During a rocky fourth quarter,
fund managers didn't make too many changes to their top holdings, but they did make some intriguing and selective moves within the tech sector.
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The average direct-sold Janus stock fund paid dearly for its typically big tech appetite last year, losing more than 17% in the fourth quarter alone. Compare that with a 7.8% loss for the
, according to
. Last week the Denver growth shop sent regulators paperwork to
launch its second value fund along with a list of its firm-wide stock holdings through Dec. 31. Despite Janus' fourth-quarter drubbing, the list shows few changes from 90 days earlier among its favorite stocks. This gives optimists the chance to say Janus managers are sticking to their guns. It also gives pessimists more ammo for the argument that Janus owns too many shares of its favorites like
AOL Time Warner
to move out of those positions quickly if it wanted to.
A closer look, however, shows a selective appetite in the tech, health care and energy sectors, and a blooming interest in financial stocks. Today let's tackle tech and save the other sectors for tomorrow. Some might wonder why we still care about Janus managers' tastes given the beating they took last year. This, of course, ignores these folks' average 83% gain in 1999 and their market-moving girth, given the nearly $182 billion they had sunk into stocks at the end of 2000, according to
, a Web site that tracks institutional stock ownership.
Janus managers had almost 39% of their shareholders' money stuffed into their top-15 stocks, many of which are big tech-media-telecom shops. The names at the top haven't changed much with only one new stock in the top-10; media kingpin
replaced server titan
. Janus stock pickers didn't make drastic adjustments to these positions, dropping their share balance in only four: AOL Time Warner, Nokia,
Make no mistake, Janus managers like these companies -- or at least they'd better, given Janus' fat stakes in them. Of the top-15, they own more than 5% of eight shops and more than 10% of four: Comcast (11.6%),
Telefonos de Mexico
(12.5%), and semiconductor shops
Maxim Integrated Products
(11.8%). Those whopping stakes show the depth of Janus managers' love for these companies, but to see their shifting sentiment it's better to look at shifts within their top-100 positions, not just these massive stakes.
For instance, Janus managers ramped up their exposure to the shares of many semiconductor or chip shops already in their portfolios. This includes Janus favorites like
, Linear Technology and Maxim, but also
Applied Micro Circuits
. Chip bellwether
remained a modest position within this group.
It took guts to buy more chip stocks and the move might work out if the cyclical chip sector has bottomed. The
Philadelphia Semiconductor Index
lost more than 32% in the fourth quarter, but is up more than 14% in 2001 through Friday's close, according to
That said, Janus managers weren't indiscriminate chip-stock buyers. For instance, they sharply reduced their exposure to
, which is up 3.8% since Jan. 1. They also completely dumped their positions in semiconductor firms
RF Micro Devices
in the fourth quarter, according to their filing.
They took a similarly selective approach to the fiber-optic networkers in the fourth quarter. During those 90 days, Janus managers ratcheted up their exposure to stocks like
, as well as upstart competitors like
and also the merging
. At the same time, they reduced their exposure to
, which announced
disappointing results last week, and ditched all of their more than seven million shares of
Many of these stocks were stars in 1999, but have since seen their earnings and prospects drop thanks to slipping economic growth and slowed corporate spending on technology. The
American Stock Exchange Networking Index
is down more than 14% year-to-date, after losing more than 37% in last year's fourth quarter.
More than a few investors are wondering if the profoundly battered PC sector might be undervalued these days, but there Janus managers were stingy with their shareholders' money in the fourth quarter. Sure, their stakes in
rose from 0 shares to some 4.1 million and more than 830,000 in the fourth quarter, according to Janus' paperwork. That sounds good because both stocks lost more than 40% in the fourth quarter, but both are up more than 30% so far this year. However, these aren't big positions given Janus' more than $180 billion in assets.
Janus managers might wish they'd done more bargain-hunting in the PC sector late last year. The
Philadelphia Stock Exchange Computer Box Maker Index
is up more than 19% this year after losing more than 35% in last year's fourth quarter.
Janus managers more than halved their stake in
, up more than 27% this year. They also trimmed already modest positions in
. In fact, by the end of the year, they owned no shares of Gateway.
They also sharply trimmed their exposure to another company tied to maturing PC sales, software titan
. On Sept. 30, Janus funds owned more than 12 million Microsoft shares. The shop's managers sold more than 6.1 million of those shares in the fourth quarter as the stock tumbled 28.1%. And now the stock is up more than 31% this year after losing more than half its value last year.
Finally, it looks like Janus fund skippers, who weren't shy about owning Net stocks when they were white-hot, are casting a more discerning eye on Net stocks after last year's bloodbath. In the fourth quarter, they trimmed their exposure in varying degrees to each of the Net bellwethers: AOL Time Warner, soaring online auctioneer
, sagging online book peddler
and Net ad kingpin
It looks like the managers might be intrigued by business-to-business software shops like
, in which they actually bought shares in the fourth quarter.
You'd also have to suspect -- and hope -- they have confidence in top holding AOL, given the more than $13 billion they've sunk into the stock, which is up almost 40% this year. Some might or might not be surprised to see these skippers selling shares of
, in which they
invested more than $900 million at the start of 2000. It's probably sobering for fans of
to see that its shares were wiped from Janus' books in the fourth quarter.
Time will tell if the folks in Denver made slick or inconsequential intra-tech moves in the fourth quarter. So far this year, two direct-sold Janus stock funds are in the black and half are trailing their average peer -- of course, that
mean half are beating their average peer, savvy fund marketers would be quick to add.
At a year-end press conference, Janus managers referred to their 2000 returns as "un-Janus-like," but it's hard to see that changing -- no matter what they do -- as long as they're growth managers and tech stocks stagger.
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
email@example.com, but he cannot give specific financial advice.