In the wake of last week's stock market whirl, mutual fund companies have updated their telephone hot lines for jittery investors and financial advisers, offering soothing words from portfolio managers.
At New York-based OppenheimerFunds Inc., for instance, Bob Doll, director of equity investments, is telling listeners on a prerecorded message to keep portfolios diversified, stay in the market, and not to panic.
"When times get unusual we want to keep our customers informed," said Maryann Bruce, senior vice president overseeing sales through banks at Oppenheimer.
For banks, such services are also important. When the stock market gets rocky, bank brokerage executives and their investment reps often get on the horn with a mutual fund company they do a lot of business with and demand to talk to a portfolio manager.
"It gives us an indication how they're interpreting the general market condition and what their posture is going to be going forward," said Tom Ryan, president of the bank brokerage at LaSalle National Corp., Chicago.
If Mr. Ryan had listened to Mr. Doll at Oppenheimer on Monday, he would have heard a stern warning about 1997: "It's likely to be a year in which the most stalwart investor will be tested."
Indeed, Mr. Doll goes on to predict that this year will see a 10% correction in the stock market because of "heightened anxiety" over the current high valuations on stocks.
But the market will also correct itself because it is "simply overdue."
Mutual fund companies are telling customers to lower their expectations. They are predicting that returns in the stock market, which were at double digits last year, may not even reach 10% in 1997.
When the market began to fall last week, investment professionals at fund companies promptly took calls from top producers and made recorded messages about their views on the market.
Putnam Investments, Boston, prepared telephone representatives to relay the company's views on the market to brokers who call. Putnam is preaching diversification and suggesting international investing, a spokesman said.
"We anticipated calls (last week), but the volume wasn't that high," the spokesman said.
One mutual fund sales executive warned that brokers should not react too quickly to last week's market downturn, asserting that investors should be sold on long-term needs.
"Customers' needs didn't change overnight," said Barry Knight, vice president overseeing sales through banks at Pioneer Group, Boston. "We shouldn't be reacting so fast even if the customer wants to."