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Fund Spy

Morningstar Fund Spy

They're No Good At That--Or Are They?
Let's say that a couple of months ago, you decided that depressed Latin American stocks were ready to rebound. Looking for a fund to buy, you thought of Morgan Stanley. Not only do they have a reputation for international expertise, but you'd heard their Latin America fund was among the best in the field. But now you can't find it. What's going on?

The fallout from the merger-and-acquisition wave in the mutual-fund industry, that's what. Morgan Stanley Latin America was indeed among the best funds investing in that region, and it still is--but under a new name, Van Kampen Latin America. The same Morgan Stanley portfolio managers are in charge, with one addition, and the fund hasn't changed a bit. (Morgan Stanley bought the Van Kampen American Capital fund-management group awhile ago.)

It might seem strange that the firm would yank its well-respected name off of a Latin America fund and replace it with a "brand" (as fund-industry insiders call it these days) that is associated more with U.S. bond funds than emerging-markets expertise. It turns out there's some logic behind the move. As a followup to the big merger between Morgan Stanley and Dean Witter, the firm has renamed many of the funds under its umbrella "Morgan Stanley Dean Witter." But funds with that name wouldn't be popular fare at brokerage houses that compete with Dean Witter. So the firm has likely affixed the more innocuous Van Kampen label to funds it wants to sell through a variety of outlets.