The new year brings a nice gift to the equity mutual funds: five-year performance figures that no longer include the brutal 38.5 percent loss suffered by the S&P 500 in 2008.

That means the standard one-, three-, five- and 10-year performance figures used by funds and money managers are suddenly looking a lot better.

As of year-end 2013, the S&P 500’s annualized total-return figures for one, three, five and 10 years are 33.45 percent, 16.18 percent, 17.94 percent and 7.41 percent, respectively, according to Morningstar Inc.

A year ago, the five-year number was a measly 1.66 percent.

But some observers worry that the improved return numbers might cause the fund industry to lure unsophisticated investors into stocks at the wrong time.

The industry is “very aware of [the] drop off” of the 2008 figures, said Lou Harvey, chief executive of Dalbar Inc., which might provide an incentive to hype performance in marketing pitches.

“The precursor to this was when 1987 dropped off, and in the early 1990s, you saw a massive amount of promotion and advertising that tended [to] forget what happened” in 1987, he said.

That year, the market crashed 20.5 percent on Oct. 19, erasing most of the market’s gains.

The S&P 500 ended up with a gain of just 2 percent.

With a secular bear market in place since 2000, though, performance advertising has dissipated.

But the ads might be back this year, said Alan Palmiter, a professor at the Wake Forest University School of Law, and a critic of mutual fund performance advertising.

“The [academic] literature shows that mutual funds stop touting performance when there’s a sustained downtick in the markets, then begin touting themselves once an uptick occurs,” Palmiter said.

Investors could be now be receptive to pitches for good-performing funds. They are finally getting back into stock funds after five years of net redemptions.

Will the fund industry jump on the opportunity?

Fund industry consultant Avi Nachmany doesn’t think so.

“I think by and large, the era of emphasizing absolute performance is largely over,” said Nachmany, director of research at Strategic Insight. “The more effective narrative [for fund companies] will be that the U.S. economy is improving, global wealth is rebounding, and ‘We are the company with the expertise to help you.’”

What’s more, about 80 percent of open-end fund sales are done through allocation models, which don’t chase hot products, Nachmany added.

Investors today are more aware of market risks than they were in the late 1980s, Harvey added.

“They’ve been through the tech wreck, 9-11, and the crash of 2008,” he said. “So attracting investors with a big return number is going to be more difficult to pull off.”