Retirement assets invested in mutual funds continued their ascent last year, as a strong rally in stocks and heavy net cash flow fueled a 28% pop in 2003, according to research released Tuesday by the Investment Company Institute.

The recent surge brings total mutual fund retirement assets to a record $2.7 trillion, which represents a market share of 22% of the nation’s retirement assets. The fund industry hasn’t seen its market share that high since the height of the technology bubble back in 1999.

"Investors have shown, once again, their long-term commitment to mutual funds as a great way to save for retirement," said ICI President Paul Stevens, in a prepared statement

U.S. retirement assets, which include annuities, IRAs and employee-sponsored pension plans, totaled $12.1 trillion at the end of 2003, up from $10.2 trillion the previous year. The net inflow to retirement accounts held in long-term funds rose to $110 billion from $80 billion, with a bulk of the flow going toward equity funds.

The results of the study are based on an annual ICI survey, with 14,059 mutual fund share classes responding, representing 83% of mutual fund assets.

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