BOSTON Putnam Investments is paying the price for calling the bottom in financial stocks too early.
Performance among the Boston-based firms domestic equity mutual funds particularly those that invest in large-capitalization equities has suffered in relation to those offered by other fund groups, said Wenli Tan, a fund analyst with Morningstar Inc. of Chicago.
Wed probably recommend investors look elsewhere, she said.
Putnam, for its part, maintains no such call was placed on financials at least not at a firm level.
Funds vary in sector weightings based on investment management decisions and fund objectives, said Laura McNamara, a spokeswoman for Putnam.
Maybe so. But Putnam funds with large-cap equity exposure have made bigger bets on financials than their peers, according to industry experts.
Putnam, the nations 17th-largest fund group, had total assets of $85.8 billion at the end of November, according to Financial Research Corp. of Boston. That compares with total assets of $95.5 billion a year earlier, said FRC.
Last year, Putnam experienced net outflows of $11.64 billion, compared with $13.84 billion in 2006, according to FRC.
Such outflows arent surprising given the performance of some of Putnams biggest funds.
The $12.29 billion Putnam Fund for Growth & Income significantly trails its large-cap value peers because of large bets in financial stocks, Ms. Tan said.
At the end of September, the most recent date for which data are available, 4.87% of the funds assets were in Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America Corp., 3.66% in New York-based Citigroup Inc. and 2.2% in The Bear Stearns Cos. Inc. of New York.
The three were hurt by uncertainty over how much exposure they have to the subprime crisis.
Bank of America shares, for example, fell 19.2% last year. Citigroups plummeted 44.9% and shares of Bear Stearns dropped 45.9%.
Predictably, the Putnam funds performance suffered.
It finished last year 6.2% in the red, placing it in the 91st percentile of its large-value category, according to Morningstar.
For the three-year period ended Jan. 2, it had an annualized return of 3.99%, placing it in the 92nd percentile of its category. It had an annualized five-year return of 9%, placing it in the 93rd percentile of its category.
The results are reminiscent of the time when the fund company made big bets in technology that ended up hurting the funds, said Howard Schneider, president of Practical Perspectives, an industry consulting firm in Boxford, Mass.
Putnams track record wont allow for forgiveness, he said. They have already used their mulligan.
Putnam Fund for Growth & Income is not the only Putnam fund to suffer.
The $6.3 billion Putnam Voyager fund, the firms flagship large-cap growth offering, also bet heavily on Bear Stearns. In fact, shares of the company accounted for 1.99% of the portfolio at the end of September. As a result, its performance lagged its large-cap growth peers.
It finished 2007 up 5.3%, placing it in the 87th percentile of the large-cap growth category, according to Morningstar.
For the three-year period ended Jan. 2, it posted an annualized return of 4.79%, placing it in the 89th percentile, and it had a five-year annualized return of 7.77%, ranking it in the 92nd percentile.
Of course, Putnam isnt the only fund firm to suffer.
The $51.6 billion Vanguard Windsor II Fund, a large-cap value fund from The Vanguard Group Inc. of Malvern, Pa., also placed large bets in financials and, as a result, saw its performance lag.
Its top holdings at the end of September included a 2.76% portfolio stake in Bank of America, a 2.13% stake in Citigroup and a 1.88% stake in Bear Stearns.
As a result, the usually reliable Windsor II fund lagged its peers with regard to short-term performance. It finished 2007 up 2.2%, placing it in the 46th percentile of its large-cap value category. For the three-year period ended Jan. 2, the fund had an annualized return of 8.43%, placing it in the 38th percentile. It had a five-year annualized return of 13.78%, placing it in the 19th percentile of its category.
So why the focus on Putnam?
Mainly because of the extent to which Putnam appeared willing to bet on financials, Ms. Tan said.
At the end of September, Putnam was the second biggest holder of Bear Stearns stock with a total of 6,675,783 shares, or 5.78% of the shares outstanding. Only Dallas-based money manager Barrow Hanley Mewhinney & Strauss Inc. held more, with a total of 10,734,784 shares, or 9.3% of the shares outstanding.
Given such results, its not surprising that change appears to be afoot at Putnam.
Joshua Brooks, chief investment officer for large-cap equities at Putnam, resigned abruptly in December. Mr. Brooks joined Putnam in April 2003.
In addition to Mr. Brooks departure, Kelly Morgan relinquished her role as director of research.
Thats a particularly important move because she was involved in hiring and overseeing the research staff at Putnam, Ms. Tan said.
Ms. Morgan, however, remains as head of large-growth equities, and as one of the managers of the Putnam Voyager Fund.