that bank brokerage clients are becoming a little wary of equity markets. That was the word from bank brokerage executives in a round of interviews last week. While most said stock mutual funds remain extremely popular with brokerage clients, several suggested that consumer preferences are once again shifting toward bonds. At Provident Bancorp in Cincinnati, for instance, sales of stock mutual funds remain ahead of plan for October, according to brokerage chief Drew Kagan. But a strong area of growth right now is in balanced funds that invest in both stocks and bonds, such as Provident's proprietary Riverfront Flexible Growth Fund. "People are getting more defensive because it's been a bull market for so long," said Mr. Kagan, president of Provident Securities and Investment Co. Balanced funds are "kind of a hedge vehicle" in the current market. Provident's experience reflects a mutual fund industry trend. Net new sales of stock mutual fund sales totaled $11.7 billion in September, up only slightly from August's $11.4 billion, according to the Investment Company Institute, a Washington-based trade group. Net new sales of bond funds, however, nearly doubled in September. They totaled $1.2 billion, up from $688.4 million in August. "There is a renewed interest in fixed-income investments," said Nancy Graves, senior vice president and director of retail banking at Mark Twain Bancshares, St. Louis. Interest rates have appeared to stabilize, making the more conservative bond investments attractive again, Ms. Graves said. But the fresh interest hasn't yet translated into strong sales, she added. The rise in bond fund sales could reflect "some caution about the equity markets," said Susan Rau, executive vice president of the private clients, investments, and insurance group at National Westminster Bancorp in Jersey City. But, Ms. Rau added, "we are not seeing any widespread concern among retail branch investors about a major selloff in the equity market." Right now, most of the bank's mutual fund sales are in equity and balanced funds. Bond fund sales are also up slightly, she said. Stock funds remain the big sales story at Marshall & Ilsley Bank in Milwaukee, commanding 70% of mutual fund volume, according to brokerage president Jeffrey Williams. "Growth equity funds are where there's the most interest at this point," Mr. Williams said. One company that expects dramatic growth in October is Bank South Corp., Atlanta. James Overholt, president of Bank South Investment Services said fund sales in October are "noticeably stronger" than they were in September, when they gained 50% from August. Why are sales so good this month? Mr. Overholt had no firm explanation but said he surmised that October is when a lot of certificates of deposit mature, and investors may have reinvested them in mutual funds.
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