One of Wall Street's legends recently used convertible bonds as a safer way to play a tech favorite. Now there's a mutual fund that lets skittish tech fans on Main Street do the same.
In the second quarter, long-time
bull Bill Miller -- the only fund manager to beat the
S&P 500 in each of the past nine years,
replaced the online retailer's stock shares for its convertible bonds in his
Legg Mason Opportunity fund. Since convertible bonds typically offer 70% of the stock market's returns with 40% less volatility, the move could be a smart way to make a defensive bet on the stock.
Given the tech sector's mercurial nature, it's no surprise the mutual fund industry has devised a fund that let's you mimic Miller: the broker-sold
Calamos Convertible Technology
fund, which launched Monday. Though many convertible bond funds have decent tech weightings, it appears to be one of the first -- if not the first -- convertible bond fund with a tech label.
Convertible bonds, or "converts," are part bond, part stock. Like bonds, they offer steady interest payments, but they also give investors the option of getting their initial investment in cash or a set number of shares of the issuer's stock at maturity. For more details on convertible bonds, see
series on the subject.
For many investors, converts could be a way to invest in stocks with less risk. When the bond is issued, the stock price you'll get if you convert is usually about 20% to 25% above its current price. If the stock is above that price when the bond matures, you can get the stock at a discount. If the stock tanks and the bond's price drops too, you still get your principal and the interest payments at maturity.
But the complex bond world is typically unfriendly to retail investors because of the steep minimums and minimal transparency. Many converts aren't offered to retail investors at all. To save issuers money, converts often get a "144a" label, which means they're privately placed and only traded among institutional investors like mutual funds. It's even tough for individual investors to get a current quote for a bond once they've bought it. That's why there are some 60 convertible bond funds and now one that focuses strictly on tech.
Co-managers John and Nick Calamos, who run three other convertible bond funds, will invest primarily in converts issued by tech shops. The fund, which has a $500 minimum investment, might make sense if you love technology and have a long-time horizon but would like a somewhat conservative approach.
But there are risks to the convertible bond route, too. The companies that issue converts often have dicey credit -- they add the stock component to sweeten the deal for bond investors. But that stock option also means they usually pay lower interest payments than other corporate bonds. For instance, the average convertible bond fund's 12-month yield averages 2.6%, compared with 6.7% for the average bond fund, according to
Like many convertible bond funds, the new tech-focused offering from Calamos can be a bit pricey. Its Class A shares levy a maximum 4.75% front-end
load, or sales charge, while Class B and Class C shares carry maximum 5% and 1% back-end loads, respectively. Annual expenses will be 2% for Class A shares and 2.5% for Class B and Class C shares, higher than the average convert fund's 1.57% average, according to Morningstar.
There are several convertible bond funds with below-average expenses that can give you significant access to tech shops' converts. The average convertible bond fund has 28% of its assets invested in bonds issued by tech companies.
Do-it-yourselfers might look at high-octane
Fidelity Convertible Securities, which had a whopping 77% of its assets in tech converts at the end of May. If you work with a broker, you might consider
Calamos Convertible Growth & Income, also run by John and Nick Calamos, which has beaten more than 80% of its peers over the past three years, according to Morningstar. The fund had more than 37% of its assets in the tech sector at the beginning of the year.