Gerald Greene knows his way around the market. After a 32-year career as a stock broker, the now retired Coral Gables, Fl. resident has plenty of time to look for interesting investments. His latest search? To find a mutual fund that invests in only in business to business companies.
Business to business companies, or B2Bs, specialize in e-commerce.
They are companies that conduct their business online helping other businesses solve their problems in, hopefully, an efficient and typically cost effective manner. Unlike online business-to-commerce companies where price is basically the only competition and revenues aren't always quick to pile up, B2Bs are often like cyberspace middlemen typically collecting fees for their efforts from both ends---their clients and the companies they've hooked them up with.
"Business to business companies can get real earnings sooner than businesses-to-commerce companies because they are selling actual products to business with the money to pay for it, " says Christopher Traulsen, equity fund manager at Morningstar, the Chicago-based mutual fund research company. "So it's not as much of a commodity market as business-to-commerce companies are because B2Bs can differentiate and specialize their products in ways you can't do if your selling books, or drugs, on the Web."
It's that matching of company-to-company services that Greene sees the prospects of big money in. He figures that B2Bs have an edge over business-to-customer companies because they don't have to deal with the general public. "My thinking is that this is the very ground floor of whole new business," says the life-long Miami-area resident.
But finding and tracking B2B companies is no simple task. By reading a handful of newspapers a day, Greene said he has been able to identify 20 B2B companies that are public, including Commerce One, Vertical Net and Ariba--- and another 100 that he thinks will go public sometime in the future. Because researching such a new field is tough, he's hoping that there's a mutual fund manager somewhere out there who might already have a B2B fund on the market or one in registration.
While the pros at Wiesenberger and Morningstar, both mutual fund research companies, weren't able to identify any B2B specific funds in their databases, (typically funds have to have been around for a while before they are tracked by the big boys), Greene was able to dig one up on his own that came close to filling the bill. Its name, the Firsthand E-Commerce Fund, (888-884-2765).
New to the market as of September 30. 1999, the E-Commerce Fund invests primarily in securities fund managers think are positioned to benefit from the growth of electronic commerce. That means they look at software, database providers, hardware manufacturers and service providers type companies. However, while you won't find any .com's in the fund's portfolio, fund assets aren't strictly limited to B2Bs and business-to-commerce companies may be included in it's portfolio. During the last quarter, the fund's total return was up over 48 percent.
The pros warn, however, that investing in B2B companies isn't for everyone.
Traulsen said that in the mutual fund world, the Internet is already a sub-sector of technology---considered by many as the most volatile sector around. So investors of a B2B fund would be buying shares of something even riskier, a sub-sector of a sub-sector of technology.
"If you're going into B2Bs, then you're only focusing on one little slice of the Internet which itself is slice of technology," he says. "And then the question is, is that appropriate? And it certainly wouldn't be appropriate for a stand alone investment vehicle for most investors. You would need to use it as part of a much broader portfolio."
If you want to look for B2B funds that might be in registration, the task is doable but daunting.
Online users can go to the Securities and Exchange Commissions site, www.sec.gov , then click on "EDGAR Database" and begin their search of new funds in registration, but that's not nearly as easy as it sounds. If you're up for it though, keep two things in mind: First, one way to search who's got what in registration is by fund family name. The catch here is, not all funds in registration are under the family name you might think of.
Then there are codes and numbers that refer to the various funds in registration to know about. Traulsen said that the ones to look for include N1As, 485's and 497s. Open those files and you still face the job of having to read through the document to see if it's the kind of fund you're looking for.
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