Like many of its customers, tech-fund boutique Firsthand Funds is feeling the diversification itch.
peak last year, the Silicon Valley shop has seen its roster of tech funds plummet in value. To spread its bets, if only a bit, over the summer the firm
filed paperwork with regulators to launch a couple of health care sector funds and three diversified growth funds. A Monday filing indicates that of those five filings, two growth offerings, Firsthand Aggressive Growth and Firsthand Core Growth, are ready to roll off the assembly line.
Both funds will be run by Firsthand chief investment officer and
darling Kevin Landis and a team of analysts he's built, and they're based on the idea that investors with firsthand experience working in tech industries are best positioned as tech-stock pickers. They'll have a lot of leeway, with clearance to invest in any foreign or domestic companies they think will grow earnings faster than their peers or the broader market. While Aggressive Growth will primarily focus on mid-cap stocks and Core Growth will mostly zero in on large-cap stocks, each can invest in companies of any size.
The new growth funds' prospectuses don't mention any bias toward tech stocks, but it's hard not to expect a tech-heavy approach. Growth funds typically emphasize the tech sector, and that's where Firsthand's research is focused, since its other six funds are all either tech or communications sector funds. Most of those funds have taken a worse drubbing than their average peer over the past 12 months. The firm's small-cap
Technology Innovators fund, off 30%, is Firsthand's top performer over that stretch and actually beats more 75% of the tech funds out there. The rest are all down between 42% (
Firsthand Global Technology) and 61% (
Firsthand Communications) and trail their average competitor, according to Chicago research house Morningstar.
Firsthand Technology Value, the firm's flagship launched in 1994, still has a solid long-term record. The fund's 14.2% annualized gain over the past five years beats 80% of tech funds.
The Core Growth fund will try to woo brokers, though the firm's funds have traditionally been sold directly to investors. The fund will be offered via Class A and Class C shares, which levy sales charges, or loads, to pay a broker's commission. Investors who buy Class A shares will pay a maximum 5.75% sales charge, while Class C shares carry a 1% fee on shares sold within 12 months of purchase.
The shift toward brokers and financial planners isn't new to Firsthand or other no-load fund companies, since most fund shares are sold through intermediaries. Earlier this month, the firm
began planning an adviser-sold share class for its flagship
Technology Value fund. At the end of November, traditional no-load firm Invesco
announced plans to sell its funds strictly through the broker channel starting in March. The Aggressive Growth fund will be sold without a load or sales charge, according to its filing. Both funds will carry a 1.60% annual expense ratio, slightly higher than the average growth fund's 1.54% expense ratio.
Given the struggles suffered by its tech funds and Firsthand's inexperience as diversified fund manager, it won't be surprising if advisers and investors take a wait-and-see approach with these new offerings.
12 Funds of Christmas Redux
On Christmas Eve Jim Cramer and I chatted about our "12 Funds of Christmas" on Jim's
RealMoney radio show. It's basically a list of a dozen funds that have consistently topped their peers with lower volatility. Since then, I've gotten a slew of emails from folks looking for a review of which funds we picked. I've listed them below. Since the broadcast, the small-cap growth Wasatch Emerging Growth fund has closed to new investors. In its place I'd check out the
Managers Special Equity fund.
Core index fund
Vanguard Total Stock Market Index
Large-cap growth funds
Growth Fund of America
Janus Growth & Income
Mid-cap growth funds
Bridgeway Aggressive Growth
Small-cap growth funds
Wasatch Small Cap Growth
Large-cap value funds
Dodge & Cox Stock
Legg Mason Value Trust
Mid-cap value funds
Small-cap value funds
Olstein Financial Alert
Core index bond fund
Vanguard Total Bond Market Index
Intermediate-term bond funds
High-yield bond fund
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.