After being pleasantly surprised by high-yield returns in 1995, investors expect more of the same in 1996, according to a recent survey of 80 of the largest high-yield investment firms.

More than half of the respondents in a J.P. Morgan & Co. survey expect an average total return on more than 10% in 1996, after a banner 16.7% average return on high-yield mutual funds.

"Investors' outlook appears to have been colored by the stellar returns in 1995, which were nearly double the forecast in the survey a year ago," said Nancy Voye, head of J.P. Morgan Securities High Yield Research.

If the optimism proves accurate, it would be good news for banks, which usually secure attractive fee income in leading high-yield loans. Lately, such banks as Chemical Banking Corp. and Bankers Trust New York Corp. have been building their high-yield securities practices as well.

Ms. Voye said that investors seemed optimistic despite some factors that could undermine the double digit returns.

"There was an undercurrent of concern" that most of the returns will come from a narrower range of sectors than last year, said Ms. Voye.

The majority of those surveyed favored noncyclical companies. Media- related industries, including broadcasting, cable television, and paging and cellular, were among the top investor picks.

"This fits into our view that broadcasters will benefit from stronger advertising spending during the Olympics and the presidential campaign," said Richard C. Johnson, a broadcast and cable television analyst in J.P. Morgan's high-yield group. "We also see a number of high-yield opportunities among the cable television operators."

Mr. Johnson expects Congress to pass telecommunications reform legislation - which would benefit cable operators - before the end of March, .

The survey also showed that investors expect the oil and gas industry to benefit from higher prices.

A number of survey respondents believe that consumer product and supermarket issues are poised for a rebound after being battered in 1995.

Many of those surveyed anticipated higher interest rates, and shied away from cyclicals like paper and forest products, retail, steel, automotive. and chemicals.

The mean fed funds rate predicted by investors was 5.85%, with a 6.18% peak 10-year Treasury note and a 6.41% peak 30-year Treasury bond.

The survey results were collected before the Dec. 19 rate cut.

J.P. Morgan is more optimistic about the economy and expects the Fed to tighten in the second half in response to higher growth and an increase in inflation.

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