(To add that Goldman Sachs attributes higher fund cash inflows to the seasonal benefit of 401(k) matches.)
BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- The stock market rally has investors coming off the bench and back into the game after they pulled money from mutual funds for the better part of half a year.
U.S. stock and bond funds showed big inflows last week after months of torpor. The key question: Will their confidence be shaken by the first negative economic report? Time will tell.
That money is going into growth funds, especially in the small- and mid-cap categories, which are seen as "hot" since they hold the stocks that are pushing the market forward. The large-cap S&P 500 Index has risen 4.1% this year, while the mid-cap S&P 400 and small-cap S&P 600 are up at least 5%. Equity funds had estimated inflows of $1.4 billion for the week ending Jan. 11, compared to estimated outflows of $9.4 billion in the previous week, according to the Investment Company Institute trade group. Bond fund inflows hit an 18-month high of $7.9 billion last week, more than double that of the previous week. The first three weeks of this year have been a reversal of last year in terms of investor inflows and top-performing mutual funds, said Todd Rosenbluth, a mutual fund analyst at S&P Capital IQ. Last year, the market leaders were defensive sector stock funds, especially those with big dividends. This year, it's growth and cyclical sector stocks such as industrials, consumer discretionary, information technology and materials. So far, at least, it's been a reversal of fortune for mutual funds that labored in out-of-favor sectors. They were hamstrung by agendas that pushed them to take on more risk no matter their market views, and so had much poorer returns than other funds. Why the dramatic shift? "Investors are more comfortable with the state of the global economy," Rosenbluth said. Goldman Sachs (GS) said in its market commentary today that "we attribute most of the improvement in equity (fund) flows to a seasonal benefit, as 401(k) matches and retirement contributions kick in. That said, seasonal equity inflows this year ($2.2 billion since Jan. 4) are looking much weaker than last year ($11.5 billion as of Jan. 19, 2011)." Here are three funds outperforming their peers and 10 of their biggest positions.