Wells Fargo is merging nearly $2.2 billion of Evergreen Investments municipal bond mutual funds into existing Wells funds as part of the bank’s purchase of Wachovia.
When Wells Fargo bought Wachovia at the end of 2008, among the assets the bank acquired were more than 60 Evergreen mutual and money market funds.
This platform includes eight municipal bond mutual funds with $3.44 billion in assets.
Since the acquisition, the funds have continued operating under the Evergreen brand, with the same strategies.
The San Francisco-based bank early this year told shareholders it planned to either rebrand or merge the Evergreen funds to streamline them into the “Wells Fargo Advantage” platform.
Wells Fargo believes it can cut costs, eliminate overlapping products, and better utilize the resources of both the Wells Fargo and Evergreen fund families.
Twenty-seven of Evergreen’s funds will simply be rebranded to the Wells Fargo Advantage name.
Among these are five tax-free money funds and three muni mutual funds — the $671.9 million Strategic Municipal Bond Fund and two funds devoted to bonds sold by issuers in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
The strategies and management of the funds will remain largely unchanged, although the fees could be brought closer in line with the fees Wells charges.
For the Strategic Municipal Bond Fund, this means lower fees. The fund’s B and C class shares under the Wells name will charge fees of 1.63%, compared with 1.78% under the Evergreen brand. It means slightly lower fees for the North Carolina fund, and identical fees for the Pennsylvania fund.
Thirty-six mutual and money market funds will be merged with existing Wells Fargo funds.
These feature two tax-free money funds — including the $3.69 billion Evergreen Municipal Money Market Fund — and five municipal bond mutual funds with $2.19 billion in assets.
Each of these funds will be blended into an existing Wells Fund, which is called the “surviving fund.”
The $249.4 million Evergreen Intermediate Municipal Bond Fund, for instance, will combine with the $878.5 million Wells Fargo Advantage Intermediate Tax/AMT-Free Fund.
Shareholders will not incur any fees with these mergers, and the value of their shares is not expected to change.
The biggest of the muni mutual fund mergers is the Wells Fargo Advantage Municipal Bond Fund — the $928.2 miallion surviving fund soon to be fused with Evergreen’s $1.35 billion Municipal Bond Fund and $155.8 million High Income Municipal Bond Fund.
In most cases the merged funds will be run by Wells Fargo Advantage portfolio managers.
Lyle Fitterer, who joined Wells in 2005, will co-manage the surviving Wells Fargo funds for four of the five merged Evergreen municipal funds.
Other Wells Fargo portfolio managers running the funds are Robert Miller, Stephen Galiani, Adrian Van Poppel, and Wendy Casetta.
At a meeting on June 8, shareholders approved mergers for the Evergreen California Municipal Bond Fund into the Wells Fargo Advantage California Tax-Free Fund; the Evergreen Short-Intermediate Municipal Bond Fund into the Wells Fargo Advantage Short-Term Municipal Bond Fund; the Evergreen High Income Municipal Bond Fund and Evergreen Municipal Bond Fund into the Wells Fargo Advantage Municipal Bond Fund; and the Evergreen Intermediate Municipal Bond Fund into the Wells Fargo Advantage Intermediate Tax/AMT-Free Fund.
Those mergers are expected to close next month.
Shareholders also approved the rebrandings for the Pennsylvania and North Carolina funds.
The rebranding of the strategic fund hit a brief snag: not enough shareholders voted. It was not until earlier this week that the fund commanded sufficient votes to authorize the renaming.
While Wells Fargo claims all the merging funds are similar, it in some cases acknowledges they do not match exactly.
By combining a short-intermediate fund with a short-term fund, Wells is combining one fund with a target maturity of three years or less with another fund with a target maturity of two to five years.
Evergreen’s California fund has been more willing to take risks than Wells Fargo’s.
Most striking is the merger of Evergreen’s high-income fund and general municipal fund with Wells Fargo’s general municipal fund.
The high-income fund has a greater emphasis on capital appreciation, the firm said, and invests in junk bonds, while Wells’ general municipal fund buys investment-grade bonds.
In addition, Evergreen’s high-income and general funds have material differences with each other, let alone with the Wells Fargo fund.
Evergreen’s general municipal and high-income muni funds have exhibited materially different performances over the last few years, with the high-income fund underperforming the general fund by 15 percentage points in 2008 and outperforming by 4.5 percentage points last year.