Janus Pays Up

Janus Capital Group (NYSE: JNS  ) finally paid up, but not in the way investors might expect. In a regulatory filing last week, the Denver fund firm revealed that it paid its CEO, Mark Whiston, $3.4 million in stock as a bonus for his performance during 2003, his first year in the top job.

I know what you're thinking: Is he serious? Wasn't Janus one of the first to be implicated in last year's mutual fund scandal? Well, yes and yes. Janus, along with Bank One (NYSE: ONE  ) and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) , was accused of allowing big clients to rapidly trade their funds at the expense of gains that might have been realized by long-term investors. Shannon Zimmerman discussed the damage market-timing caused earlier this month, so we won't get into details here.

Assuming Whiston had nothing to do with the scandal, it's still fair to ask whether he's worth $3.4 million. In an interview, a Janus spokesperson said the payment was in recognition of significant progress the firm made during 2003, citing better fund performance, the hiring of a new chief investment officer and company president, a simplified corporate structure, and the addition of new funds.

Maybe that's all true, but we've got limited space, so let's stick with the core issue: Were Janus fund investors, looking to beat the market, better off during 2003?

Of the six growth funds that company reports say are still open to investors, five beat the total return of the S&P 500. The one that didn't, Janus Growth and Income (JADGX), probably should have. After all, it invests 97% of its $269 million in assets in stocks, according to Morningstar. Perhaps that's why the fund switched managers on Jan. 1 of this year.

Still, five of six isn't bad, and it's much better than the previous year, when five of six growth funds lost to the S&P. Direction certainly counts for something, but in a ripe year for stock picking, Janus should have done well. What's more worrisome is that when Whiston was head of retail sales, he commissioned a study of short-term trading by clients. That study was completed in November of 2002, but the market-timing practice was allowed to continue at least until June of 2003.

That's downright spooky. Even if we say Whiston was under orders and couldn't make changes during 2002, he could have banned market-timing upon becoming CEO. Still, Whiston shows signs of being a reformer, having turned away as much as $23 million in severance when he let Janus' chairmanship go to an outsider, former Charles Schwab (NYSE: SCH  ) Vice Chairman Steven Scheid. That's a progressive move that most of Wall Street hasn't yet made.

Perhaps fellow Fool Bill Mann is right, and the scandal has made Janus' stock oversold. But does that mean Whiston is a bargain at $3.4 million? Investors had better hope so.

Is your fund worth the price? Find out. Give Shannon Zimmerman'sMotley Fool Champion Fundsa try risk-free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers owns no stake in any of the companies listed, but he is on a lifelong search to find someone to pay him a $3.4 million bonus. If that's you, don't delay; drop him a note immediately. Or if you wish to see his qualifications first, view his Fool profile here.


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