Investment manager Waddell & Reed Financial reported a slight drop in quarterly earnings, citing higher compensation and distribution expenses.

The company posted net income of $25.7 million, or 31 cents a share, for the last quarter of 2004 compared to the $28.1 million, or 34 cents a share, it posted a year earlier.

While sales grew significantly last quarter and throughout the year, total operating expenses increased 13% to $90.5 million in the last three months of the year from $80.1 million a year ago.

Total operating revenue did not keep up and rose only 5% to $130.3 million in the last year, from $124.1 million a year earlier.

In the fourth quarter, assets under management jumped to $38.7 billion, from $36.6 billion in the last three months of 2003. Investors withdrew $1.5 billion in the quarter, outpacing the $1.3 billion in sales.

While higher expenses in the form of stock option compensation and increased costs in beefing up the company's wholesale sector squeezed profits, Chairman and CEO Keith Tucker expressed hope that new assets would grow steadily this year.

Waddell received inflows of $178 million in the quarter in its mutual funds business, a 100% increase from the previous year. The inflows for 2004 were $460 million.

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