Recent layoffs at Putnam Investments and Janus Capital Corp. probably are not harbingers of mass firings at other mutual fund companies, several observers said.
Putnam reportedly laid off dozens of employees this past week, Janus announced in early February that it had fired 468 operations officers, and American Express Financial Advisors has started a cost review, announced last month, that may lead to layoffs.
But while there is a lot of pressure on fund firms to lower costs, the threat of reduced revenues may be overstated given that retail investors still appear to be putting their assets into equity funds, though at a slower pace. A study published Wednesday by the New York mutual fund consultant Strategic Insight concluded that investors put $3 billion into equity funds in February alone, despite the stock markets downturn.
Geoff Bobroff, a mutual fund consultant based in Providence, R.I., said few companies cost-cutting measures in response to the market doldrums will come in the form of firings.
For the last few years many of these companies had been planning large expansions, and they are dealing with the markets contraction by simply leaving empty seats open, Mr. Bobroff said. Funds are more apt to try to keep overhead down by trimming their ad spending, he said.
Bruce Brewington, a mutual fund analyst at Putnam Lovell Securities in San Francisco (it has no corporate connection to Boston-based Putnam Investments), said that any fund company firings would likely be in shareholder servicing areas, which are becoming increasingly redundant with increased investor communication by Internet. Investment and distribution employees are generally the last to go, he said.
But shareholder servicing positions generally command modest salaries, so eliminating any of them would not eliminate a lot of expense.
Layoffs in service support are not big cash-savers, Mr. Bobroff said.
Mr. Brewington said other companies that could be on the verge of making layoffs include Fidelity Investments and T. Rowe Price Associates Inc., because they have substantial retail business.
A spokesman for T. Rowe Price said the Baltimore company is looking to cut costs across the board but has no layoff plans. Fidelity, of Boston, did not return calls from American Banker.