Is Merrill Lynch Serious?

Merrill Lynch (MER) is changing the name of its mutual fund group to Princeton Portfolio Research and Management later this year. Now this might seem strange on the surface, just because as far as name recognition and brand awareness go, I would think investors would choose to invest with Merrill over Princeton. Maybe that’s just me.

The part of this story that really got a laugh out of me was Merrill Lynch’s reasoning for making the change. In essence they think a new brand will make it easier for them to gain market share in the retail mutual fund business. Their concern is that brokers and financial advisors with other major firms have avoided offering Merrill Lynch funds because they see it as giving business to their competition.

That seems like a very valid concern. I can’t see many Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs brokers trying to sell Merrill funds to their clients. But isn’t it hilarious that they think changing the name will help this problem? Do they think retail brokers are just going to start blindly recommending this new fund family without looking into them at all?

So they’ll do a little research to find out exactly who these “Princeton” folks are, and they’ll learn, if they haven’t heard already, that it’s the old Merrill Lynch fund family. And we’re back to square one.

Side notes:

Amazon (AMZN) is getting hit by $4 today after earnings. As much as I like Legg Mason’s Bill Miller, I really don’t know what he likes about this stock. All I see is a perennial 40+ forward P/E, decent but not overly impressive sales growth, and very low margins (not much better than Borders and Barnes and Noble as was once predicted).

OccuLogix (RHEO) is down more than $9 in the pre-market, to $3 per share. The only reason I even know about this company is because I recall Cramer pumping it on his Mad Money show. Evidently their product showed no difference versus placebo. How he can suggest to average investors that they buy something this speculative on national television is beyond me. Maybe a 75% haircut in a single day will help viewers understand what he is doing. I still have not exactly figured out his motivation (and/or conflicts of interest) in pumping the small caps he does, but I suspect the answer is not comforting.