Janus, the Denver-based mutual fund company, is the latest money management firm to announce that it is getting into the fast-growing offshore-fund business.

The company's six funds, clones of its best-selling funds in the U.S. market, will open up to investors in December.

Industry experts expect increasing competition in offshore funds as overseas investors grow more sophisticated, governments ease restrictions on foreign investing, and pension systems are overhauled.

"Most U.S. fund companies are looking to gain overseas clients any way they can," said Ben Phillips, a consultant with Cerulli Associates, Boston.

"It's where the final frontier is."

U.S. companies had only a small slice of the offshore mutual fund market at the beginning of last year-about 8.5%, according to Cerulli and Micropal, a unit of Standard & Poor's.

The $52.4 billion of assets under management by U.S. firms was an increase of 33% from the year before.

Offshore funds are designed for investors who are not U.S. citizens. They are typically registered in countries that have strict privacy laws regarding financial assets.

The Janus funds will be domiciled in Dublin.

As they are in this case, the funds are often clones of domestic funds. They offer tax efficiency and international portfolio diversification.

The advantage of an offshore fund for a Brazilian investor, for example, is international reach.

Brazilian funds are allowed to invest only in Brazilian securities.

Though U.S. firms own just a small part of the offshore fund market, Janus will have plenty of competition in rivals like Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Fidelity Investments, and Franklin Templeton.

Richard Garland, director of international marketing for Janus, said the company will try to compete by building a network of loyal distributors.

It plans to do that by limiting the number of distributors it uses, he said. "You have to be very targeted," said Mr. Garland. "Don't try to be all things to all distributors."

The company said it plans to distribute through brokerages and banks that are based in the United States and have an overseas presence-firms such as Merrill Lynch and First Union Corp.

Janus announced early this month that it had hired Mr. Garland, who was previously with J&W Seligman Co., a New York money management firm with about $20 billion of assets. At Seligman he was responsible for marketing a series of offshore funds.

He said he plans to hire a team over the next few months to help drum up business around the world.

Mutual fund companies held 44.5% of the offshore assets of the top 40 U.S. firms in the offshore-fund business at the end of 1996, according to Cerulli and Micropal.

Banks ranked second, with 26.7% of the market. Brokerages had 18.7%.

Janus manages about $77 billion. It has 19 mutual funds and also acts as a subadviser for private-label mutual funds.

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