Some tech funds fly highest in go-go years and some top their peers when times are tough. And then, some do neither. Surprisingly, a few of these laggards might still be worth a look.
Tech funds had the wind at their backs in 1999 when they rang up an average 136% gain and it blew hard in their face last year when they lost a third of their value. The average tech fund is down a stunning 63% over the last 12 months, according to
. The steep and recent tumble has been so severe that tech funds now lag the
over the past five years, despite their consistent and outsized gains in the late 1990s.
Source: Morningstar. Returns through March 30.
On Tuesday the Big Screen dug up tech funds that beat their peers in both years. Today, as promised, we're looking at tech funds that trailed their peers in both years. Here are the dozen that make our dubious cut, ranked by their returns (read: losses) since Jan. 1.
You might instinctively want to write off the funds on this list as losers, but there are a few intriguing choices here. Keep in mind that it was tough to keep pace in 1999 when the category's gains were inflated by a cadre of Net funds that rang up huge returns and are now floundering. Once again, we find reason to look beyond a fund's numbers.
Seligman Communications & Information fund, for instance, might make sense for many investors. Veteran portfolio manager Paul Wick, who has held the reins since 1990, shops for tech stocks with solid earnings growth and a modest valuation relative to their peers. Though the fund has middling three- and five-year returns vs. its peers, its 20.7% annualized gain over the last 10 years beats more than 80% of its competitors. And its 51.3% loss over the last 12 months actually beats more than 90% of its peers.
Then there's the no-load
RS Information Age fund where co-managers Ron Elijah and Rod Berry have quietly built a solid record despite narrowly trailing their peers in 1999 and 2000. The fund beats at least 75% of the category over the last one-, three- and five-year periods, according to Morningstar. The fund is down 56.7% over the last 12 months, which is far less than the average tech fund's 63% free fall.
That said, Elijah and Berry aren't shy about making bets. They held just 25 stocks at the end of last year, compared to about 65 for their average peer. They also let cash mount up to about 15% of the fund at the end of the year. A big cash stake can cushion the blow of a falling market, but some investors prefer their fund managers stay fully invested.
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There are a slew of funds on this list that spread their assets broadly around the sector, which can lead to middling returns but sometimes less risk too.
Northern Technology fund fits this description as co-managers George Gilbert and John Leo focus mainly on big-cap, blue-chip tech names with modest and occasional bets on subsectors. The fund is down 66.6% over the last year, thanks to steep losses for titans like networker
, data storage firm
and software shop
, all of which are down more than 50% already this year.
That said, its 20% annualized gain over the last five years beats 95% of its peers, many of which rose and fell in different years by making bigger bets on tech companies or subsectors.
It's important not to assume a tech fund with a diversified approach will be an oasis, though. Broadly diversified funds like the broker-sold
Merrill Lynch Global Technology fund, the broker-sold
John Hancock Technology fund and the no-load
T. Rowe Price Science & Technology fund spread their money widely, but consistently trail their peers while also falling further than the category average in down months, according to Morningstar.
If anything, that's a sign of how tough things have been in tech since even funds focusing on big blue-chip stocks are absorbing a drubbing. That's also confirmed by a look at the cumulative top stock picks in the dozen funds on our list. Instead of cratering highfliers we find steady-Eddies like Cisco, EMC,
, Oracle and