Value funds are making a comeback - especially among banks' typically conservative fund customers.
Investors had abandoned plodding value funds for quick dividends in growth and technology funds, but as the stock market faltered earlier this year, "steady" stopped being a dirty word.
"Our long-term-value set of equity products has been out of favor for almost two years, but we are starting to see a turn, and value funds are coming back into favor," said Thomas Plumb, chief executive officer of U.S. Bancorp's First American Funds unit.
"We are ready for that," Mr. Plumb added. "We have a large set of well-respected value-style products and are ready for the tide to turn."
Industrywide, growth fund sales through mid-May have been down from year earlier, according to Lipper Analytical Services. Sales of small- and mid-cap growth funds were off 1%, and large-cap 4.3%
But sales of value funds were generally up - by more than 4% for small-caps and 3.85% for mid-caps. (Sales of large-cap value funds were down 1.7%.)
Value fund sales have done even better at First American Funds, the asset management arm of Minneapolis' U.S. Bancorp. In the first quarter sales rose 6.0% for mid-cap funds and 5.37% for small-caps. Even large-cap value funds were up, by 0.73%. Sales of growth funds, meanwhile, flattened. Value funds make up $2.6 billion of First American's $4.9 billion in assets under management.
Sales of value funds are also up at Banc One Investment Advisors, said Cathy Cole, head of value investing there. But the boost is coming not from retail investors, she said, but from institutional investors tired of poor performance by new-economy stocks.
"Institutional investors are seeing the Nasdaq deflate and know the S&P index is always a safe bet," Ms. Cole said.
During the first quarter, she said, institutional investors increased investment in Banc One's large-cap value funds by $100 million. That increased Banc One's assets under management in such funds 6.7%, to $1.5 billion.
Geoffrey Bobroff, a consultant in East Greenwich, R.I., said the move to value funds reflects conservatism, but not panic.
"The market has gone sluggish, and people need to commit their dollar somewhere, and they are putting it to work in value funds," Mr. Bobroff said. "If this was really a true correction you would see a huge washout in growth funds, and that hasn't happened yet."
Mr. Bobroff said the value funds that are succeeding have mixed some growth stocks into a value-dominated portfolio. "These are not deep value players," he said. "The funds that are succeeding right now are the ones that tend to meander."