The lion's share of stock mutual funds, 90%, posted negative returns in 2002, according to Weiss Ratings. Precious metals and real estate were the only two sectors that gained last year.

Investors' lack of confidence comes as no surprise given the widespread inability of stock mutual funds to pull out of the red, despite a fourth-quarter upturn in the stock market. With the market sinking for the third year in a row, "even some of the best fund managers are taking it on the chin," said David Lackey, president of Weiss.

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