The new fund company created by two portfolio managers from Evergreen Asset Management Corp., the mutual fund division of First Union Corp., faces an uncertain future distributing its funds, industry experts said.
Samuel Lieber and Marc Halle said last week they will buy the Evergreen U.S. Real Estate fund and the Evergreen Global Real Estate fund for an undisclosed sum. Mr. Lieber has managed the U.S. fund since 1993 and the global fund since 1989. Mr. Halle became Mr. Lieber's partner in 1994.
Mr. Lieber and Mr. Halle have named their mutual fund company Alpine Management and Research LLC. It will be located in Purchase, N.Y., and plans to manage the rechristened Alpine U.S. Real Estate Equity fund and Alpine International Real Estate Equity fund.
Although Mr. Lieber and Mr. Halle are well-regarded fund managers, some experts questioned their ability to sell their portfolios on their own.
"They have given up a relatively sure thing for a gamble-that they can continue to attract investors and not lose them," said Louis S. Harvey, president of Dalbar Financial Services, Boston. "Distribution is the most critical factor."
"These funds were introduced to investors by advisers," Mr. Harvey added. "People don't buy mutual funds because of fundamentals. There are a lot of relationships that drive the sales."
Charlotte, N.C. -based First Union said Evergreen is shedding the funds to concentrate on less specialized portfolios.
The Evergreen U.S. Real Estate fund has $35 million of assets and returned a staggering 48% for investors in 1997.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Evergreen Global Real Estate fund, with $37 million, got a 2% return, according to Lipper Analytical Services Inc., Summit, N.J.
"We have a significant number of funds within the Evergreen fund family, and this allows us to streamline the Evergreen product offering," said William Ennis, managing director of Evergreen Funds. "It was also coupled with a compelling purchase price that the Alpine management group offered us for the transaction."
Industry experts say fund portfolios typically fetch prices between 1% and 2% of assets under management.
Evergreen U.S. Real Estate and Evergreen Global Real Estate were the only real estate funds in the Evergreen family.
"Certainly even with the very significant returns this year in the real estate funds, we still believe it had a narrow focus to it," Mr. Ennis said. "We believe our growth will continue to come from the broad-based funds that apply to all investment sectors."
The deal is expected to close in January.