Investors hungrier for stock funds, but finicky

Of Mutual Interest

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NEW YORK — Investors are giving stock mutual funds another shot after getting burned during the financial crisis, but they’re being choosy.

From January through August investors put more money into stock funds than they pulled out, according to the most recent data from the Investment Company Institute. They invested a net total of $106.5 billion, which is more than IBM’s revenue for all of last year. It marks a sharp turnaround: Investors had yanked more from stock funds than they put in for 19 of the 20 preceding months, withdrawing a net total of $320.4 billion.

Some analysts earlier this year were predicting a “Great Rotation,” in which investors would migrate en masse from bonds into stocks. But memories of the painful losses suffered by stock funds in 2008 and early 2009 linger. So although investor interest in stock funds has increased in 2013, it’s been only for certain kinds. Here is a look at which types have been winners and losers.

VALUE FUNDS: These funds aren’t afraid to buy a stock when it’s down. Value managers look for stocks in which they believe the market’s expectations are too low. That may be due to an earnings setback or some other challenge. After buying a cheap stock, value funds are content to wait for the price to rise as expectations reset over time.

GROWTH FUNDS: Companies whose revenue and earnings are rising more quickly than the rest of the market are the main staple of growth funds. Think of Amazon.com or Google.

Investors are still leery: They yanked a net $17.7 billion out of large-cap growth stock funds through August, according to Morningstar. In August alone, they withdrew a net $3.2 billion.

Growth stocks can be risky. They’re often more expensive than the rest of the market, as measured by their prices relative to their earnings.

BLEND FUNDS: Blend stock funds invest in a mix of both value and growth stocks, and they have been the most popular this year. Large-cap blend funds have attracted a net $14.9 billion, according to Morningstar.

Much of that is due to a rising interest in index mutual funds. These funds keep it simple by trying only to mimic stock indexes, rather than trying to beat them. Index funds are cheaper to own than actively managed funds. They also have performed better recently: Over the last five years, 79 percent of all large-cap stock funds have failed to keep up with the S&P 500, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.

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