Individual investors have shown an appetite to get back into stocks recently, and Fidelity Investments is setting the table. Effective at the close today, the mutual fund giant dropped the 3% front-end load, or sales charge, on five funds with combined assets of more than $100 billion -- including the flagship ( FMAGX) Magellan fund and the ( FLPSX) Low-Priced Stock fund. By removing the loads, the Boston-based giant's diversified stock funds are now no-load funds. However, Fidelity's 41 "Select Portfolio" sector funds still tack on the 3% front-end load. Among the five funds, the ( FMILX) New Millennium and Magellan funds are closed to new investors -- and there are no plans to reopen them, the company said in its release. The change will only affect existing investors who wish to buy additional shares. The three other funds -- the small-cap Low-Priced Stock, ( FCNTX) Contrafund and ( FCONX) Contrafund II -- remain open. "Today's move gives investors who might have ruled out these funds due to their loads a reason to consider them," said John Brockelman, spokesman for Fidelity. Brockelman said the firm has no plans to remove the loads from the sector funds. "Whenever Fidelity makes a move you have to ask, 'Why now?'" said Jim Lowell, editor of the
Fidelity Investor newsletter. "In a bear market, it's hard to sell even a top-performing fund. They also had a good object lesson when they made the switch with Contrafund." Fidelity temporarily removed the front-end load Contrafund in February -- the no-load period was set to end June 30. Within six weeks, the fund went from negative inflows to positive inflows, said Lowell, who calls this a good move for Fidelity. "Writ large, they can put the no-load neon sign up in front of their domicile to bring in new business." The headline grabber among the newly load-free funds is flagship Magellan -- it was once helmed by near-deity Peter Lynch, and with $61.17 billion in assets, it is the second-largest equity fund in America after the ( VFINX) Vanguard 500 index fund. However, the giant fund hasn't knocked the cover off the ball in recent years. Its 10-year average annual return of 8.74% through May 31 trails the 9.94% return of the S&P 500 and bests 53% of its peers -- not exactly offsetting the 3% load. The massive fund's top 10 holdings reads much like the S&P 500's largest components -- General Electric ( GE), Citigroup ( C), Microsoft ( MSFT), AIG ( AIG) and so on -- making charges that Magellan is merely an expensive index fund not entirely without merit.