The biggest mutual funds launched in the first half of this year were managed by banks, according to a study by a Chicago research group.

Banks swept the top six spots - and 33 of the 50 top positions - in a ranking of new mutual funds by asset size that was compiled by Financial Research Corp.

Reorganizations of trust assets were a significant factor in banks' dominance of the top 50 list, according to Neil Bathon, the company's president. While most companies that launch mutual funds build their portfolios from scratch, trust conversions are a time-honored way for banks to jump-start their mutual funds. "When they do the conversions from trust. it puts them near the top more quickly," Mr. Bathon said.

Northern Trust Corp. took first, second. and third places with mutual funds launched in April. The two largest were built entirely from scratch; the third was seeded with trust assets

First place went to the Northern Municipal Money Market Fund, which had $435.8 million of assets at midyear.

Another money market fund from the Chicago-based bank placed second, with $368.7 million of assets, followed by an intermediate tax-exempt fund which held $245.4 million.

Although the top three funds were retail funds. bank-managed funds for institutional investors also ranked high, with 15 making the top 50 list.

The Emerald Equity Institutional Fund, a member of Barnett Bank's proprietary fund family, brought in $206.9 million of assets, earning it the fourth place in the study.

Other banks that grabbed several spots in the top 50 included First Bank System, Minneapolis. which expanded its First American family of mutual funds in February; Wachovia Corp., Winston-Salem, N.C., which added new offerings to its Biltmore Funds line in March; and First American Corp., Nashville. which organized the ValueStar Funds in March.

Among organizations other than banks that launched mutual funds during the first half of this year, the American Association of Retired Persons amassed the most assets.

The AARP Balanced Stock and Bond Fund, an affinity fund, brought in $148.8 million of assets during the period, placing it seventh in the ranking.

More than one-quarter of the 523 mutual funds organized in the first half of 1994 were managed by banks, according to a separate ranking by Financial Research Corp.

The 145 new bank-managed funds held $5.6 billion of assets, about 29% of the $19.2 billion in all funds created during the first half of 1994.

In contrast, companies that field sales forces drew $7.2 billion, or 37% of the new assets. Those that market their wares directly attracted $5.2 billion, a 27% share, while newly launched funds distributed by wirehouses brought in $1.2 billion, or 6% of the new money.

On average, the bank-managed funds held $38.5 million, slightly above the average of $36.6 million for all new mutual funds.

Mr. Bathon said he expects banks to continue introducing mutual funds at a steady clip, a marked change from the days when new bank funds were a rarity. He also sees banks expanding beyond the bond funds that have traditionally dominated their offerings.

As banks grow more comfortable with investment management, they are "rounding out their product lines with equity funds," Mr. Bathon said.

Top Funds Launched So Far This Year

Ranked by total assets on 6/30

(1) Northern Municipal Money Market

ADVISER: Northern Trust

TOTAL ASSETS: $435.8 million

(2) Northern Money Market

ADVISER: Northern Trust

TOTAL ASSETS: $368.7 million

(3) Northern Intermediate Tax-Exempt

ADVISER: Northern Trust

TOTAL ASSETS: $245.4 million

(4) Emerald Equity Institutional

ADVISER: Barnett Banks

TOTAL ASSETS: $206.9 million

(5) OffitBank High Yield

ADVISER: OffitBank

TOTAL ASSETS: $164.3 million

Source: Financial Research Corp.

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