Value Funds Can't Spend It Fast Enough

Remember when cash flows were so strong that hot tech funds couldn't find stocks to buy? Those days are back, in a way.
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Some value funds are closing their doors, further illustrating that the worm has turned for value and against growth.

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A Tuesday regulatory filing said the

(WMCVX) - Get Report

Wasatch Small Cap Value fund will close to new investors. The

(LRSCX) - Get Report

Lord Abbett Small Cap Value fund did the same on July 2. Back in May the sizzling mid-cap value

(OAKLX) - Get Report

Oakmark Select fund shut its doors. Also on Tuesday, the

(VASVX) - Get Report

Vanguard Selected Value fund raised its minimum investment to $25,000 from $3,000 in a bid to stem rising inflows.

Fund closings are part of a now-familiar pattern that plays out in the fund world whenever a sector or style gets the wind at its back: Funds using that style start to outperform the market, and investors flood those funds with cash. Then, prudent fund shops shutter funds burdened with a glut of money, while others stuff their product pipeline with "me-too" funds. In 1998 and 1999, growth funds and tech funds

went through these paces. Now it's value's turn.

The bottom line for investors: Though the reflex to sell your growth funds and jump on the value bandwagon is strong, the persistence of the value-growth cycle suggests you should always own funds in both camps, rather than following whatever's hot.

Here's Why

Value funds are essentially bargain hunters, an approach that often leads to tech-light portfolios. Their style hurt them in 1998 and 1999, when tech-laden growth peers rode the

Nasdaq

rocket, but it's proving its merits now. The average small-cap value fund, for instance, is up 20% over the past 12 months, compared with a 21.3% tumble for its average growth peer, according to Chicago fund-tracker Morningstar.

Small- and mid-cap value funds are the best- and third-best-performing stock fund categories, respectively, over the past 12 months. Each, along with big-cap value funds, trounces growth colleagues, which are mired in red ink thanks to the tech sector's collapse.

And value funds' gains haven't gone unnoticed. Investments in value funds outpaced redemptions by $38.5 billion in the first half of this year, reversing a $48 billion net outflow last year, according to a Tuesday report from Boston fund consultancy Financial Research Corp.

In June, nearly $8 billion flowed into value funds' coffers, compared with just $1.6 billion for growth funds, according to FRC.

It's no surprise that many funds are closing their doors, given the spike in cash flows and the modest size of many boutique value-fund managers. When a small firm is inundated with cash, its managers are often hamstrung as they struggle to find worthwhile places to invest the money.

Leaps and Bounds

When we look at fund companies that manage $10 billion or less, many of the 10 fastest growers practice the value style. The list includes firms like

Wasatch

,

Harris Associates

, manager of the

Oakmark Funds

;

Wallace R. Weitz

, manager of the

(WVALX) - Get Report

Weitz Value and

(WPVLX) - Get Report

Weitz Partners Value funds; and Third Avenue, manager of the

(TAVFX) - Get Report

Third Avenue Value fund.

In addition, offsetting some value-fund closings are a slew of rookies

rolling off the assembly line. Over the past six months, more than 30 new value funds have been born.

As you might imagine, sputtering growth funds have been going through the inverse of this bonny pattern recently. Cash flows have obviously slowed to a trickle for most. Several shuttered growth funds have reopened, including the

(TIFQX)

Firsthand Technology Innovators,

(VWEGX)

Van Wagoner Emerging Growth and

(VPMCX) - Get Report

Vanguard Primecap funds.

And many of the most speculative and ravaged tech or Net funds, like the

(MANTX)

Merrill Lynch Internet Strategies fund, are either merging into broader growth funds or simply

cashing out.

While it's blindingly obvious that the wind has shifted in value funds' favor, it's important to remember that betting the farm on growth funds a year ago was just as wrong as betting the farm on value funds turned out to be in 1998. While we know that the styles exchange the lead every few years, it's impossible to know when they'll trade places or for how long. The solution, then, is to

own both styles.

If you're a recent convert to the value faith, keep in mind that in a June 30 letter to shareholders, the mangers of the

(CFIMX) - Get Report

Clipper fund, winners of 2000's Morningstar Manager of the Year award, said they're not finding enough attractively priced stocks to put the fund's 35% cash stake to work.

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

imcdonald@thestreet.com, but he cannot give specific financial advice.