Bloomberg News

NEW YORK - Merrill Lynch & Co.'s asset management unit is cutting staff by 20% this year, slicing costs as revenues decline.

Merrill Lynch Investment Managers, which had $525 billion of assets at the end of the first quarter, will probably employ about 3,600 people by the end of the year, down from 4,500 at the start, said the unit's head, Jeffrey Peek.

"We've tried to respond with speed and clarity" to lower expenses, Peek told investors and analysts in a Web broadcast hosted by Bear Stearns Cos. The moves contributed to the 1,700-person cut in Merrill Lynch's work force in the first quarter, to 70,300.

Merrill's job reductions include 350 that were shifted from the U.S. mutual fund accounting and administration group to State Street Corp. Merrill has also outsourced some administrative functions to Bank of New York Co. The firm also plans to outsource its hedge fund accounting this month.

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