Brokerage industry shares, the biggest beneficiaries of a rising stock market, were among the top performers in Wall Street's broad-based January rally.

Health care companies, airlines and aluminums also made strong gains in the month, while only two of 84 industry groups in the Standard and Poor's 500 stock index lost ground.Stocks began climbing in mid-November, against a backdrop of acute skepticism, and surged in January, when the Dow Jones industral average gained nearly 174 points, or 8 percent. In the rise since mid-November, the Dow industrials have gained about 300 points.

"No one believed this, now January has turned out to be one of the best months in history," said Larry Wachtel of Prudential Bache Securities.

But Wachtel said his firm is advising investors to be cautious for the short term. "While we're bulls, we're not fools," he said.

Wachtel said an unusual aspect of the rally was that the market shook off its habit of keying on interest rates, and managed to climb on good economic news even if there was an implication of higher interest rates.

Further, there is some evidence that small investors are now returning to the market, as shown by data from the Investment Company Institute, whose members comprise about 90 percent of the mutual fund industry in the U.S.

The institute reports that investors added a net $1.55 billion to stock funds in December, including $1.25 billion in net sales over redemptions, the first month since March, when sales of equity funds exceeded redemptions.

"It takes a while for the individual investor to come back after he has been hurt," said Lawrence Eckenfelder, also of Prudential Bache. "Sustainability and stability are essential here," he said.

During the month, the Standard & Poor's index of 500 stocks rose 7.1 percent. In a breakdown of stocks in the index, miscellaneous health care issues tracked by Eckenfelder registered the best gain for the month, rising 16.7 percent.

Brokerage issues advanced 16.4 percent in January, tying with manufactured housing for second-best performance.

"They (the brokers) are earnings-driven," said Eckenfelder. He said that if retail business improves throughout the year, broker earnings and share prices will do even better.

Among the brokers, Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. gained $6.25 to $30.25 while Shearson Lehman Hutton Inc. rose $5 to $23.125, in the month.

In the health care group, nursing home operator Beverly Enterprises Inc. rose $1 to $7.25 while Manor Care Inc. gained $2.625 to $15.125 in January. Margo Vignola of Salomon Inc. said the stocks had been depressed, but investors have lately begun to focus on their high real estate values.