The acquisition of three asset management companies by European firms within the past two weeks may be a prelude to additional foreign acquisitions, mutual fund analysts said.

On June 20, Alliance Capital Management Holding of New York announced it would buy Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. for $3.5 billion. Alliance is a subsidiary of AXA Group of Paris.

On June 19, Old Mutual of London announced it would acquire United Asset Management for $1.46 billion, or $25 a share. In addition, Old Mutual will assume UAM's net debt of $769 million, bringing the total value of the deal to $2.2 billion.

In the third deal, CDC Asset Management of Paris announced June 16 it would buy Nvest Companies, L.P. of Boston for $2.2 billion, which includes $311 million of Nvest's debt. CDC is the asset management arm of Caisse des depots Group of Paris.

Competitive pressures are beginning to take their toll on the U.S. mutual fund industry, according to Avi Nachmany, director of research at Strategic Insight of New York. The slowdown in U.S. fund industry growth is making fund companies increasingly anxious to continue to grow their businesses in other regions of the world, he said.

Some companies are so anxious for this growth that rather than doing the acquiring themselves or entering into a joint venture, they are allowing themselves to be acquisition targets in order to benefit from the foreign acquirer's distribution channels, Nachmany said.

For many U.S. fund complexes, building a foreign presence has become a key strategic goal, Nachmany said.

"Our industry at this point might be plateauing, but it is still viewed as very robust by foreign firms," said Geoff Bobroff, president of Bobroff Consulting of East Greenwich, R.I. "There is an appeal in buying U.S. money management firms."

Old Mutual's and AXA's deals are expected to close in the fourth quarter. CDC did not indicate when it expects its deal to close.

UAM was interested in the deal because its previous business model of growth through acquisition has been ineffective in the past five years, said James Orr, UAM's president and CEO, in a news conference. UAM, a collection of 45 affiliates, would now like to focus on developing new strategies for its affiliates and making use of Old Mutual's distribution capabilities, Orr said.

Nvest, which will be renamed CDC Asset Management-North America, believes "it is essential for us to have a strategic partnership with a major international firm and be part of a truly global firm," said Peter Voss, chief executive officer of Nvest, in a statement. "Our partnership with CDC Asset Management will enable us to compete more effectively in the growing market for global investment products, both institutional and individual, that is sweeping across Europe and Asia."

Being acquired by Alliance Capital will give Sanford C. Bernstein an "increased ability to leverage products, technology and services between our private client group and AXA Advisors," said Lewis Sanders, chairman and chief executive officer of Sanford C. Bernstein, in a statement.

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