Mid Cap Opportunities will close to new investors at 4 p.m. EST Tuesday. On March 9, AIM said the broker-sold fund would

close to new investors when it had $750 million in assets. On Friday, the fund had $748 million in assets, according to a company statement.

American Century Funds Will Ask to Drop Dividend Requirement

More evidence that dividends don't pay.

American Century

will ask holders of its flagging

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Select and

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Heritage growth funds in April to eliminate a requirement that they invest primarily in dividend-paying stocks.

Focusing on dividend-paying companies means casting a shrinking net these days. For example, between 1985 and 1995 the

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Vanguard 500 Index fund's income return typically ranged from 3% to 4% annually. But it hasn't hit 3% since 1995, and over the past two years the fund's yield has been about half that.

The American Century proposal appears in a preliminary proxy filed with the

Securities and Exchange Commission

today. Shareholders in these funds should probably go along with the move since requiring a

growth fund

to focus on dividend-paying stocks is a bit odd to begin with. Many fast-growing companies plow earnings back into their business for expansion rather than pay the cash out to shareholders, so the restriction probably excludes more than a few fast-growers.

It shows in the funds' returns. Neither beats its average peer over the past one-, three-, five- or 10-year periods, according to


. The $7.6 billion Select fund is up 16% over the past year, trailing 90% of large-cap growth funds. In a sign of the frothy growth times we live in, the $1.8 billion Heritage fund is up 83% over the past year, trailing almost 65% of its mid-cap-growth peers.

Proxies are due June 16. If approved, the change will go into effect three days later. It will be intriguing to see if a free hand gives these struggling funds a boost.

Touchstone, Countrywide to Merge


funds will slap its label on 14


stock and bond funds on May 1, if shareholders approve.

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The small, $1 billion Countrywide funds family was purchased last October by a unit of Cincinnati-based

Western and Southern Life Insurance

. Now, the insurer wants to fold them into its own fund family, Touchstone, which has $25 billion in assets. Both fund groups are broker-sold, meaning they charge fees to investors to cover broker commissions.

Countrywide shareholders should receive proxies on the shift to Touchstone in mid-March and must return them by April 19.

Judging from preliminary proxy materials on file with the SEC, the Countrywide funds' management teams and expenses will stay the same.

The two fund groups appear to be a decent fit, which could stave off fund mergers for a while. Countrywide gives Touchstone greater fixed-income product depth and a couple of highflying stock funds:


Aggressive Growth and


Growth/Value. These two large-cap growth funds are both managed by subadviser

Mastrapasqua & Associates

. Aggressive Growth jumped 127% and Growth Value increased 95.7% over the past year, according to Morningstar. Both funds have more than half their assets bet on tech stocks, have the same management team and appear to be substantially similar.

Numeric Value Fund to Liquidate

If shareholders of


N/I Numeric Larger Cap Value need more evidence that


investing is out of favor, they just need to check their mailboxes in a couple of days.

N/I Numeric, the quantitative Boston money manager, wants to liquidate the fund. With only $2.7 million in assets, the fund could soon be too small to meet its diversified value mandate, according to the letter from Numeric president Langdon Wheeler. The average domestic stock fund has about $600 million in assets, according to Morningstar.

Shareholders will receive a proxy to vote on the matter in mid-May, according to a company spokesman. Numeric stopped selling shares of the fund last Tuesday. If shareholders approve the closure, and there seems little reason not to, they can either exchange their shares for other Numeric funds or redeem them for cash.

It's not really a surprise that redemptions are bleeding the fund out of existence. Value funds in general have lagged growth peers for the past few years, and the 2-year-old Numeric fund trails its value peers. Over the past year the fund is down 11%, worse than 94% of its peers, according to Morningstar.

A Numeric spokesman says redemptions aren't a problem with the firm's three other funds, none of which follow a value strategy. The firm, which manages $274 million for mutual fund investors and about $4 billion total, isn't the only shop shutting down its value fund. At the beginning of the month


announced plans to

close its Value fund on May 31.

The last time Numeric made news was a little over a year ago when John Bogle Jr., son of


former leader Jack Bogle,

left the firm that he helped build. Bogle Jr. didn't manage Larger Cap Value, but he did oversee the firm's portfolio management, according to a company spokesman.