Franklin Templeton Group has plugged a product gap with two mutual funds aimed at the hot growth-stock category-but rolling out the product may be just half the battle.
The San Mateo, Calif., company has to get investors and brokers to start thinking of it for growth-style equity funds, not just for bond, value- style, and international funds.
"They have got to somehow convince people" that Franklin can do growth investing, said Christopher Traulsen, an equity fund analyst at Morningstar Inc. "Most people think they are a value shop on the equity side, and they still think of them first and foremost as a bond shop."
Franklin already has growth-style funds, including a small-cap fund, a midcap portfolio, and a fund that focuses on California companies. But it had been short on funds that invest in large-cap stocks.
Its Aggressive Growth Fund, introduced last week, invests in small, midsize, and large companies. Its Large Cap Growth Fund was rolled out June 7.
Gregory Johnson, president of the company's distribution arm, said Franklin's success in running its growth-style funds should make it easier to market the new funds.
"We've already shown between the California Growth Fund and the Small Cap Growth Fund that we do have that capability and credibility in that area," he said.
If the two offerings prove popular, they could help stem heavy outflows from Franklin's funds caused by its emphasis on investing styles and categories that have been out of favor.
Franklin's value style of equity management, epitomized by the Mutual Series family of funds that it acquired in 1996, had been out of style until recently.
The company's international funds have taken a beating in recent years as foreign economies have suffered. And its bond funds have struggled to attract dollars, thanks to investors' unrelenting love affair with stock funds.
"The real challenge for them is going to be to get that growth fund into the distribution systems their fund complexes are in because there are a hell of a lot of other growth funds out there," said Robert L. Ash, managing director of Fleet Investment Management.
Franklin is one of Fleet's preferred providers for mutual funds, but the banking company mostly promotes Franklin's bond funds. In fact, bond fund sales account for 98% of the Franklin funds business done at Fleet.
To get its new funds on the A-list at distributors like Fleet, Franklin must market them aggressively and continually to those brokerages. The company will also have to provide good service to the brokers who sell the funds, and the funds must develop a good track record.
That last part will take patience, since many investors and brokers look for a three- to five-year performance history.
Adding the growth funds "to their product lineup over the long term is the right thing to do," Mr. Ash said.
It may help that the new funds will be run by managers who have a strong track record at Franklin's existing growth funds, Mr. Traulsen said.
Franklin's overall sales at Fleet have increased in the past year, but its share of fund sales has shrunk as investors opt more for equity funds, Mr. Ash said.
Franklin has been plagued for months by net outflows as investors redeem more shares of its funds than they buy.
From January through May the company had net outflows of $9.7 billion, compared with $1.6 billion for all of 1998, according to Financial Research Corp. in Boston.
The company's sales through banks fell last year, to $3.9 billion, from $4 billion in 1997, but it remains the second-largest seller through banks, after Putnam Investments.
In another effort to spur sales, Franklin at the beginning of the year introduced back-end-loaded shares for its mutual funds. B shares have been increasingly popular because they let investors avoid up-front sales charges.
A Franklin spokeswoman said it was too early to see an effect on sales attributable to the new share class.