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Are you two still fighting?

One of the longest-running sagas in asset management is finally set to come to a head - well, in another year's time at least.

The spat between Unilever's pension fund and its former fund manager Mercury, now part of the re-christened Merrill Lynch Investment Managers, looks set to end up in the High Court in London in October 2001 after both sides failed to settle.

It is a turn of events which neither party will be delighted about. Both Unilever and Merrill Lynch have maintained total public silence over the dispute since it blew up in 1998. But now it seems their grievances will be aired in court.

The dispute has also surprised the UK's asset management community which normally prides itself on the good relations between managers and clients. For a pension fund to criticize its manager in public, let alone take it to court, something extraordinary has to occur.

In this instance the argument rages over a £1 billion ($1.6 billion, at the time) mandate which Mercury was running for Unilever. The pension fund claims there was an agreement in place that Mercury would guarantee not to underperform its benchmark by more than 3% in four successive quarters.

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