It appears that investors are beginning to buy stocks directly rather than investing in mutual funds, a fact which will contribute to a decrease in mutual fund sales of 8.6 percent this year, according to an industry report.

Putnam, Lovell, de Guardiola & Thornton, the investment bank based in San Francisco, predicted that sales of equity funds -- mutual fund companies' most profitable product -- will decrease by 27.2 percent, or about $52 billion, this year. Overall sales will be down nearly $53 billion, only the second time in the last 10 years that mutual fund sales will have decreased. Fund sales dropped by more than 36 percent in 1994, to $190.5 billion.

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