Tech stocks may have had their best April rally ever, but it looks as if
fund managers weren't buying it -- literally.
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Lessons From the Fall: A Special Fund Junkie Report
Stock fund managers at the Boston fund behemoth, far and away the biggest fund shop with a bit less than $575 billion in its retail fund coffers,
had different takes on the tech sector at the end of the first quarter. But during April they were of a similarly bearish mind. That's the upshot of Fido funds' April 30 sector weightings, released Tuesday.
shot up 15% that month, but Fidelity's tech bears weren't on a buying spree and many of the firm's tech bulls were selling tech shares. In addition, many managers let their cash stake build, rather than commit money to the stock market. While the close-lipped firm's stock pickers may have reversed field since then, April's moves were hardly a vote of confidence from pros who are renowned for the quality and depth of their tech research and industry contacts.
"They seem to think (April) was a dead-cat bounce from the 100th floor," says Jim Lowell, editor of the independent newsletter
Fidelityinvestor.com. "If in the past buy and hold was the mantra, it looks like today buy and sell is the mantra. You can see it in virtually every portfolio: They were taking gains where they could find them, and in April that meant the tech sector."
Among the tech bears who didn't budge was Bob Stansky, manager of the shuttered $88.2 billion
Fidelity Magellan fund, the nation's largest mutual fund. At the end of March, the fund's tech stake stood at 11.6%, compared with the
17.4% weighting. Just six months earlier, he'd had nearly 29% of the fund's money in tech stocks, according to Fidelity's Web site.
In April the massive fund's tech position rose to 13.8%, a negligible uptick in light of the sector's performance that month, indicating that Stansky wasn't actively building his position in the mercurial sector. By comparison, tech stocks comprised nearly 19% of the S&P 500 at the end of April.
Stansky, who took the fund's reins from Jeff Vinik in 1996, is credited with resurrecting the fund during a blue period, and the fund's 8.3% average annual return over the past three years beats 80% of its peers, according to
. The fund's 4.1% loss since Jan. 1 narrowly leads the S&P 500 and tops 72% of its competitors.
Two other tech bears who stuck to their guns are David Felman, manager of the $6.7 billion
Fidelity Mid-Cap Stock fund, and Will Danoff, manager of the $33.8 billion
At the end of March, both managers had just 2.5% of their funds' money in tech stocks, compared with more than 17% for their respective benchmarks. A month later, despite the Nasdaq's sharp rise, Mid-Cap Stock's tech stake stood at just 2.9% and Contrafund had just 4.1% of its money stowed in the sector.
Danoff has run the Contrafund since 1990, and the fund's 10-year annualized return of 16.6% beats the S&P 500 and 89% of the fund's large-cap growth peers, according to Morningstar. Felman has run the Mid-Cap fund since only 1999, but the fund's 3.2% gain over the past 12 months beats the S&P 500 by more than 16 percentage points and tops 91% of the fund's mid-cap growth peers.
Even managers who were tech bulls at the end of March sold tech shares as they rose in April. For example, Nick Thakore dropped the $12.6 billion
Fidelity fund's tech stake from 25.2% on March 31 to 20.4% at the end of April. And Harry Lange reduced the $2.4 billion
Fidelity Capital Appreciation fund's tech stake from a whopping 47.3% to 31.4% in April.
Thakore took over the Fidelity fund only about a year ago, but Lange has run the Capital Appreciation fund since 1996, posting a 13.7% five-year annualized return that lags the S&P 500 but beats his average peer, according to Morningstar.
In addition to many Fido managers' reluctance to load up on tech in April, many built up a wad of cash on the sidelines, implying a less than rosy outlook for stocks. Fund managers typically use higher cash stakes as a buffer to soften the blow of a falling market, essentially hoping to lose less today and to buy shares cheaper down the road.
"Pretty much across the board among the growth and growth-and-income funds, managers are using cash as a weapon," says Lowell.
Felman, for instance, had more than 18% of the Mid-Cap Stock fund's money in cash at the end of April, compared with a 10% cash stake six months earlier. The average stock fund's cash stake was 5.5% at the end of April, according to the
Investment Company Institute
, the fund industry's largest trade group.
Jason Weiner, manager of the $7.7 billion
Fidelity OTC fund since February 2000, raised his fund's cash stake from 4.4% at the end of March to 9.3% at the end of April. Other funds with fat cash stakes at the end of April included the
Fidelity Low-Priced Stock fund (15.7%) and the
Fidelity Growth & Income II fund (12.8%).
April's tech-led rally buoyed investors' sprits, as cash flows to stock funds
picked up. But Fidelity's April moves indicate that the big fund shop thinks hopes of a sunny summer on Wall Street may be overblown.
Fund Junkie runs every Monday and Wednesday, as well as occasional dispatches. Ian McDonald writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He invites you to send your feedback to
firstname.lastname@example.org, but he cannot give specific financial advice.