A study released today by two investment industry groups said that 401(k) participants did not significantly alter their 401(k) accounts as equity markets plummeted last year.

The study, conducted by the Investment Company Institute and the Employee Benefit Research Institute, pulled data from the Participant-Directed Retirement Plan Data Collection Project, a database that contains information about 11.8 million active 401(k) plan participants in 35,367 plans, constituting some $579.8 billion in assets.

Assets in 401(k) plans hardly changed from the end of 1999 through the end of 2000, even though most equity investors saw negative returns in their plans as equity markets posted their most precipitous declines in 20 years, the study said. Account balances averaged $49,024 at the end of 2000, a 12% decline from year-end 1999.

For those who had accounts in both 1999 and 2000, the decline in average account size was about 0.1% between 2000 and 1999. Those accounts averaged a balance of $58,774 at the end of 2000, the report said.

Fifty-one percent of plan balances at the end of 2000 were invested in equity funds, 19% in company stocks, 10% in guaranteed investment contracts, 8% in balanced funds, 5% in bond funds and 4% in money funds, according to the report.

Matthew Fink, who heads the ICI, said the figures show that investors are maintaining their "focus on long-term investment goals and are not swayed by short-term market fluctuations."

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