Bloodied but Unbowed: Net Fund Managers Say They're Buying

Not only that, some say they still have cash to put back into the battered sector.
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There were few growth-oriented mutual funds untouched by this week's market bloodbath. But few have suffered as much as Internet funds.

"Technology funds have been hit, but the Internet funds have been hit more," says Diahann Lassus, a financial planner in New Providence, N.J. "The hardware companies have held up better than the Internet. Technology funds can buy hardware, Internet funds don't."

Some Internet funds have taken 30%-plus losses in the past two weeks as the

Nasdaq

stumbled lower each session.

(ATCHX)

Amerindo Technology is off 39.8% in April.

(PBNOX)

PBHG New Opportunities is down 40.5%.

In the past week alone, the Nasdaq fell 13.8% and is down more than 18% for the year.

TheStreet.com Internet Sector

index was down more than 32% for the week. Hardly any part of the Net was spared, from leaders like

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

to business-to-business upstarts like

Akamai

(AKAM) - Get Report

.

Internet fund managers, while bemoaning the negative shift in investor sentiment toward the sector, say they're still buying and they still have the cash to do so.

Steven Witt, managing director of

Firsthand Funds

, says his firm is ready to buy companies that look appealing now that they've shed a chunk of their valuations. "If there are good opportunities, we have some cash to buy," he says, mentioning

Sun Microsystems

(SUNW) - Get Report

and

PMC-Sierra

(PMCS)

. Investors have poured $2 billion into Firsthand funds since the beginning of the year, but only about $200 million has been redeemed by investors in the recent selloff, he says.

Still, the sector will not be the cornucopia it has been in the past. "In general the movement may have switched from being focused on earnings to being focused on valuations, and anything with a huge P/E or no P/E got caught in the crosshairs," says Witt, referring to

price-to-earnings ratios, a key measure of valuation.

The San Jose, Calif., company's flagship

(TVFQX)

Technology Value fund is down 37.8% for the month through Friday. It's one of the worst hit in the group.

"Show me an Internet fund that hasn't been hurt," Witt challenges. "The market is saying that as a herd, tech is bad."

Some Internet funds held up their negative numbers as evidence that they're on the right course.

"Our underperformance reflects the purity of the portfolio to Internet stocks," says Robert Burgoyne, technology strategist with

Monument Funds

of Bethesda, Md. Monument's

(MFITX)

Internet fund was the top-performing Net fund of 1999.

Since the carnage began, the fund has fallen 28.3% in the nine-day period ending Thursday. But Burgoyne says the fund continues to buy the Internet sector. He's particularly enamored of hardware and software makers, including Sun Microsystems and

Oracle

(ORCL) - Get Report

, both of which could benefit from

Microsoft's

(MSFT) - Get Report

antitrust difficulties.

He also likes

Ariba

(ARBA)

, the business-to-business software provider, and

BroadVision

(BVSN) - Get Report

, a software enabler.

"If you're an Internet company, you're not going to escape using Ariba software," he says.

Another Internet highflier brought low is

(RIAFX)

RS Internet Age, managed by

Morningstar

Manager of the Year Jim Callinan and co-skipper Cathy Baker. That fund followed up a 17% gain in March with a 31.2% drop in the first nine trading days of April through Thursday.

Baker admits that RS Internet was in a particularly poor position given its emphasis on small-cap names as the market was moving to household names. She also blames some diversified mutual funds that got into technology in recent months then abandoned the sector when the Nasdaq started to fall.

"When the momentum left the space, they left it very aggressively, since it is not their area of expertise," Baker says. "We believe that was a key factor in the severity of the decline of these growth stocks."

But you didn't have to be exclusively in the Internet to have your fund fall. Robert Loest, manager of the

IPS New Frontier

fund did it with a concentrated, tech-heavy portfolio.

Not one to mince words, Loest says his fund has some "scary stuff." Just three names make up 32% of its assets -- Yahoo!, flash disk storage provider

SanDisk

(SNDK)

, and fiber-optics maker

JDS Uniphase

(JDSU)

. Loest is an enviable position, though, with money continuing to come into the fund.

The fund fell 25.4% for the month through Wednesday. Thanks to heavy inflows, Loest says he's been buying more shares in his top three holdings. "There's absolutely nothing wrong with those stocks," he says. In the long term, he remains bullish. "There's very little downside risk in the investing in the Nasdaq now," he said on Thursday. But that was before the Nasdaq fell more than 300 points on Friday.

It certainly didn't help the already beaten down stocks. For the month through Friday, JDS Uniphase lost 33.9% of its value, while SanDisk gave up 31.4% and Yahoo! fell 32.3%.

"We're just giving back some of the outrageous gains of last year that were unearned," he says.

Despite the carnage, Loest says he's not giving up on the Internet. He's still fond of such names as

VerticalNet

(VERT)

, down 58.8% in April through Friday;

VeriSign

(VRSN) - Get Report

, down 34.5%;

Network Solutions

(NSOL)

, down 31.1%; and

Healtheon/Web MD

(HLTH)

, down 20.3%.