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April's steep decline in the stock markets drove down assets under management for many equity funds that had closed to new investments, prompting a handful to reopen.

While the markets have since strongly rallied and then declined yet again in a highly volatile, zigzag pattern, the overall trend in April has been a decline in net asset value, according to Lipper Analytical Services of Summit, N.J. There were $4.04 trillion in assets in equity funds as of March 31, according to Lipper.

The mutual fund-tracking firm does not yet have April figures for total equity fund assets under management. However, Lipper expects these assets may decline by $100 billion or more since the average equity fund lost 6.42 percent between March 31 and April 13, according to Lipper.

In addition, nearly all major stock indexes so far this year are in the red, with only the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index up a scant 0.56 percent as of April 25, according to Lipper. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 8.8 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was also down 3.24 percent as of April 25, according to Lipper.

These declines prompted Putnam Investments of Boston to reopen three large equity funds on April 18. All three funds had declined between 22 percent and 27 percent in value from their highs on March 10, when both the Dow and the Nasdaq were at their peaks for the year, according to Matthew Keenan, a spokesperson for Putnam.

The three funds Putnam reopened include the Putnam New Century Growth Fund which had $1.69 billion in assets under management as of March 10, when it was closed. By April 17, those assets had dwindled 27 percent to $1.23 billion.

Putnam also reopened the Putnam New Opportunities Fund, which had declined 25 percent to $31.3 billion of assets under management by April 17, down from $41.9 billion as of March 10. The Putnam Capital Appreciation Fund had declined to $2.1 billion on April 17, down 22 percent from $2.7 billion on March 10, according to Putnam.

The market decline also prompted Chase Hambrecht & Quist of New York to reopen the H&Q IPO & Emerging Company Fund on April 25. When Chase closed the fund to new investments on Dec. 30, the fund had $568 million in assets under management, according to Chase. By April 19, those assets had declined 14 percent to $489 million.

However, these are not typical reactions by fund companies to market declines, said Russ Kinnel, an editor at Morningstar, the mutual fund tracking firm in Chicago.

"I was surprised to see it at all," he said. "Most fund companies close and stay closed."

Putnam and Chase's decision to reopen their funds may be premature because in spite of market volatility, there has been a positive net asset inflow into equity funds so far in April, said Carl Wittnebert, director of research at TrimTabs.com of Santa Rosa, Calif. TrimTabs.com tracks daily net flows for 20 percent of the available funds and extrapolates to estimate net flows for the entire industry.

In spite of the market's volatility and large redemptions on many days so far this month, there has still been a positive $22.8 billion net inflow into equity funds through April 24, Wittnebert said. That net inflow and confidence in the markets is likely to eventually boost the stock market, Wittnebert said. Accordingly, the market will drive fund assets back up, including the assets in the Putnam and H&Q funds that have been reopened, Wittnebert said.

That may prove Putnam's and H&Q's decisions to reopen their closed funds premature, he said.