Alliance Capital Management has picked Den norske Bank as the exclusive Norway distributor of its 22 Luxembourg-domiciled offshore mutual funds.

Initially just five of the ACM funds -- including the American growth, European growth, and international health-care portfolios -- will become available next month through brokers in Norway on a solicited basis only. The New York company's entire menu of ACM funds had been available through brokers there on an unsolicited basis only.

Having a bank partner promote the funds, which have $4.5 billion of assets under management, will help Alliance penetrate the retail market in Norway, a spokesman said. In Norway 86% of mutual fund sales last year were through banks, according to Cerulli Associates Inc., a Boston consulting firm.

And Alliance's funds may be included in the bank's insurance offerings at some point, the spokesman said.

As the U.S. mutual fund industry matures, fund companies are increasingly turning overseas to find pockets of growth, particularly as conditions that previously made the U.S. market ripe for growth crop up in other countries. Norway, a relatively wealthy country with an aging population saving for retirement, is one of them.

Indeed, Alliance's entry into the Norwegian market came after that of other U.S. companies -- Fidelity Investments of Boston, which distributes through Oslo Finans, an asset management firm, and Fokus Bank; Merrill Lynch & Co.'s Mercury Asset Management unit; and Franklin Templeton Group of San Mateo, Calif.

"I think there will continue to be a spread of companies into Norway," said Eric Bateman, Franklin Templeton's business development manager for the Nordic and Netherlands region. Franklin Templeton made a distribution agreement with Norway's Spare Bank One, a group of five regional banks, in mid-1998 and is looking for other partners, he said.

Norway lags its Scandinavian neighbors, Sweden and Denmark, in terms of amassing mutual fund assets. Last year it had only $11 billion of assets, compared with Sweden's $55 billion and Denmark's $19 billion, according to Cerulli.

What's more, Norway's fund assets fell 15.4% in 1998 from the previous year, which Mr. Bateman of Franklin Templeton said reflected the aftermath of a Norwegian stock market crash.

Nonetheless, the country's fund assets were up a whopping 120% from 1994, according to Cerulli. By contrast, fund industry assets in the United States stand at more than $6 trillion.

"It's still pretty small, but it's on its way," the Alliance Capital spokesman said.

Mr. Bateman of Franklin Templeton agreed. Though Nordic clients historically have invested solely in their own market, he added, they are seeking to diversify into global mutual funds in the aftermath of the stock market crash.

Separately, Alliance Capital is registering its offshore funds in countries including Germany, Austria, France, the Netherlands, and Spain, as well as in Hong Kong.

Though the United States has the largest and most smoothly run market, "the area in which we see the most substantial growth opportunity is offshore," the spokesman said.

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