estimates for the likes of Alliance Capital Management (AC), T. Rowe Price (TROW) and even beleaguered Janus Capital (JNS) in recent weeks.

Analysts have had to ratchet up their estimates even more for asset managers with strong international fund offerings, such as Franklin Resources (BEN), after another strong performance by stocks overseas. The average non-U.S. fund was up 11% last quarter, with the average emerging markets fund up 17%.

"U.S. money is looking for an alternative," says Snowling. "And when it comes to distribution, Franklin is second to none."

Franklin reported September ending assets under management of $452.4 billion, up 6.3% over the prior quarter. The San Mateo, Calif., company releases fourth-quarter earnings Thursday, and analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call will be looking for a profit of $1.02 a share on sales of $758 million. A year earlier, the company earned 79 cents a share and had sales of $882 million.

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