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Mutual Fund Buying Slows, Reflecting Investor Caution : Investing: Totals show recent boom is waning. Many bond and foreign funds show outflows.

March 31, 1994|From a Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Total purchases of stock and bond mutual funds sank 15% in February from January, and an informal survey of major fund companies shows another slide in investor interest this month.

What's more, fund companies say that investors are continuing to pull money out of certain fund sectors that have declined the most in value this year, including international funds and long-term bond funds.

The redemptions, while modest so far, show that many investors are unwilling to heed the classic advice that they should buy--not sell--into steep market declines.

The Investment Company Institute, the funds' trade group, said Wednesday that gross purchases of stock and bond funds were $48.1 billion in February, down from $56.9 billion in January.

A more important measure of stock and bond fund demand--net new cash flow, which measures new fund purchases less redemptions and exchanges among funds in the same firms--totaled $15.5 billion in February, down 47% from January and down 20% from February, 1993.

Net new cash flow into stock funds alone was $14.4 billion in February, compared with $18.3 billion in January. Bond funds, meanwhile, suffered a huge decline in net new cash flow, to just $1.1 billion in February compared with $11.1 billion in January.

As interest rates have risen this year, depressing the value of older bonds and thus bond fund share prices, investors' purchases of the funds have waned. And this month, fund giants such as Fidelity Investments, Vanguard Group and Scudder Funds say they are seeing modest net outflows from their bond funds.

Likewise, the heavy buying of international stock funds late last year has slowed or reversed at many fund companies, as many foreign stock markets have plunged this year. At the Scudder Funds, the firm's Pacific Opportunities fund has begun to see net outflows, after seeing assets balloon from $3 million to $450 million last year. The fund, up 60% in value last year, is down 17% this year, with the selloff in many smaller Asian stock markets.

At Fidelity, the firm's international stock funds this month will show the first net outflow of cash in 14 months, a spokesman said.

While fund companies generally report still-strong demand for their U.S. stock funds, some concede that much of that demand can be attributed to investor funding of their Individual Retirement Accounts for 1993. Once IRA season ends on April 15, demand for U.S. stock funds also could drop off, some fund officials say.

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