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If you own a tech fund, you're facing what we'll call the

Cal Ripken

conundrum: The Streak is over and now you've got to decide if you want to keep playing.

Ripken set a major league record by not missing a game for the

Baltimore Orioles

from May 30, 1982, until Sept. 20, 1998 -- a stunning 2,216 straight starts. Tech funds have an impressive and less heralded record of their own that's about to go in the books -- the category's average return hasn't been negative in any calendar year since 1984.

With tech funds' streak apparently coming to an end -- they're down more than 20% on average this year -- and many pros seeing more clouds on tech's horizon, you're left to decide to what degree you want to keep riding tech, still considered the market's Iron Horse. Tech stocks make up about 27% of the market -- using either the

S&P 500

or the

Wilshire 5000

indices as a guide. So, assuming you're a long-term investor, you've got to decide whether you need a higher or lower tech weighting in your portfolio.

For most investors, a market weighting is probably just fine. But to make that call, let's look first at where tech funds have been, then think about where they might be going. In the rear-view mirror, we've got

The Streak

, which is pretty amazing.

The Streak
The average tech fund didn't have a down year from 1985 through this year.

Source: Morningstar. Performance figures through Nov. 13.

To put this in perspective, no other stock-fund category managed to post positive returns each year in the 1990s, let alone half the 1980s, too. All told, from 1980 through 1999 tech funds only had two down years, 1984 and 1981. Consider that $10,000 invested in the average tech fund 10 years ago would be worth more than $160,000 through Oct. 31, according to

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. The same investment in the

(VFINX) - Get Vanguard 500 Index Inv Report

Vanguard 500 Index fund would be worth a bit less than $52,000.

A Decade of Tech
Tech funds' tough year comes after a phenomenal 10-year run.

Source: Morningstar. Performance figures through Nov. 13.

There have been plenty of bumps along the way -- the average tech fund lost more than 20% in August 1998 -- but each time the funds managed to be in the black at the end of the year. Among the top-10 U.S. stock funds over the last 10 years, seven are tech funds, with

(FSELX) - Get Fidelity Select Semiconductors Report

Fidelity Select Electronics,

(FSPTX) - Get Fidelity Select Technology Report

Fidelity Select Technology, and

(FDCPX) - Get Fidelity Select Tech Hardware Report

Fidelity Select Computers leading the way.

So, there's tech funds' tale of love and glory. But what about next year, and the year after? There are some ominous omens out there.

In a slowing economy, companies and consumers tend to spend less money on lots of stuff, including technology. This could take a bite out of tech shops' earnings, and it's this issue that has knocked many tech stocks down from lofty valuations.

Today the tech-laden Nasdaq Composite is down 27.1% for the year and 41.2% since its March 10 peak. More speculative stocks have been hit even harder, illustrated by the 56.9% hit the Internet Index

has taken this year. Let's not even talk about the

Net funds' bloodbath.

Fidelity fund managers -- some of the savviest tech investors out there -- have

lightened up on tech almost across the board. Bob Stansky, influential manager of the $101.6 billion

(FMAGX) - Get Fidelity Magellan Report

Fidelity Magellan fund, reduced the fund's tech-stock weighting from 35% down to 29% between March 31 and Sept. 30, according to the fund's semiannual report filed with regulators on Monday.

In the report, Stansky forecasted "a slowdown of some magnitude in the economy" and "a broad slowing of corporate earnings growth."

In anticipation of a potential slowdown, Stansky and other managers are

dumping Old Tech stocks -- those relying on maturing PC sales -- in favor of New Tech stocks -- those with tighter ties to the Internet and communications networks. This intratech rotation is roiling the tech sector these days with money flowing out of


(MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report

, in favor of data storage shops like



, Net software companies like


(ORCL) - Get Oracle Corporation Report

, and hot-shot networkers like

JDS Uniphase



Juniper Networks

(JNPR) - Get Juniper Networks Inc. Report


While firms like these have rosier growth estimates, they won't be immune from a slowdown. Since many still trade at steep valuations, they're far from a safe harbor. Then again, where else are you going to go?

If the tech sector's volatility this year has left you rattled, you might want to stand pat or reduce your tech stake by investing new cash in less tech-heavy funds or by selling shares of tech-heavy funds -- though be mindful of realizing taxable cap gains.

Even if you're still a bona fide tech bull -- if you are, you're hardly alone -- you should check out exactly how much tech exposure you already have before you shop for more. After all, the average growth fund has more than 40% of its assets sunk into the sagging tech sector these days, according to Morningstar.

If you still want more tech, go ahead. But buyer beware: Many of the tech funds out there today didn't contribute to The Streak. There are some 115 stock funds, and only 18 were launched prior to 1995. More troubling is the fact that many of the latest tech funds slice the sector into fairly thin slivers to stand out in a crowded market: B2B e-commerce funds, Asian tech funds, networking funds, wireless funds and even a socially responsible tech fund. A broader tech fund is probably the best choice.

Of all the tech funds on the shelf, only four posted positive returns each year in the 1990s. And of these four funds, none has a manager who's held the reins for three years. Here are some

new tech funds with veteran managers.

No matter which route you pick, it's a tough choice. Overweighting or underweighting the sector will make you a hero or a goat. Keeping your weighting even with the market might ensure a degree of mediocrity, but it keeps you in the game, probably with fewer regrets.


Cal Ripken's section of the Baltimore Orioles' fairly underwhelming Web site.