The market’s worst three-year stretch in history has definitely taken its toll on the assets of the nation’s biggest fund companies. And no firms have been harder hit than the ones at the top.

Fidelity has bled $87 billion in assets in the last 12 months ended Jan. 31. Putnam has lost $45 billion, Janus has lost $38 billion, and in spite of the appeal of its index funds, Vanguard’s assets have declined by $34 billion, according to Financial Research Corp. of Boston.

While spokespeople for the biggest fund complexes maintain that declines in assets have not affected business significantly, signs of pressure cannot be denied.

Although largely restricted to the back office, layoffs have been fairly widespread. Bonuses have become rare. Outsourcing has become more prevalent, with some companies even moving their operations overseas ( see MFMN 2/24/03). Thousands of funds have been merged or liquidated out of existence. Advertising has come to a standstill, and firms are becoming more diligent about their margins ( see MFMN 2/10/03, 3/27/03).

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