BOSTON -- The Dow Jones industrial average continues to set new records but average investors are still proceeding with caution.
While they added to U.S. stock funds in the first two months of the year, they put larger amounts into bonds and funds investing primarily in foreign stocks, according to mutual fund industry consultant Strategic Insight.
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Investors recognize "that it's necessary to spread one's risk and wealth creation aspiration broadly and globally," said Avi Nachmany, research director with the New York-based firm.
Net deposits into stock and bond mutual funds, both foreign and U.S., totaled $140 billion through the first two months of 2013, the firm said on Tuesday. That matches the record total for the first quarter of 2007. The year-to-date total for funds investing in U.S.-issued and foreign bonds is $64 billion. For U.S. and foreign stock funds, the total is $44 billion.
For February, a net $6 billion was deposited into U.S. stock funds. While that was down from $26 billion the previous month, it represents a shift from 2012, when withdrawals exceeded deposits over the final 10 months of the year. In fact, cash had been pulled out of U.S. stock funds for six years in a row.
This year's figures suggest that investors are beginning to become comfortable with stocks again following the financial meltdown and market plunge of 2008-2009.
Deposits into stocks helped push the Dow toward a record reached on March 5. And the index has climbed higher every day since. The Standard & Poor's 500 index has risen nearly 9 percent this year and is just short of its own record.
Investors have been encouraged by strong fourth-quarter earnings reports, and by the Jan. 1 agreement between Congress and the White House to avert the worst effects of the so-called "fiscal cliff."
Here are more details about how investors moved their money in February, according to Strategic Insight:
Foreign stock funds: A net $22 billion was deposited into funds primarily investing in foreign stocks, matching the previous month's total.
Bond funds: Net deposits of $22 billion in February fell from $42 billion in January. Last month's total came mostly from taxable bond funds. Those funds, which primarily invest in corporate bonds, attracted almost $20 billion. Nearly $3 billion was deposited into municipal bond funds, which invest in bonds issued by state and local governments. Net deposits into bond funds have topped $1 trillion since the 2008 financial crisis, including more $300 billion last year. Bonds typically generate smaller long-term returns than stocks, but with less chance of short-term losses.
Exchange-traded funds: Investors in February deposited a net $8 billion into ETFs, which bundle together investments in a particular market index. That's down from $30 billion in January. A net $2 billion was deposited last month into ETFs investing in U.S. stocks, while a net $4 billion was added to foreign stock ETFs. Another $1.5 billion was added to ETFs investing in bonds.
ETFs have attracted more than $100 billion in new cash for the past six years in a row, growing at a far more rapid pace than mutual funds. Unlike mutual funds, ETFs can be traded during daily sessions just like stocks. They continue to grow much faster than mutual funds. However, assets in mutual funds are still about seven times larger than the total in ETFs.