B of A Conference: So Why Did Kevin Landis Buy AT&T? - TheStreet

B of A Conference: So Why Did Kevin Landis Buy AT&T?

In addition, how not to introduce Level 3's CEO.
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Last month, Kevin Landis, arguably the top tech-stock picker in the land, wasn't around to talk about what seemed like his dumbest investment yet --

AT&T

(T) - Get Report

. But on Monday he was poking around the three-ring circus that is the

Banc of America Securities Investment Conference

, offering the perfect opportunity to raise the question with him again. (

TSC

on Aug. 15

wrote about his big move into the stock.)

Landis' funds have amassed some 3 million shares of the stumbling phone giant since May 1999. In fact, Landis was buying at a time when all but six out of 86 tech funds were getting out of AT&T. And this is a guy whose

Firsthand

(TVFQX)

Technology Value fund boasts a 53.4% average annualized return over five years, putting it first among more than 4,000 funds, according to

Lipper

.

So what is Landis thinking? The short answer: He's a believer.

"You've got to give yourself time to be right," said Landis, swirling a glass of

Coke

next to a refreshment buffet.

"Let me use a football analogy," said the middle-linebacker-sized engineer-cum-fund manager. "When a team drafts a prospect, they have to wait awhile before that player starts performing."

Landis says he see this with lots of big companies in the same position as AT&T, that are trying to execute a turnaround. "They see what they have to do," he said. "And they just need to get there."

Banc of America analyst Andrew Hamerling couldn't have been more embarrassed. When Hamerling introduced James Crowe,

Level 3's

(LVLT)

president and CEO, he launched into his gush about Crowe by referring to him as the head of archrival

Qwest Communications

(Q)

. Hamerling, realizing his gaff, stammered and flushed deep crimson and corrected himself.

For a little background, Hamerling has been an unshakeable bull on Level 3, routinely touting it over competitors such as Qwest and

Williams Communications

(WCG) - Get Report

. (His firm has no banking ties to Level 3.) So for Hamerling to flub his biggest intro of the weeklong conference, it was rather, well, shocking. The crowd of 250 money managers let out a collective "oops." (No, not like Britney Spears.)

Moments later Crowe got behind the podium and without a smile thanked Hamerling and added, "I'd also like to thank our host today,

Goldman Sachs

." A loud sustained laugh went up from the crowd as Hamerling hunched down in his chair. Crowe never smiled and he didn't correct the statement. Perhaps Banc of America will continue to have no banking ties to Level 3.