Hard times for mutual funds can mean boom times for unit investment trusts, according to some mutual fund executives.

Unit trusts, a close cousin of mutual funds, seem to be thriving in volatile markets. They attracted more than $5.48 billion of deposits from January through July, roughly even with the $5.58 billion they pulled in during the first seven months of 1993, according to the Investment Company Institute. Mutual fund sales, in contrast, have been off sharply during the same period.

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