Assets in mutual funds are at an all-time high, reaching $5.77 trillion in March, the Investment Company Institute reported.

Stock fund assets jumped 4.45%, to $3.11 trillion, the largest gain of any category.

That's despite a falloff in money going into equity funds. Though investors poured 1,688% more money into equity funds, or $12.73 billion, inflows were down a hefty 43.26% from a year earlier.

The drop could be attributed to fallout from the Asian flu, said Burton Greenwald, a Philadelphia-based mutual fund consultant.

"In the next two to three months, if the markets continue to go north, you could see dramatic reversal and the kind of flows you saw last year before August, when everybody got chilled by the Asian crisis," he said.

Fund executives are not wringing their hands over a slowdown in equity investing.

"March was a very good month, particularly in the bank channel," said Lisa Jones, who heads the bank division at Massachusetts Financial Services. Massachusetts Financial's fund sales through banks rose 50% in March, compared with a 10% increase through all channels, she said.

Most of the inflows were in the company's growth and growth and income funds, she said, though there were increases in municipal and high-yield bonds.

Kevin A. Rowell, a senior vice president and managing director of bank sales at Alliance Capital Management of New York, said sales have jumped 112% since yearend. .

He hasn't seen a big push into bonds, Mr. Rowell said, because "people still want to participate in the stock market."

The Investment Company Institute reported that first-quarter mutual fund assets were up 15.77% from a year earlier and 4.41% from the fourth quarter of 1998.

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