is pitching its new
fund with the slogan "extreme risk" and "explosive potential." Prospective investors would be smart to take the fund shop at its word.
The fund starts selling its 40 million shares through brokers Monday at $25 a pop with a maximum 4%
load, or sales charge. It will focus on Internet and other technology companies of any size worldwide, investing up to 40% of its assets in private or pre-
IPO firms. While it gives Main Street investors access to the tony private or venture-capital market with just a $10,000 investment minimum ($2,000 for IRA accounts), its volatile fare and closed-end structure give it unique risks many investors might have never come across, including a significant lack of liquidity.
Publicly traded Internet stocks, highfliers in recent years, have hit some choppy water this year as investors have cooled on the once go-go tech subsector.
TheStreet.com Internet Sector
index is down nearly 30% since Jan. 1 and almost 40% since its March 10 peak, according to
. Imperiled dot-coms such as
are looking like lunch for vultures these days, and even giants like
are deep under water for the year.
While the Net sector has been bleeding, the Munder gang has held together better than some others. The $8.5 billion, broker-sold
Munder NetNet fund, the closed Net fund whose team will also run @Vantage, is down 7.4% for the year, less than most of the Net crowd. The
Jacob Internet fund, for instance, brings up the rear of the tech-fund category with a 47.5% year-to-date loss, according to
Beyond public Net and Net-related tech shops, the fund's plan to dip into private companies and venture-capital or VC funds that invest in private companies adds more than a dollop of additional risk. A pre-IPO investment is typically seen as a home run swing since it's often a bet on a fledgling company that's losing money and reliant on just a few products or customers for survival. An investment in a private company can yield stunning profits -- imagine owning America Online for pennies before it became a Wall Street darling -- but it can also go nowhere. When a fund invests in a private firm, it often can't sell the stake and values the investment at cost until the company folds or gives investors a potentially big payday through an initial public offering or sale to a big competitor.
That lack of liquidity is why traditional open-end funds, which have to redeem shares upon request, can only invest up to 15% of their assets in private companies. This fund's closed-end status helps it sidestep that limit. Unlike open-end funds, closed-ends offer a finite number of shares, which often trade on an exchange like a stock.
But this fund won't be listed on an exchange. Rather, shareholders will only be able to sell their shares back to Munder on a quarterly basis at
net asset value. The firm can limit redemptions to 5% of the fund's assets in a given quarter, according to its prospectus.
That lack of liquidity probably makes the fund unsuitable for investors who aren't comfortable holding shares for the long term -- an idea backed by Munder's ads for the fund. The ads feature a tobacco-like disclaimer telling investors who are "weak-kneed, incessant nail-biters ... or have serious qualms, hysteria or neurosis" not to consider the fund.
The ads also urge investors to consult their brokers on the fund's risks before investing. While selling through brokers can head off some potential investor suitability issues, it also is probably why the firm is trying to raise a whopping $1 billion by the time its offering period ends Oct. 12. Brokers are the reason Munder's NetNet fund is far and away the largest of the Net-fund crowd.
Still, $1 billion might be a bold target given the current slackening investor interest in tech funds. Over the past two years investors have been buying tech-fund shares at a record pace, but the latest data available indicates that in July many investors were more
interested in bond funds than tech funds.
John Hancock Funds
postponed launching the broker-sold
John Hancock Venture Technology this month, a similar closed-end tech fund with a significant venture-capital stake. The reason: a soft market.
"We determined that the market for tech funds and this kind of product isn't as strong as it has been. There has also been a lot of new tech funds already brought to market, so, we decided to pull back," says Andrew Arnott, Hancock's director of retail product management. He adds that the firm hasn't set a new launch date.
At the end of June, San Francisco money-manager firm
meVC Draper Fisher Jurvetson Fund I
, which focuses strictly on pre-IPO tech companies. The fund's shares closed at $13.97 or more than 27% below net asset value Friday, according to the meVC Web site.
If investors are losing their tech-fund appetite and Net-stocks' volatility has made them skittish, the Munder fund's high-octane approach and limited liquidity could make it a tough sell. Its high annual expenses, in addition to its load, might not help.
The fund's annual expense ratio will be 3%, according to its prospectus. The fund's public/private company approach makes comparisons dicey, but the average tech fund, which can invest up to 15% in private companies, carries a 1.74% expense ratio, according to Morningstar.