The

Janus Strategic Value

fund

launched Wednesday with more than $1 billion in assets, as investors backed the proverbial cash truck up to the Denver fund shop's door. Now, where might portfolio manager David Decker invest all that green?

We probably won't know for sure until June, when the fund's top stock picks and sectors from April show up on its Web page and shareholder report.

The $250 billion firm has reason to guard its portfolio information, because many of its hot stock funds have big bets on relatively

few stocks. Janus fears that traders will front-run its moves, and that fear is not unfounded.

Jim Cramer

extolled the value of owning some "Janus stocks" in a recent

column.

So, what Decker's buying for his value fund is a mystery, and if we can't solve it, we'll make some educated guesses. After all, more than a billion bucks are being put to work as we write this.

Although Decker is the growth shop's most price-conscious manager, he doesn't fit the traditional value mold. He typically doesn't favor old-school, strong-balance-sheet, low-price-to-earnings financials and cyclicals. He follows a relative value approach, focusing on companies with rising cash flow (the money the company has after paying its bills) and rising returns on capital.

He's used that approach successfully on the

(JASSX)

Janus Special Situations fund, where he's stayed ahead of his mid-cap-growth peers since the fund's inception at the end of 1996. Although he'll probably be a bit more price-conscious on his new fund, investing earlier and locking in profits sooner, Special Situations' portfolio might be a fair indication of where he might invest.

"I expect he'll be looking at some of the cheaper names in Special Situations," says Christine Benz of

Morningstar

, who covers Special Situations.

At year-end, there were two stocks in Special Situations' top 10 holdings whose price-to-cash-flow ratios were below those of peers and the

S&P 500

average:

Apple Computer

(AAPL) - Get Report

and cable/media concern

Comcast

(CMCSK)

. (Decker

told

TSC

he liked Apple back in November.)

In the fund's top 25, seven other stocks also look cheap on a price-to-cash-flow basis: Canadian wireless/cable firm

Rogers Communications

(RG)

, fast-food chain

Jack In The Box

(JBX)

, chemical concern

Cytec Industries

(CYT)

, casino-operator

Park Place Entertainment

(PPE)

, conglomerate

Tyco International

(TYC)

, auto-parts maker

Mogul

(FMO) - Get Report

and battery-maker

Exide

(EX)

TST Recommends

.

It would be a little surprising if Decker isn't buying at least a few of these stocks, especially Park Place Entertainment, Rogers Communications and Exide. Special Situations' stake in those three companies has been rising, according to the fund's most recent shareholder report. Those purchases are notable because other fund positions were being reduced to meet redemptions last year as investors flocked to even hotter Janus funds.

He also might nibble on some financials, which most Janus funds dumped in 1997, says Benz. And she wouldn't be surprised if, after conferring with Janus colleagues, he scooped up some retail stocks and fallen growth stocks from the health care sector. (Janus managers are known for idea sharing and tend to flock together.)

Among financials,

Bank of New York

(BK) - Get Report

might be a good fit. It's cheap, and at year-end was the only financial stock among Janus' top 50 holdings firmwide, according to

bigdough.com

, a Web site that tracks institutional stock ownership.

Staples

(SPLS)

isn't too cheap, but it might be one of Decker's retail picks because it's already in Special Situations. Another might be

Costco Wholesaler

(COST) - Get Report

. The firm's price-to-cash-flow ratio is below that of the S&P 500 and already has gotten the seal of approval from the likes of

(JANSX)

Janus fund,

(JAVLX)

Twenty and

(JAMRX) - Get Report

Mercury. It's also one of the firm's top 50 picks, according to bigdough.com.

He might also sniff around

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

, another popular pick that might be slipping from colleagues' growth radar screens. It has a solid business and a below-market price compared to its cash flow.

Big-cap pharmaceuticals might do for a cheap health care play. Colleague Tom Malley, manager of

(JAGLX) - Get Report

Janus Life Sciences, likes

Schering-Plough

(SGP)

, and today the stock meets Decker's valuation criteria. Malley isn't the only one who likes it. The stock was also one of the firm's top 50 picks at year-end.

No matter what Decker buys today, expectations will be high. Not just because the average Janus stock fund returned more than 80% last year, but also because the fund is new.

"All of their funds have gotten off to excellent starts," Benz says.

The extreme example is

(JAGTX) - Get Report

Janus Global Technology, which raced out to a 212% return in 1999, its first year. Decker's no slouch either. Special Situations posted a 46% return in 1997, beating 98% of its peers and the S&P 500 in its rookie season.

Observers say rookie Janus funds rocket out of the gate because smaller funds are more nimble and can get a big pop from the firm's concentrated style. Strategic Value is nondiversified, so Decker can take big bets on relatively few stocks. With more than $1 billion, the fund isn't considered small but is smaller than most other Janus stock funds.

Industry veterans also wonder if the new funds' tradition of hot performance might be driven partly by outsize allocations of hot IPO, or initial public offering, shares, which can boost performance in a hurry.

We probably won't know if the fund gets IPO shares, but it might get a sweetheart deal on shares of

NPS Pharmaceuticals

(NPSP)

or

Healtheon/WebMD

(HLTH)

.

Janus got shares of each company at a significant discount to their market price in two private deals earlier this year. Given the discount, these could be great additions to the new fund's portfolio. (See our previous stories for details on the

NPS and

Healtheon/WebMD deals.)

Of course, all this speculation will be just that until June. One thing is certain, though: If a bunch of these stocks end up in Decker's portfolio,

TSC

will herald its prescience. If not, we'll just go on to the next thing.