Tiger dies in a split-personality jungle

The death of Tiger funds makes a mockery of what fund managers preach to clients.

Julian Robertson's decision to kill his Tiger funds makes a mockery of what fund managers preach to clients - that when the markets get wild, we should sit tight and keep our cool as long as we know our portfolios are built with sturdy stocks.

Robertson's determination to stick to his "buying-the-best-stocks-and-shorting-the-worst" philosophy no doubt deserves empathy. The tech stock whirlwind stripped his six funds' aggregated assets from $22 billion to just $6 billion in 18 months.

Admittedly, $7.7 billion of that hefty sum was withdrawal from investors, while his short position on the yen in 1998 also proved to be costly.

Robertson rightly points out that the current market is "irrational" where profits and values are taking a back seat to mouse clicks and momentum. Surely, when an investment legend of Robertson's calibre decides to desert what he considered to be good value, old economy portfolios, logic tells us his action can mean only one thing: he believes the temperature of this tech stock fever will continue to rise. Or at least the prices of old economy stocks will continue to be subdued.

Latest craze

Instead, we saw the Nasdaq dip as much as 6% on the news that Tiger funds had quit the market while major old economy stocks in Tiger's holdings also tumbled. The warning by Abbey Cohen of Goldman Sachs that the Nasdaq was overvalued only adds to the market confusion.

The latest craze among tech stocks analysts are manufacturers of computer parts, like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), and old companies with a new spin on the internet, like the US retail giant Walmart.

Fund managers' rationale for being in the former sector is that companies like TSMC are well-positioned to take advantage of US growth and they should be relatively safe in the event of a major fall in the tech sector.

In the second case, there is a perception that some of the established retailers who are moving on to the net will have the power to attract customers to buy online.

Robertson says the current market is one that he can no longer understand. Given the recent behavior in the market - investors worrying about the tech-stock bubbles while continuing to steam up the froth - who in their heart can disagree?