If Wall Street were Pamplona, Dave Kugler and Alex Cheung would be the two young guys from Bethesda out there running with the bulls.
A year ago, they started a new mutual fund to invest in Internet stocks, stepping into the stampede of Net bulls chasing any company with a ".com" in its annual report.
They had to sprint to keep up for the first few months, stumbled when Internet stocks slipped last April, tripped again when the sector fell in autumn and then picked themselves up again.
When their Monument Internet Fund crossed the finish line for its first year in the market on Monday, it was up 206 percent. Figuring in sales charges cuts the gain to 194 percent, Kugler said.
A share of the fund purchased for $10 on Nov. 1, 1998, was worth $30.60 on Nov. 1, 1999--before adjusting for a three-for-one split that took effect on the anniversary.
The fund is still down about 10 percent from its high of last April, but Net stocks have been moving steadily upward for the past three months and Kugler predicts they will continue to be strong.
"We think Christmas holiday e-commerce transactions are going to triple over last year," he said. "The fourth quarter is going to be very, very positive for a lot of companies, and that's going to continue into the first quarter."
Monument Internet's first year gain came to roughly eight times the 24 percent total return produced by the Dow Jones industrial average and more than three times the 65 percent gain of the Nasdaq composite index.
More important, the Monument Internet Fund managed to keep pace with the bulls, finishing its first year in the middle of the pack of Internet indexes and mutual funds. It did better than the Munder NetNet Fund, up 145 percent, or the Goldman Sachs Internet index, up 157 percent. But it did not match the Internet Fund or the thestreet.com DOT index, whose one-year return rounds off to 240 percent.
The Internet Fund--run by Kinetics Asset Management--and Munder NetNet are conventional mutual funds like Monument's. The other two are simply indexes--baskets of stocks--but both can be used to play the Internet stock market. Options on the Goldman Sachs index are traded on the Chicago Board Options Exchange, and DOT options trade on the Philadelphia Options Exchange.
Monument Internet had $67 million in assets at the end of its first year, a considerably smaller portfolio than the $592 million of Munder or the Internet Fund's $715 million.
Kugler said the fund holds stocks in 59 companies involved in Internet-related businesses. All the usual suspects are there--America Online Inc., eBay Inc., Amazon.com Inc., etc.--but the emphasis recently has been on "back office" plays.
"The best risk/reward ratio for the Internet is in the infrastructure stocks," he explained. "The people who lay the cable and build the boxes are the ones who get paid first." Those stocks include Cisco Systems Inc., Verio Inc., MindSpring Enterprises Inc. and PSINet Inc. of Herndon.
Network Solutions Inc. and AOL are the other big Washington names in the Monument Fund portfolio. Cheung, who does the trading, also took flyers on some lesser-known companies, including the initial public offering of musicmaker.com, which wound up being sold at a loss.
Unlike some technology funds that turn over their assets dozens of times a year, Monument minimizes trading to hold down costs, Kugler said. The fund did not generate any taxable capital gains in the first year, cashing in just enough winners to offset the deductions from losers that were unloaded.
As you'd expect of a fund manager who weathered two sharp sell-offs in his first year, Kugler preaches patience and a long-term view of Internet investing. Part of monument's position in AOL, for example, was picked up when the stock was nearing peaks, and those shares are still not worth what was paid for them--even after AOL's recent recovery.
But AOL is still one of the fund's biggest holdings--more than $2 million--and Kugler said AOL is the kind of investment he likes: "a company with good management, clear differentiation of their product, a marketing strategy and a path to profits."