The mutual fund marketing machine seems to be losing some steam.

Only 64 new mutual funds were launched in the first quarter of 1999, compared with 435 in the first quarter of 1998, according to fund tracker

CDA/Wiesenberger

.

"We just aren't seeing as many being entered into our database," says Stephanie Kendall, a mutual fund analyst with the firm. Instead, many firms are merging funds or liquidating assets of unpopular funds. Denver's

Invesco

, for example,

announced last week it would close or merge 11 funds.

The sheer number of mutual funds -- CDA/Wiesenberger counts 11,700 -- raises questions about how many funds the market can support and how many new marketing twists fund companies can put on the tried-and-true concept of mutual fund investing.

"When you're talking about some of the bigger companies, so many of them have just about everything you could think of," says Kendall. "So unless they come up with a new and clever investment objective, it's going to cost them more money to open up a new fund."

New fund introductions "went through the roof" in 1996 and 1997, when 1,411 and 1,688 new funds, respectively, were launched, says Kendall. But in 1998, that number dipped to 1,151, and first-quarter numbers for 1999 seem to support a slowing trend.

Kendall says the volatility of the stock market over the last year may also have contributed to a slowdown in new fund launches.

"When you see

Merrill Lynch

laying off 3,400 employees

last October because of emerging markets, there's probably some fear out there to invest in particular markets. So why

launch new funds?" Kendall says.

Internet Fund's Learning Curve

The

(WWWFX) - Get Report

Internet fund has a storybook history, growing from an idea sparked on a New York

commuter train to the top-performing mutual fund in a little more than two years.

But while success came quickly, it was not without missteps. The fund apparently missed the boat on

America Online

(AOL)

-- at least at first.

In October 1996, Frank Alexander, the fund's original portfolio manager, told

Dow Jones News Service

, "We just think that business is not going to be around for them too much longer. ... The cost of acquiring clients is too much to make a viable enterprise."

Alexander was succeeded as manager by Ryan Jacob in 1997. As of last December, AOL made up 3.6% of the Internet fund's portfolio and was among its top-10 holdings. The stock has appreciated 3,849% since Alexander's pessimistic remarks.

Amerindo Tech Slashes Its Minimums

Nipping at the heels of the Internet fund, up 92.4% this year, is

(ATCHX)

Amerindo Technology, which has the second-best return year-to-date, 64.6%.

On Friday, the fund announced that it's reducing its minimum purchase price to just $2,500 for taxable accounts and $1,000 for nontaxable accounts. Until now, A shares and D shares were only available for minimums of $10,000 and $150,000, respectively. The new minimum is good for both share classes, according to a company news release.

But watch out for the load on the A shares. While the load goes down the more you invest -- and is waived for investments of $1 million or more -- the $2,500 minimum would garner a load of 5.75%, according to a

Securities and Exchange Commission

filing. That's a good bit above the average 1.4% sales charge for all science and technology funds tracked by

Lipper

.

Amerindo did not respond to two phone calls for comment on the news.