The stock market may have soared once again, but some banks' retail brokerages are reporting that clients are cool to equity mutual funds.
Many investors who stood pat when the market fell late this summer now feel they missed a buying opportunity. And they do not want to buy now that the market may be near its peak again, brokerage chiefs say.
"People have said, 'Oh, I've missed the boat,'" said Curt Anderson, president of Busey Bank's retail brokerage in Urbana, Ill. "The quickness of this recovery has really kind of shocked people."
Mutual fund sales at the brokerage are off 35% in recent weeks from their normal rate, and business is at its slowest in five years, Mr. Anderson said.
AIM Management Group, one of the biggest mutual fund sellers through banks, is still waiting for its sales through this channel to bounce back to where they were before the summer's market downturn. Sales are running about 15% below average at the Houston company's bank sales division, said Michael Vessels, AIM's national sales manager for banks.
Likewise, its key accounts are reporting that their overall equity fund sales are still off from the brisk pace of early this year, Mr. Vessels said.
The reason is mostly that investors feel they have missed the window of buying opportunity, he said.
"They didn't get in, and now they have the same dilemma they had three or four months ago," he said.
Fund sales at Centura Bancorp, Rocky Mount, N.C., are off about 5% from normal levels, said Edward Hipp, head of the banking company's retail brokerage unit.
"We're seeing sticker shock a little bit," he said. "When they get nervous, they just stop and don't do anything."
Stock fund assets grew by nearly $170 billion in October, according to the Investment Company Institute, the mutual fund industry's trade group.
But most of that growth came from appreciation. New cash flow was just $2.35 billion, compared with $6.32 billion in September.
It looks as though net flows into stock funds-new sales minus redemptions and exchanges between funds-were higher for November, according to TrimTabs.com Investment Research in Santa Rosa, Calif. The firm estimated late last month that net stock fund inflows would be about $9 billion.
But that would still lag sales levels of the past few years. In November 1997, for example, net flows were $16.6 billion, according to the ICI. In the same month a year earlier, investors put $12.8 billion into equity funds.
Not all bank brokerages are reporting bad news. Sales at Golden State Bancorp's branches in Southern California are back to normal after dipping as much as 20% during the stock market correction, said Rob Amdahl, who oversees the company's brokerage business in the region.
"The momentum is picking up, and things are definitely turning around," Mr. Amdahl said.
Sales of bond funds appear to be picking up, too. TrimTabs said it expects bond fund sales to total $8.2 billion for November, almost double the October level.
Much of that can be attributed to a market rally in junk bond funds. High-yield bond funds are expected to have accounted for $2.7 billion of November's new sales. From January through July, sales of junk bond funds averaged $1.8 billion a month, according to TrimTabs.