Like fair-weather friends, fair-weather funds are a real drag.
Last year was a blowout for growth funds of all sorts. Before 1999, no more than 10 funds ever posted a return of more than 100% in any single year, but last year 180 funds did it. Clearly, those returns were driven by the frothiest, most tech-obsessed market in recent or distant memory.
Now that type of buying frenzy is largely absent. Broad indices are flat or down, and money managers are calling this "a stock-picker's year." Unfortunately, many of last year's stars look like they have portfolios of clay.
Of the 180 funds that qualified for 1999's
Century Club, more than 100 are underwater for 2000. The average tech fund, which rocketed to a 135% return last year, is down 2.4% this year, and the average telecom fund, up more than 70% in 1999, is down 12.5% since Jan. 1.
So, this week The Big Screen casts its net into the Century Club, fishing for funds that have weathered this year's storm. We simply looked at funds that posted triple-digit returns last year and screened out those that were no longer hot -- defining "hot" as a gain of at least 30% in 2000. The idea, of course, is to find some folks whose stock picks have been stormproof. Then we went a bit further, combining the winning funds into one portfolio and screening for their top-10 cumulative picks.
First, let's check out the eight funds that survived the screen. Remember, that's out of 180 Century Club members at the end of last year.
As you might imagine, most of these funds are essentially tech-sector funds, which is impressive, given the troubles tech stocks have had this year.
Before we look at the tech survivors, let's examine one exception, no-load chart-topper
Dresdner RCM Biotechnology. The fund's co-managers, Faraz Naqvi and Michael Dauchot, haven't necessarily been tested this year because biotech stocks have sizzled. The
American Stock Exchange Biotechnology
index is up more than 77% since Jan. 1.
Among the tech crowd, we find some marquee stock pickers, including
Firsthand Technology Value's Kevin Landis. Until this week, his no-load fund beat all others over the past five years. Now, his fund is second to
PBHG Technology & Communications, a no-load fund managed by Jeff Wrona since 1998.
Still, Landis' average annual return of 52% over the past five years beats nearly every other fund out there.
Also on the list are highly regarded Jim Oelschlager and Douglas MacKay, co-managers of
Red Oak Technology. The no-load fund, launched at the end of 1998, is up 144.8% over the past 12 months.
Another is Garret Van Wagoner, who runs the
Van Wagoner Emerging Growth fund, which had nearly 90% of its assets in tech stocks on June 30 and is currently closed to new investors. But some of Van Wagoner's other funds,
Mid-Cap Growth, own many of the same stocks and are still open to new investors.
Two names you might not know are Malcolm Fobes and LeRoy Kopp. Fobes' no-load
Berkshire Focus fund, classified as a large-cap growth fund by
, sported a 94% tech weighing on June 30. It has posted an 84.8% three-year annualized return that beats just about every other large-cap growth fund.
Kopp, whose broker-sold
Kopp Emerging Growth fund has a small-cap growth label, had nearly 80% of its money in tech stocks at the end of the second quarter. The fund has posted a 42% annualized return over the past three years that beats 98% of its small-cap growth peers.
How did this elite group manage to keep the beat going this year? In a phrase: new tech. It might sound redundant, but it's actually descriptive. In past years, leading funds have had big stakes in tech titans that were, in one way or another, in the PC business:
, etc. But these companies' growth has matured, and newer upstarts that will build out the Internet or help companies do business online have taken their place.
Focusing on firms with higher growth rates helped these funds keep their winning ways. On the tech-heavy list of these funds' cumulative top 10 holdings, we don't see Microsoft. Instead, it turns out these managers have chosen the likes of semiconductor shop
and optical-communications concern
, as well as business-to-business software maker
. On average, these 10 stocks are up a bit more than 75% this year.
There's no guarantee these stocks or these funds will continue their winning ways. If one year's winners were the next year's winners, there'd be little reason for this screen. But these managers have shown some staying power. That makes their funds and their stock picks worth noting.