Investors add to U.S. stock funds for second month

By Mark Jewell

AP Personal Finance Writer

BOSTON (AP) -- Investors continued to warm up to the market in February, putting more money into stock mutual funds than they withdrew for the second consecutive month.

Investors deposited a net $14.8 billion to U.S. stock mutual funds last month, industry consultant Strategic Insight said Thursday. The total was down from $21 billion in January, the biggest monthly surge into stock funds in seven years.

Year-to-date, stock fund flows are off to their best start since 2007. Stock prices reached their historic peak in the fall of that year, before tanking in 2008, and beginning their long climb back in early 2009.

Since the market turned around, stocks have nearly doubled in value, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index is up 24 percent from Sept. 1.

Yet, with the 2008 bear market still fresh in mind, investors withdrew more than they deposited for eight consecutive months last year. That string ended with January's huge inflow. February's numbers suggest greater confidence could be here to stay.

"U.S. investors have started to overcome their post-crisis caution," said Avi Nachmany, research director with New York-based Strategic Insight.

Nachmany said flows into stock funds dropped off in the first week of this month. But he predicts steady demand for U.S. stock funds this year, provided the economic recovery continues.

Many foreign stock markets have recently fallen due to political unrest in the Middle East and inflation pressures from higher food and oil prices. But U.S. investors last month added a net $6 billion to funds that primarily buy foreign stocks, extending the streak of positive flows in that category to nine months. Still, last month's total was about half of January's surge into foreign stock funds. Nachmany attributed February's lower total to the Mideast turmoil, and falling stock prices in emerging markets.

Sentiment among bond investors was mixed in February. Investors added a net $13 billion to taxable bond funds, which include funds that buy corporate debt. Investors withdrew a net $4.5 billion from tax-free bond funds, primarily municipal bond funds that buy the debt of state and local governments.

Investors have been pulling out of muni bonds since early November, largely due to fears about the declining fiscal health of many states and cities, and their ability to satisfy debt obligations.

Published: Mon, Mar 14, 2011