Money manager Michael Price has hit the national tour circuit, promoting his high-octane stock funds to banks, brokerages, and financial planners for his new parent company, Franklin Resources Inc.
Mr. Price, whose New Jersey-based Heine Securities Inc. was acquired last year by San Mateo, Calif.-based Franklin, plans to hawk the funds throughout the first quarter in Boston, Dallas, New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington.
"It really is an all-out push, no question about it," said senior vice president Toby Mumford, who oversees Franklin's sales through financial institutions.
Franklin, with $130 billion of assets, has generally been ranked as the second-biggest seller of funds through banks, behind Putnam Investments.
But Franklin, primarily a bond shop, was struggling to maintain its leadership position. The few stock funds that Franklin did manage were virtually unknown to brokers and investors. Only last year did banks begin to pick up the company's international equity portfolios, which it sells through its family of Templeton Funds.
"Franklin has had good equity funds, and I've been chagrined for years that we're not selling them," said Edward Diamond, president of the brokerage at Dime Savings Bank of New York.
Mr. Diamond added that Franklin was vulnerable to losing shelf space at banks like his that want to work with a small number of fund families.
Some banks find it easier to work with just a few fund companies. But they still want to offer as many mutual fund portfolios as possible, so they don't want specialists.
"By bringing Michael Price's firm on, they get instant credibility," Mr. Diamond said.
But whether now is the time to pitch equity funds is questionable. After all, the stock market has gotten frothy lately, and investors are getting leery of a bull run that is moving into its third year without much more than a hiccup.
Mr. Mumford isn't unaware of such fears and is pitching Mr. Price's value strategy-investing in companies that he feels are undervalued. "He's the horse to be riding," Mr. Mumford says. "He's beaten the S&P in down markets."
Franklin is coming off a good year in the bank marketplace after suffering in 1995, a year after the bond market crashed and banks began switching to stock funds. The company generated $17 billion of sales last year, 20% of which were through banks, according to Mr. Mumford. He said banks really took to the company's international funds, and sales grew 60% in 1996, from 1995.
Franklin's addition of stock funds has virtually locked up the company's place in the bank marketplace. Not that anyone was calling them an also- ran, but for banks that want large offerings from a few companies, Franklin did have an Achilles heel.
"They are a marketing powerhouse, and now they're impossible to beat because they have Michael Price's company," said a competitor.