Record sales of unit trusts defy analysts' predictions: Poor returns on bank and building society deposits drive investors into equities

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RECORD sales of unit trusts in April confounded expectations that the stock market would divert funds from pooled investments.

Net sales of pounds 976m were ahead of last April's pounds 967m and take the value of funds under management to pounds 97bn, an increase of pounds 1.5bn on the month.

Philip Warland, director general of the Association of Unit Trusts and Investment Funds, said he was surprised by the figures which he had expected to be down substantially.

'The evidence is growing of a change in the pattern of people's

savings behaviour - investors are buying trusts for the long term, irrespective of short-term trends in the stock market,' he said.

This was partly due to a shift in the way trusts were marketed to the public. Companies were increasingly selling them as long- term investments rather than on the basis of past performance.

Investors are also being driven

into equity investment by the poor returns available on bank and building society deposits.

During April the FT-SE 100 rose 1.3 per cent but the index fell 9 per cent in the first four months of the year. Despite the fall, total sales from January to April were pounds 3.5bn, up from pounds 2.9bn in the same period of 1993.

The surge in sales followed a strong performance in 1993 when net investment was pounds 9.1bn - 44 per cent above the last record year

of 1987 and more than ten times ahead of sales in 1992.

Mr Warland did not think a 5 per cent fall in the index in May would check investors' enthusiasm for pooled share investments. He said increasing sales of regular savings plans were underpinning the market.

The use of personal equity plans to shelter investments from income and capital gains taxes has also grown sharply.

The attraction of unit trusts to

private investors was confirmed by a shift towards retail sales which accounted for 73 per cent.

Retail buyers concentrated on UK equity income and international growth trusts in April, reducing their exposure to non-Japanese Asian markets.

Figures from Micropal showed that the best performing markets in the year to May were in the Far East. Stock markets in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore grew by more than a third while the

Philippines and Thailand jumped by more than half.

National Westminster Bank is upgrading its forecast of economic growth in the UK from 2.7 per cent to 3 per cent, because of the modest impact on spending of April's tax increases, amid signs that the Treasury is also likely to revise its 2.5 per cent forecast made last November.

Base rate will remain around 5.25 per cent until the final quarter and will then start rising to 5.75 per cent by the end of the year, according to David Kern, NatWest's chief economist.