Prices for publicly traded mutual fund companies are showing surprising resilience in a falling market.
Despite the havoc wreaked on both stock and bond prices by last week's spike in interest rates, shares of the few publicly traded mutual fund companies retained their newfound status as hot investment properties.
The reason: Dollars are flowing into mutual funds at a record pace, and fund investors seem relatively unperturbed by the market's volatility.
"Until we get a significant correction where people get concerned that investors will take their money out, these stocks may just hold up," said Jeffrey Hopson, who tracks the stocks of several mutual fund companies for A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. in St. Louis. That's a change from the past, when shares of fund companies would react quickly to market events.
The recent market downturn could still have a delayed effect, said Mr. Hopson. But he added, "I don't think we've seen enough of a correction in the financial markets to assume there will be corrections on the bottom line of these companies."
Mutual fund companies aren't all cut from the same cloth. Some, like Franklin Resources and T. Rowe Price, are known for emphasizing equity investments. Others, like John Nuveen & Co. and Pimco Advisor LP, are known as fixed-income shops.
Both sectors of the mutual fund industry have seen their share prices hold up, though financial industry analysts say they have done so for very different reasons.
Several equity companies' share prices reached all-time highs this year, thanks to the boom in stock investing by fund customers. These companies' shares have fallen back only modestly in recent days.
For instance, San Mateo, Calif.-based Franklin - the nation's fifth- largest mutual fund company, with $105 billion of assets under management - saw its share price jump 27.3% from mid-January to a record $59.38 April 2. The stock had dropped to $55 by midday Friday.
Shares of Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price - the 14th-largest U.S. fund company, with $55 billion under management - jumped 36.4% during a similar period, to a record $59 last Tuesday. At midday Friday, the stock was trading at $57.50.
Richard K. Strauss, who tracks mutual fund companies for Goldman, Sachs & Co., said shares of T. Rowe Price, at 18 times estimated 1996 earnings, had reached their zenith. He has taken the stock off his "buy" list.
But Mr. Strauss continues to recommend equity-oriented mutual fund and brokerage companies. He said Franklin's shares, at just under 15 times 1996 earnings projections, are a good buy. He also likes Charles Schwab & Co., the San Francisco-based discount brokerage.
Mutual fund companies with a fixed-income emphasis have had a rougher time amassing assets since early 1994, when the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates.
While equity fund companies saw the Fed's activity as a hiccup, the Fed's change in policy burned companies that emphasize the bond markets. Nonetheless, they have held their own in recent trading.
Chicago-based Nuveen, for instance, has traded within a narrow range of $24 to $26 a share since Jan. 1. The stock was trading at $25 a share Friday.
While the lack of investor interest meant fixed-income-oriented companies did not participate in last year's bond rally, it also means they were not hammered by the recent interest rate rise.
"You would have expected fixed-income funds to be weaker because of the events of the past month," said Mr. Strauss.