Bank brokerage customers stuck by their stock mutual funds even as share prices tumbled during last week's market turmoil.
In a round of interviews, mutual fund and bank brokerage executives said redemption levels were hardly affected by a 3% drop in the Dow Jones industrial average last Tuesday and Wednesday. The 164-point drop marked the Dow's sharpest two-day decline in more than four years. Though stocks rebounded on Thursday, they were sliding again at midday Friday.
Instead of being bombarded with calls from anxious stock fund investors wondering whether or not to cash out, most brokers were fielding more routine inquiries, such as questions about deciphering yearend statements.
And Houston-based Aim Management Group, which is primarily a stock fund manager, said its assets actually rose to a record $43.5 billion last week.
Several of the executives said investors' calm, in the face of the well- publicized stock selloff, showed that brokers have done a good job of preparing equity fund investors for a price correction.
"Brokers have presold the fact that this will happen in some point in time," said Michael Vessels, the executive vice president who heads bank sales at Aim Management. "At the high levels that the market is at, people expect there will be bumps along the way."
"I haven't received call one, and we do quite a bit of business," added Curt Anderson, president of First Busey Securities, Urbana, Ill. "I really think that the individual investor today is a little more disciplined than the institutional investor."
It also didn't hurt, executives argued, that last week's market slump has been tied to investors' ire over the stalled budget talks rather than more profound fears of an economic slowdown.
Still, some executives are concerned that investors' fidelity to stock funds at banks will be tested in the coming weeks as the market experiences more downturns.
"Much of the news in recent days has focused on snowfall rather than the markets," said Peter DeBuona, president of Compass Investment Services Corp., the brokerage subsidiary of Melville, N.Y.-based North Fork Bancorp. "When that changes, there may be a sharper investor reaction."
How bank brokerage customers cope with market gyrations bears watching, because only in the past year have they embraced stock funds. Bank clients, known as a conservative lot, have typically favored bond investments, but in recent months some bank brokerages have reported that stock funds account for close to three-quarters of their fund sales volume.
Several large mutual funds are stepping up their efforts to help fund investors cope with any sharp corrections in the stock market. Alliance Capital Management, for example, held a teleconference last Friday between its technology fund money managers and its wholesalers, the salespeople who deal directly with bank brokers.
The goal, said a spokeswoman for the New York company, was to "arm wholesalers with the facts" to explain volatility in the funds to brokers, who in turn, can communicate more effectively with customers.
And AIM Management Group plans to update its pre-recorded broker call-in line to discuss some the events that might be adversely impacting the market.
Lisa Jones, a senior vice president and director of the financial institutions division with Boston-based Massachusetts Financial Services, said her company's investment managers plan to continue updating its wholesalers.
But she argued that history has shown brokers and investors alike that stock markets rebound after downturns.
"We haven't received any phone calls in the home office from brokers concerned about the recent movement," she said.
"The movement over the last few days, although newsworthy, has been overshadowed by the 30% increase in the stock market" in 1995, Ms. Jones added.
Still, if a falling market begins to spook investors into unloading their equity investments, one fund expert thinks the fund industry is in a good position to handle the redemptions.
"Mutual fund companies are in a better position to withstand a wave of redemptions because of the lines of credit that banks have extended," said Geoffrey Bobroff, an industry consultant in East Greenwich, R.I.