Tech funds -- like the stocks they buy -- were all over the map in the third quarter. But one theme emerged: It paid to chase the new new thing.
The average tech fund fell 1.2% in the third quarter, but if your tech-fund manager bet big on fresh-faced networkers and business-to-business Net stocks, you probably did a lot better. But if he or she invested your money in the PC shops and PC-related concerns that are household names, you probably did a lot worse.
(Check out the top-20 tech mutual funds for the third quarter.)
Some "new tech" shops feeding off the Internet enablers, like networker
and software shop
, sailed north. On the other hand, many "old tech" firms whose growth depends on the maturing PC market sagged, punctuated by earnings warnings from recent earnings warnings from
and PC concern
The "new-tech-over-old-tech" trend has implications far beyond scorekeeping among mutual funds; it may point to a tectonic psychological shift among pros managing the billions invested in the sector. Over the past few weeks, several professional tech investors have noticed a rotation within the tech sector away from mature bellwethers like
and into shops with stronger ties to the Internet and more vibrant growth. Given the mountain of money these folks manage, their portfolio shuffling can cause upheaval in the broader market.
For the quarter's top tech fund manager, Bob Turner, who co-manages
Turner B2B E-Commerce
, "old tech" shops just weren't growing fast enough.
"We like to segregate between old tech and new tech: The old tech looks like Microsoft, Intel and Dell. They serve a segment of technology that's just not growing very rapidly, and that's PCs. One wouldn't want to short-change these companies, because they're terrific and may come back over time. But there are these emerging tech companies like
, Juniper Networks and
that are growing faster," he said on Tuesday, before Dell's earnings
It's not necessarily a shock to see the once-sizzling sector take a breather in the third quarter, historically a tough stretch since tech orders often slide in the summer months. But the range of returns within the category, reflecting some funds' laser focus on thin slivers like B2B, might not be expected.
Turner B2B E-Commerce gained more than 25%, while the worst-performing U.S. tech fund,
Jacob Internet, which holds several beleaguered "pure play" or business-to-consumer (B2C) Net stocks, lost more than 22.3%.
Comparing the top holdings among the top- and bottom-10 tech funds in the third quarter illustrates the different paths these funds took in the broad sector. The quarter's winners on average bet big on the likes of networker Juniper Networks and Ariba, in addition to circuit shops
Applied Micro Circuits
The losers, on the other hand, favored "old tech" shops that depend on the mature PC market such as Intel, software titan Microsoft and semiconductor concern
A taste for telecommunications stocks, many of which sank in the third quarter, weighed on the quarter's losing tech funds, too. On average, the quarter's winners had just 4.8% of their assets in telecom stocks, compared with 27% for the 10 worst tech funds.
Of course, top-10 lists are often a bad place to shop for funds and this might be the case here.
"I'd caution people not to think too much of funds at either end of this quarter's list," says
analyst Chris Traulsen, a tech-fund specialist. "You shouldn't take this as a sign that these funds will always hold up in a tough quarter. In fact, they might be more focused than others which often either works really well or not at all."
For most investors, a broader tech fund that spreads its assets around the sector's emerging and maturing industries might be a better choice for tech exposure.
"You might not get the gigantic runs that more focused tech funds see, but you probably won't get those deep, deep drops either," says Traulsen. He suggests do-it-yourselfers consider no-load
T. Rowe Price Science & Technology and investors working with a broker take a look at
Merrill Lynch Global Technology. Both funds have trailed their higher-octane peers in recent years, but narrowly beat the average tech fund in the third quarter.
Then again it might be tough for any tech-fund manager to lose your money next quarter, according to Turner, who also co-manages the high-octane
Turner Technology fund. In the last 90 days of the year, corporations often burn through any remaining dollars in their tech budget, he says. Consequently, tech stocks have only significantly underperformed the broad
in the fourth quarter once in the past 15 years.