> I clipped a full-page advertisement out of Barron's for the Munder @Vantage fund, a high-profile mutual fund launched in 2000, just months after what we now know was the market peak.
What struck me back then about the fund -- and the ad -- was that after years of watching the Nasdaq soar, Munder had finally taken every fear, objection and doubt about investing in technology and turned it into a perceived benefit. The fund itself ended up being a great contrary market indicator: It was only possible to sell such a product after the top had been hit.
For most of the 1990s, investors, many of whom were nervous about impossibly high valuations and uncertain business models, actually avoided technology stocks. It was only when the future arrived, when the reality of how significantly the Internet would impact our lives became readily apparent, that the herd finally felt comfortable paying 99-times earnings for Cisco (CSCO),
The fund's very name was in hindsight an obvious red flag. Including the "@" sign (still a relative novelty back then, with U.S. Internet penetration under 45%) suggested the fund was unabashedly forthright in its quest. By 2000, the Internet millionaire was a cultural icon and national obsession. We had seen Yahoo s (YHOO)
The fund's advertising featured a disclaimer parodying government warnings on cigarettes, cautioning the fund wasn't for the "namby-pamby, lily-livered, scaredy cat." It was a direct jab at the then-humiliated value investors who had missed the technology boom. The @Vantage fund celebrated its riskiness: "Investors who are weak-kneed, incessant nail biters, prone to fainting spells or dizziness, tend to stay up at night worrying, or have serious qualms, hysteria or neurosis should not consider this fund," teased the copy.
Those Were the Days
Advertisement for Munder @Vantage Fund Barron s, Aug. 28, 2000
And at a time when most mutual funds had a $1,000 or $2,000 minimum, Munder @Vantage required a $10,000 investment, charged a 4% initial commission and levied a 3% annual fee. Back then, nobody cared. After all, we were all going to be rich.
Munder baited interest, selling the fund as a "limited time offer" and promising to refuse new investors after a date prominently featured in the ad, which it did, but not before raising $200 million. By then, technology stocks were already 30% off their peaks and headed much lower.
I've often noted how investors should be attracted to illiquidity. Oftentimes, the exposure you should want is exactly the one that's most difficult to achieve. Because mutual funds are created to be sold, by the time a host of investment products have been rolled out to capitalize on a move, there's usually a good chance that it s already been made.
I don't pick tops. But in today s market, one must be cognizant that many of the so-called alternatives like commodities and foreign currency have now become resoundingly mainstream, as evidenced by recent mutual fund flows.
With $54 billion dollars in assets, for example, SPDR Gold Trust (GLD)
Now, they are some of the public s top choices and, as we pointed out a few weeks back, are now largely positively correlated with the very stock indices investors had originally sought to hedge.
Truth be told, most people actually don t want to take investing risks. Not wanting to look foolish or lose money, they're comfortable investing only after the uncertainty of a risk has been legitimized, either in a book such as the now infamous Dow 40,000> or in a fund like Munder @Vantage, which served the entire promise of the Internet boom on a plate only after five years of stunning gains. At the time, only an idiot would have passed on the opportunity to get on board.
By 2007, seven years after the ad ran, a $10,000 investment in Munder @Vantage would have been worth $3,932, a loss of 60.7%. The fund was ultimately folded into Munder Internet Fund, now known as Munder Growth Opportunities (MNNAX)