Pioneer Group Inc. has hired Salomon Smith Barney Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co. to "evaluate alternatives for increasing shareholder value," a spokeswoman said Friday.The company declined to outline the nature of its search.

The announcement came as Pioneer released its fourth-quarter earnings, which showed a return to profitability for the first time since the first three months of 1998. Pioneer reported net income of $4.8 million, or 18 cents a share, on revenues of $64.4 million.

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