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Dueling Conferences Compete for Investors' Attention

This week's Volpe Brown Whelan conference stole the tech thunder from Banc of America Securities' concurrent gathering.

SAN FRANCISCO -- September has long brought two sure things to this city: An Indian summer to stir envy in the hearts of out-of-towners, and a top-notch technology conference. Both arrived on schedule -- but this year, the big autumnal conference had some stiff competition.

Since the early '70s, money managers have flocked to San Francisco for the growth conference hosted by

Montgomery Securities

. A daisy chain of mergers has changed the Montgomery confab into the

Banc of America Investment Conference

, shifting its focus from growth and tech stars to a broader-based crowd including such supernovas as


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General Electric

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Banc of America's five-day conference in the

Ritz-Carlton Hotel

hosted presentations from a couple of dozen companies, 15 of them in the Internet sector. But many felt that the

Volpe Brown Whelan Internet & Communications Conference

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, a few blocks away at the

Stanford Court Hotel

, stole the tech thunder.

Volpe's two-day conference featured 100 tech companies, nearly all involved in the Internet. The Banc of America conference's broader scope has helped transform Volpe from an also-ran investment conference to the gathering place for technology investors in September. While attendance at Banc of America's conference rose 17% to more than 2,000 attendees, attendance at Volpe more than tripled to 1,000.

Of course, it helped that San Francisco-based Volpe had shuttle buses running between the two hotels for money managers invited to town by Banc of America Securities. It was all part of Volpe's effort to capitalize on the wider scope of Banc of America's conference.

Jim Feuille, Volpe's head of investment banking, says Banc of America Securities is "no longer the same firm. They have the old, stodgy, large-cap companies. We have the hot, young companies. That contrast was



For its part, Banc of America Securities seemed unfazed by the conference puddle-jumping. "There were five conferences this week," said spokeswoman Jennifer Smith. "It's virtually impossible to plan an event that doesn't coincide with anything else." And some growth investors preferred Banc of America's more general offering. "We prefer to see a broad spectrum of companies," says Laura Allen, a portfolio manager who follows growth issues for

John Hancock Advisers

. "The best part about this conference is that it's not focused."

For many others concerned with tech stocks, Volpe was the place to be. "If you want to see the Internet, dot-com companies, you've got to be at Volpe," said one money manager and client of Banc of America Securities, who asked not to be identified. Three others interviewed, who also requested anonymity, agreed with that sentiment. One said lulls at the Banc of America conference presented the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the Volpe lineup. "I have three-hour gaps in the schedule," he said.

And tech stocks continue to be in favor. While the broad-based

S&P 500 Index

was down 7% in the third quarter, the more tech-focused

Nasdaq Composite Index

is up 9% and Internet Sector

index is up 12%. Much of that sustained interest in technology issues continues to come from the Internet, especially the fiber-optic companies and others that are building up the Internet's infrastructure.

Kevin Kalkhoven, CEO of

JDS Uniphase


, summed up the strong demand for his company's fiber-optic products with a quote from his Uncle Max. "You never leave a party till the booze runs out," he said at his presentation. "And the booze hasn't run out yet."

The Volpe conference also gave many money managers a chance to get closer to recent Internet IPOs such as




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Ask Jeeves





, all of which have gone public this summer.

And it gave glimpses into the burgeoning sector of business-to-business e-commerce, or sites that handle transactions between companies. Unlike last fall's conferences, when consumer e-commerce sites were the buzz, this year many are interested in learning more about so-called B2B companies such as










"Business-to-business is where the money is," Mark Walsh, VerticalNet's CEO, told a packed room of attendees. "That's where the margin is. It ain't business-to-consumer."

-- Senior Writer Eric Moskowitz and Staff Reporter Kevin Petrie contributed to this story.