BOSTON (TheStreet) -- U.S. investors poured a net $22 billion into stock funds last quarter after favoring bond funds for most of the previous two years, following a rally in companies including tech darlings Salesforce.com (CRM), Netflix (NFLX) and Apple (AAPL).For all of 2010, equity funds suffered outflows of $36.4 billion, about half that of the previous year and the smallest amount since 2006, according to preliminary data collected by fund-tracking firm EPFR Global, which included exchange traded funds. Bond funds' outflows totaled $7.3 billion in the fourth quarter, holding net inflows for the year to $178.4 billion. Stock-fund inflows in the fourth quarter marked the return of so-called retail investors, or average Americans, who had been keeping as much as $1 trillion parked in safer securities such as fixed-income investments, according to some analysts. Still, investors have a conservative bent, favoring Dow stocks and other income and dividend investments. Funds that buy those types of securities had inflows of $6.2 billion in 2010, said Brad Durham, managing director of EPFR Global. Mutual fund managers including Legg Mason's Bill Miller and Donald Yacktman of the Yacktman Focused Fund are favoring the largest U.S. stocks after trailing their rivals last year. Still, investors have boosted the share prices of growth companies, including cloud-computing company Salesforce.com, movie-streaming provider Netflix and Apple, maker of the iPhone and iPad, while shunning the likes of mega-cap companies General Electric ( GE) and Pfizer ( PFE). That's as nine of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 Index saw improved earnings in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier, according to Thomson Reuters. The stock-market rebound has been different this time around, as investors may still be scarred from the crash of 2008, analysts said. In addition, keeping some of them in bond funds longer were crises including Europe's debt woes and political conflicts in Asia. As a result, some investors missed out on a late-year surge in stocks. U.S. equity funds posted, on average, a one-year return of 16.6% in 2010, beating the S&P 500's 15% gain, including a 6.4% increase in December, the best performance by stock funds in that month since 1999, according to Lipper Fund Market Insight.
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