The fund industry has attracted nearly $150 billion in net new assets during the first six months of 2006, according to Financial Research Corporation’s latest estimates. That’s an increase of about 18 percent over net flows in the first six months of 2005, which were $125 billion.

Total assets in mutual funds and ETFs stand at $6.6 trillion, up about 15 percent from a year ago, says the FRC, when total assets were $5.8 trillion.

But the pace of net flows into many of the best-selling fund groups appears to be slowing (see chart). New money continues to come in to groups such as American Funds, Vanguard Group and Dodge & Cox; however, the amount of money has declined a bit from year-ago levels. Nonetheless, Fidelity has seen a strong flow of net new assets, as have ETF groups like Barclays and PowerShares Capital.

By category, FRC estimates that large-blend, foreign large-blend, large-growth and foreign large-value mutual funds and ETFs drew in most flows in June. Both foreign large-blend and world stock funds are leading the estimated flow of funds in the first six months of the year, along with intermediate-term bond funds.

Large-cap value funds tracked by Emerging Portfolio Fund Research have experienced inflows of more than $7 billion as of late July.

“Some large-cap holdings have been seen as safer in the past few months,” says James Wiess, CFA, a portfolio manager of the Putnam Investors Fund (PINVX). “Our focus is: What is the market putting on sale?” Wiess says he looks for the best risk-to-reward opportunities for the market.

The Putnam Investors Fund — which is posting flat returns year to date, but is up 12 percent for the past three years — is heavily invested in the financial and insurance sectors. Capital One Financial Corporation, Citigroup, Bank of America and Countrywide Financial were some of the fund’s top holdings as of June 30. Except for Capital One, these stocks were showing positive returns through August 4.

According to Lipper’s estimates, selling pressure affected many equity-fund categories in June. Still, multi-cap funds appear to be capturing some investors’ attention of late, given the lack of direction in the markets, says Jeff Tjornehoj, a senior research analyst. Also, world equity funds continue to generate interest and net positive flows, along with mixed asset/target funds.

To boost its presence in the latter category, Franklin Templeton Investments is rolling out four retirement target funds, which are actively managed funds-of-funds corresponding with projected retirement years of 2015, 2025, 2035 and 2045. The funds will include equity, fixed-income and short-term instruments.

“Volatility has increased as geopolitical concerns collide with heightened uncertainty about inflation and ongoing interest-rate hikes,” explains HighMark Capital CIO David Goerz in his July outlook.

In such an environment, some strategists are pushing for a foreign focus. “But whether from the perspective of currency or market fundamentals, it remains clear that a dollar-based portfolio can benefit from a significant exposure to foreign equities,” says Milton Ezrati, senior economic and market strategist of Lord, Abbett & Company in his latest overview to investors.

To take better advantage of such sentiment, Harris Associates has filed with the SEC for a new Oakmark world-stock fund that aims to invest in some 20 stocks selected by managers Bill Nygren and David Herro. Expenses are anticipated to be 1.75 percent.

As for the recent volatility in emerging markets, some $15 billion in holdings were sold by funds tracked by EPFR in June. The situation improved markedly in July, though investors themselves withdrew $1.4 billion from global emerging-market funds in this period, the research firm says. Inflows of nearly $2.5 billion, however, were posted for some categories in the four weeks ending July 26 — including Latin America and Asia (excluding Japan) funds.

As for sector bets, banks continue to dominate many fund classes, EPFR reports, such as global, global ex-Japan and dedicated Europe. Banks represented the second-biggest allocation for global emerging-market and Europe, Middle East and Africa funds in July — after energy.