said April was the cruelest month, but tech-fund investors are begging to disagree.
In October the average tech fund lost a whopping 11.9%, and since Jan. 1 last year's darlings are down 8.9%, compared with a 2.3% loss for the average
S&P 500 Index fund, according to
. The losses stem from investors' jitters and the legion of growth fund managers'
dumping their sagging tech holdings to reduce their taxable capital gains distributions to shareholders, a practice known as tax-loss selling. Given the record-setting cash flows into tech funds over the past two years and tech stocks' rising place in most growth funds, it's likely that few investors were immune to October's drubbing.
Among the battered tech pack -- less than a handful of the more than 100 funds posted a positive return last month -- funds with big bets on dot-coms, networkers and other Net-centric shops got hit the hardest. Here's a list of the bottom 15 October performers, led off by wunderkind-turned-whipping-boy Ryan Jacob's eponymous
Internet fund, which lost a stunning 25.2%. The fund is the worst performer in the fund world this year, down 65.6% since Jan. 1.
These funds might not all have "Net" in their names, but in an indication of how little fund labels can mean, all fell in steep but varying degrees due to similar bets. A look at the funds' cumulative top-10 holdings shows that these funds favored companies that build networks (
), help companies do business on the Net (
) or simply do all their business on the Net (
Each of these stocks lost ground last month, to the tune of an average 26% tumble. The company that lost the least was bellwether networking shop Cisco, down 2.5%, while the biggest loser was software shop
, which lost nearly half its value in October.
This downturn, while not as big as the category's 20.8% loss back in August 1998, might be more damaging than any previous big monthly slide. That's because tech-fund inflows have accounted for more than 30% of the money invested in all U.S. stock funds so far this year, according to Boston fund consultancy
. From 1990 to 1998 sector-fund inflows never accounted for more than 4.8%. Consequently a record number of new tech funds have rolled off the assembly line, which often
presages a downturn for the sector.
And when tech gets a cold, tech funds aren't the only ones getting pneumonia. The average large-cap growth fund had more than 41% of its assets sunk into tech stocks on Sept. 30, according to
. The average big-cap growth fund tumbled more than 5% last month and is underwater on the year.
This loss isn't as steep as that of the average tech fund, but it's probably hurting a lot of investors because big-cap growth funds are far and away the largest U.S. stock fund category. With more than $530 billion in big-cap growth-fund coffers -- and another $524 billion in tech-heavy multi-cap growth funds -- it's a safe bet that many investors are wondering what hit them.
Among the 25 biggest stock funds out there, the $41.1 billion
American Century Ultra fund and the closed $31 billion
Janus Twenty fund each lost some 6%. Both are down more than their average peer since Jan. 1, according to Lipper.
All this said, there are reasons to see things looking up. First, since many stock funds have Oct. 31 fiscal year-ends, tax-loss selling should be winding down. Second, stock funds have let their
cash stakes build recently, which often portends a market bounce.
Also, it's not as if a big tech stake didn't make investors a lot of money in recent years. Last year, for instance, the average tech fund gained a stunning 135%. But this year investors are feeling the effects of a tech hangover, and that was never more apparent than last month.