New York -- The total cost to shareholders of equity mutual funds has steadily declined over the past eighteen years, according to data recently disclosed by the fund industry's trade organization. The data appears to call into question the belief of many industry observers that there has been an overall jump in fund expenses that are being passed on to shareholders.

On average, each equity fund purchase, expressed as a percentage of an investor's initial investment, costs an investor 1.49 percent in 1997, according to the Investment Company Institute, the industry association. That total cost has dropped from 2.25 percent in 1980. That represents a drop of one-third in the last 18 years. But, the ICI also found that operating expenses, one of the two components of "total shareholder cost" along with distribution expenses, have risen to .88 percent in 1997 from .76 percent in 1980.

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