Putnam Investments, the leading seller of mutual funds through banks, is beefing up its international funds business.

The Boston-based company has hired a senior managing director to oversee international equity management, product development, marketing, and administration.

Tim Ferguson, who will assume the post in April, is chief executive of HSBC Asset Management, London. The unit of HSBC Holdings PLC manages $34 billion of assets.

Putnam, which manages $78.4 billion in assets, now has just $4 billion in portfolios that invest chiefly or wholly in non-U.S. stocks, said Dennis Dolego, a partner at Financial Research Corp., Chicago.

"Putnam is feeling competitive pressure, because other firms are increasing their involvement in international funds," Mr. Dolego said.

Some of Putnam's chief rivals, including Franklin Resources and Capital Research and Management, already have strong international offerings. Others, such as Federated Investors and Massachusetts Financial Services, are building them rapidly.

Bankers say fund companies need more international offerings to win the attention of investors - and of brokers. Bert Browen, Idaho investment sales manager at U.S. Bancorp, said his brokers are telling investors that international holdings are part of a well-diversified portfolio, and "customers are starting to get that message."

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