After months of defying gravity, technology stocks that have pumped up the returns of many mutual funds have begun to plunge helplessly toward the ground. On Monday, the tech-heavy
Nasdaq Composite Index
gave up 138 points, or 5.6%, its seventh-biggest percentage loss ever.
There are funds, though, that have managed to post above-average returns without being tied the spectacular rise of tech stocks. Monday was a good day to own them.
Among these funds are
Legg Mason Focus,
U.S. Global Leaders Growth and
Ameristock. Each beat the
last year. And while they all invest in large companies, their portfolios aren't full of the usual large-cap -- or even tech -- suspects. They have a few other things in common too: low turnover, back-to-basics stock picking, and fewer than 50 stocks in their portfolios.
Legg Mason Focus
Chatting with Robert Hagstrom of Legg Mason Focus is like taking a quick trip to Omaha during Buffett week. Not only is he an unabashed devotee of Buffet, he is author of an admiring book,
The Warren Buffett Way
. Follow a concentrated, buy-and-hold philosophy, and "Warren says good things will happen to you," Hagstrom says.
Good things happened to Hagstrom's shareholders in 1998, when Legg Mason Focus returned 41.5%, compared with a 28.6% return for the
. So far this year, it has returned 15.9% through Friday's close, more than double the S&P's year-to-date return of 7.7% through Friday.
And Hagstrom has done it without
Here's the caveat, though. His fund does hold
, which has been battered in the recent tech selloff, falling more than 25% in the past five days.
But more characteristic of the fund, which holds just 14 stocks, is its holdings in solid consumer brand names represented by companies such as
Johnson & Johnson
Another holding you don't see in a lot of high-flying growth portfolios is
, the racetrack operator. It's a holding suggested by another book Hagstrom's penned:
The NASCAR Way: The Business that Drives the Sport
The book, he says, led him to think about the growth of racing in the U.S., and how that could translate into profits. International Speedway is up more than 180% since markets bottomed out last October. Then again, another Hagstrom fast-car holding,
, which designs and markets die-cast models of NASCAR racers, is down 12.4% this year.
But there's no need for alarm, Hagstrom says. "We'll continue to own it for a while."
The fund has a turnover of just 9%, reflecting the long-term message that Hagstrom espouses.
"We know that price will eventually meet up and give us the reward of the economics we own," he says.
U.S. Global Leaders Growth
You might say that George Yeager's U.S. Global Leaders Growth fund is held together by bubble gum and razor blades. Or at least, that's some of the stuff his portfolio is made of: razor blade producer
and chewing gum maker
"We want each of our companies to sell a product or sell a service that's consumed and needs to be replaced," says Yeager. "You know, the old razor blade concept."
The fund certainly isn't something you'd want to throw away, though. It returned 32% in 1998 and is up 6.9% year to date.
Screening for companies with renewable products cuts a lot of technology out of the portfolio, Yeager says.
"You don't consume a PC or a microprocessor," he says. On the other hand, Yeager's screen for companies with solid earnings history protects him from buying Internet stocks, which you won't find anywhere near this fund. But Yeager's not oblivious to the changes in the economy that the Internet is causing. In fact, he recently sold
because of the Internet's evolution.
"We just question whether they will be able to dominate in a post PC, Internet world," he says of the software company.
He used the proceeds from that sale to buy
, a company that he does see as benefiting from the Internet's rise.
He says AT&T, with its forays into cable, wireless and telephony, is uniquely positioned to be a "one-stop communications shop," with the potential to offer a bundled Internet package to consumers in the future.
The closest Yeager comes to a true tech holding is the
, an information technology consultant.
More typical of this portfolio are big-box retailers like
, pharmaceutical giant
Like Hagstrom, Yeager runs a concentrated portfolio. He currently holds only 26 names, and he also quotes Buffett. Turnover last year was a measly 4%, though it's likely higher now, since he's cut and added some positions.
While concentration means a higher risk of having one or two companies negatively impact the portfolio, consider this:
made up 8% of his portfolio last spring before its price
crashed. He still ended up beating the S&P for the year.
Ameristock, run by Nicholas Gerber, likes to highlight its plain vanilla flavor.
"You're always hearing about a nice fund for widows and orphans. Well, that would be us," says Gerber. His emphasis on earnings and dividends is one reason why.
Ameristock is not as pure a non-tech play as Yeager's fund. After all, its top holding is
, and it dabbles in
But its larger holdings --
-- are more representative of the kind of exposure this fund offers.
Gerber, who used to run index funds at
Bank of America Capital Management
, says he combines the best of both active and passive management. The active part entails picking stocks with low price-to-earnings ratios, strong cash flow and increasing earnings.
He says the passive part comes once he finds those companies.
"Once we hold the companies we want to own, though, we turn around and act like an index fund: We hold them, we hold them, we hold them," Gerber says.
For that reason, the fund, which holds 44 stocks, has a 96% tax-efficiency ratio, according to Morningstar, and a low turnover of 12%.
While Ameristock has beaten the S&P for the last three years, it missed that mark for the first quarter of 1999, returning just 2.8% to the S&P's 5%. Gerber says that's because this year, he wants to focus on smaller large-caps -- in the $30 billion to $40 billion range -- and stress value, two characteristics that weren't rewarded early this year.
With their disinclination for tech, these funds aren't for short-term investors. All three portfolio managers gave a clear message that they invest for the long term.
"Unfortunately these days, you get people who just see your returns, give you money, and then if you're not up 1% or 2% for the month, they take it out," says Gerber. "We really like people who share our philosophy. That helps us better manage the fund."
No worries, Nicholas. The day traders won't like Ameristock. Not enough .com in your holdings.