The mutual fund industry has boasted that even in 2002, with the S&P 500 down more than 22%, it took in a net $75 billion. But $64 billion, or 85% of that money, came from passive, automatic 401(k) contributions – not investors actively seeking out funds in nonretirement accounts, The Wall Street Journal reports. In fact, stock funds in nonretirement accounts lost a net $54 billion last year, according to the Journal. And the trend is continuing this year.

The figure is particularly significant because 401(k) flows have amounted to no more than 20% of all fund flows in recent years, data from the Investment Company Institute shows.

"Participants’ contributions to their 401(k) plans powered the fund industry’s growth in the 1990s and has held steady since then," Chris Brown, an analyst with Financial Research Corp., told the Journal. Jim Norris, a principal at Vanguard, called defined contributions the "perfect annuity" for a fund company, as "every two weeks, the participant contributes, no matter what’s going on with the market."

At Fidelity, retirement accounts represent 59% of the firm’s total $699 billion in mutual fund assets. At T. Rowe Price, such accounts represent 66% of the firm’s $140 billion in assets, and at Vanguard, they are roughly 50% of the firm’s assets.

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