The mutual fund company Delaware Group has found that its top-selling fund in banks is a corporate junk bond portfolio, suggesting that not all bank customers are risk averse.
One-third of the company's sales through banks last month came from the Delaware Delchester Fund.
The fund, which carries a 4.75% load, invests at 80% of its assets in corporate bonds rated BBB or lower. Awarded a four-star rating from Morningstar Inc., the fund is currently yielding 10.86%, more than twice as much as CDs, a Delaware Group official said.
"If you would have told me two years ago that Delchester would be one of our most popular funds through banks, I would have called you crazy," said Joanne Mettenheimer, vice president, director of financial institutions.
Bank customers are generally known to be more conservative than other investors. But Ms. Mettenheimer said bank investment programs have gotten a little older, and customers have become more "open-minded" about risk in mutual funds.
Junk bond funds produce a higher yield than certificates of deposit or higher-grade bond funds. But they tend to be riskier because they invest in non-investment-grade bonds of corporations. The risk is that the corporations could default on their bonds.
Some banks remain leery about promoting anything more complicated than plain-vanilla government bond and stock funds.
"We want to minimize any risk of customer confusion because a dramatic change in the total return of a fund could come back to haunt the bank," said Allen W. Croessmann, Bank of Boston Corp.'s managing director of retail marketing and investment services.
But despite the risks of junk bond funds, this one is very conservative compared with its peers, said Patricia Brady, an analyst at Morningstar Inc., a Chicago company that tracks mutual fund performance.
Ms. Brady said the fund rarely ventures far down the investment grade ladder."If you want a high-yield fund that's pretty sedate, this one is a good choice," she said.
Delaware Group, a Philadelphia-based company that manages $9.2 billion in assets, is fighting for shelf space against much larger competitors.
In addition to a junk bond fund, the company is trying to distinguish itself at banks by pushing its Delaware Decatur Income Fund, which contributed 20% to sales through that channel last month.
This fund invests in blue-chip stocks, municipal bonds, and corporate bonds. "Many banks are telling me their sales are too top heavy in growth and income funds," Ms. Mettenheimer said.