Pioneer Group Inc. could be homing in on a buyer, according to a source close to the mutual fund company.

Pioneer said in March that it hired Merrill Lynch & Co. and Salomon Smith Barney Inc. to explore "strategic alternatives," including sale. Bids were due today, and there has been strong interest in the company, the source said.

Prospective buyers have completed due diligence, and Pioneer has received a second round of bids, according to a Tuesday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

A Pioneer spokeswoman declined to discuss potential buyers or whether a deal was imminent. But she said the company hopes to make "some announcement about the status of the process with the investment bankers by the annual meeting" on Tuesday.

Speculation over who might bid on the investment management company, which had $24.5 billion of assets under management worldwide on Dec. 31, has drawn in a wide range of names, including ABN Amro, FleetBoston Financial Corp., Old Mutual PLC, Robeco Group of the Netherlands, Prudential PLC and T. Rowe Price. These, however, are speculative at best.

The company is embroiled in a proxy contest with Lens Investment Management LLC, which is seeking to take control of Pioneer's board. On Tuesday, Pioneer's largest shareholder, Southeastern Asset Management Inc., said it had voted all of its shares in support of Pioneer's slate of officers. Southeastern owns about 18% of the fund company.

Richard Bennett, director of governance at Lens, which owns 4.1% of Pioneer, said all signs have been pointing to an imminent sale.

Pioneer has fallen on hard times partly because of overseas investments, including a Russian timber operation and a gold mining operation in Guinea, which it has tried to shed without success.

Pioneer's shares closed at $28 on Tuesday, up $1.

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