Consumer Reports is not winning any fans in the load mutual fund business.

The magazine, which has a circulation of more than 4.5 million, recommends 110 mutual funds for investors in its March edition.

True to form since it started the annual feature in 1997, the publication excludes funds that carry sales charges.

Barbara Levin, executive director of the Forum for Investor Advice, the Bethesda, Md., load fund trade group, said Consumer Reports should explain that the sales charges buy advice, then let investors decide whether they want it.

"If Consumer Reports is really an educational magazine, they ought to educate their readers fully," Ms. Levin said.

Lou Richman, finance editor at the magazine, said paying for advice is generally unnecessary.

"We just happen to believe that an educated consumer is capable of making intelligent choices and will not have to pay for advice," he said.

Mr. Richman added that the advisers who sell funds often push other products of "dubious value," like partnerships, tax shelters, and individual stocks.

The article lays out a simple formula for investment success that includes building a portfolio around a Standard & Poor's 500 index fund and staying in the same funds for the long haul.

No-load funds, sold directly to investors by mutual fund companies like Vanguard Group and T. Rowe Price, accounted for 45% of all long-term fund sales last year, according to the Investment Company Institute, the mutual fund trade group in Washington. That's up from 44% in 1997 and 43% in 1996.

The rest of fund sales volume goes through intermediaries, including banks, brokerages, and insurance companies.

But the distinction between load and no-load funds is blurring as investors increasingly turn to fee-based advisers.

These advisers often charge an annual fee based on the client's total assets under management and buy funds for their portfolio through no-fee supermarkets.

To further complicate matters, many load funds are available through the fund supermarkets with the loads waived. Ms. Levin's group says 77% of investors use financial advisers when buying funds.

The bottom line, said Tom Tyson, a senior analyst at Financial Research Corp. in Boston, is that enough investors still want hand-holding so that the traditional load companies, which sell primarily through brokers, need not fear.

Consumer Reports is preaching to the converted when it touts no-load funds, Mr. Tyson said.

"You have to remember, their audience is going to be do-it-yourselfers," he said.

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