Inflows to at least some mutual fund companies rose in April, and some observers say that may foreshadow renewed interest in equity fund investing.
But net flow data were not available, though one company said it expects to find a net inflow after the industrys record net outflow in March. And some experts said that in any case, April was a blip that any solid improvement in mutual fund flows is still far off.
Vanguard Group Inc. in Valley Forge, Pa., is estimating April equity fund inflows of $2.2 billion, up from its $975 million in March. And Denver-based Janus Funds one of the hardest-hit mutual fund complexes this year said in a release issued by parent company, Stilwell Financial Inc. in Kansas City, Mo., that its assets under management rose 11.2%, to $229 billion, largely because of rising stock values.
A spokesman for Houston-based Aim Distributors Inc., a division of Londons Amvescap PLC, said it also expects its equity funds to show net inflows in April. The companys equity and bond funds had outflows of about $100 million in March, he said.
Industrywide, net outflows of equity funds totaled $20.6 billion in March, up from $3.3 billion in February, according to the Washington-based Investment Company Institute, the primary trade organization for mutual fund groups.
Louis Harvey, president of the fund research firm Dalbar Financial Services in Boston, said such preliminary figures and a study of investor attitudes his company is conducting indicate that confidence in equity funds is growing.
We see a lot of pent-up demand reflected in the large amount of money sitting in money market funds, he said. Dalbar also has preliminary data from its study that suggest that about 60% of investors consider the current market a buying opportunity. That should help spur growth in sales of equity funds, Mr. Harvey said.
He added that growth in April would be noteworthy, since mutual fund redemptions usually rise in that month because taxes are due.
But Geoff Bobroff, a mutual fund consultant in Providence, R.I., still spots troubles ahead. After sustaining steep losses, he said, many investors tend to sell a security once they have broken even on their initial investment. Fund managers particularly those with a growth-oriented investing style should therefore be prepared for another wave of mass redemptions as the market improves.
Mr. Harvey said that such a wave is still probably far off, however. Because a disproportionately high percentage of the steep loses in mutual funds were in the technology sector, he argued, many investors are probably nowhere near recovering their losses.
Even if investor optimism does last and mutual fund companies start to have net inflows again, Mr. Harvey said, the recent pattern of staff cuts at companies such as Janus and Putnam is not likely to end soon, because they tend to be conservative and are often slow to react to market changes, he said.
He noted that nearly a year elapsed between the beginning of the contraction and the first wave of layoffs at fund companies. By the same token, he said, mutual funds are not likely to begin rehiring until the market shows a substantial upswing.