The rush by investors into mutual funds appears to be slowing overall, but apparently not at banks - at least, not at some banks.
Bank brokerage chiefs and mutual fund sales executives say bank customers continue to buy mutual funds in droves - even though the fund industry's lead trade organization reports a 10% decline in net new sales of stock and bond funds from January to February.
'You might infer there's a slowdown for the industry, but our sales are through the roof," said Maryann Bruce, an Oppenheimer Funds Inc. senior vice president in charging of sales through banks.
Ms. Bruce said February sales from Oppenheimer's 150 bank clients were 18% higher than in January, a trend she predicts will continue through April.
February remained a strong month, with mutual fund assets breaking the $3 trillion mark for the first time, according to the Investment Company Institute. But the Washington-based trade group also said that net sales in stock and bond funds had slipped to $25.2 billion from $28 billion in January.
Fund sales executives said the decline in February was not surprising, since January sales set a record. But they that acknowledged that investor fervor over equities may be cooling a little, because of fears of a major market correction.
Bank brokerage chiefs and fund sales executives said the stock market highs have helped them. But they also cited other reasons that their business remains strong.
*Brokerages at banks are relatively new, so they start from smaller base volumes than many nonbank competitors.
*Banks are adding new types of mutual funds to their offerings, including international and aggressive growth funds.
*Large banks are expanding into new markets by buying smaller competitors and then beefing up the brokerage operations there.
First Bank System, Minneapolis, which has been on an acquisition binge, has put an extra 15 brokers into its offices in the past two months alone, said Joe Tessmer, president of the brokerage unit. He said March sales are likely to top February's by 5%.
At KeyCorp, Cleveland, mutual fund sales in February were up more than 50% over January's, fueled mostly by growth stock funds.
"As long as this continues to be a bull run in the stock market, fund sales should remain strong," said Jack L. Kopnisky, president of Key Investments.
At KeyCorp, growth funds have been selling faster than other kinds for the past year. Customers have shifted strategy, Mr. Kopnisky said.
"Growth funds are becoming more popular than the income-generating funds, because people are looking at the one-year and quarterly returns, which are very strong," he said.