NEW YORK - Financial services firm Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc. has agreed in principle to sell its Putnam Investments unit for $3.9 billion to Montreal-based holding company Power Corp. of Canada, the Wall Street Journal reported on its Web site on Friday.

Citing people familiar with the matter, the WSJ said the price to be paid by Power Corp. is at the higher end of most estimates and could be good news for Marsh’s battered shareholders.

While the companies have reached agreement, the deal still needs the approval of Putnam employees who own shares in the company, Putnam mutual-fund shareholders and the board that oversees the funds, the WSJ reported.

If the fund board and employees approve, a deal is expected to be announced early next year pending fund-shareholder approval, the WSJ reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

MMC put its money-manager, Putnam, on the block in September, and MMC’s chief executive, Michael Cherkasky, said earlier this month that he would decide whether to sell the unit by early 2007.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that bidders for Putnam included Power Corp, Italian bank UniCredito Italiano SpA and London-based fund manager Amvescap Plc, Aim Trimark’s parent company.

No one at MMC or Power Corp. was immediately available to comment.

Power Corp. holds the controlling interest in Power Financial Corp., which controls Great-West Lifeco Inc. and IGM Financial Inc., according to the company’s Web site.