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Monument Fund Plans to Remake Itself


For the Monument Washington Regional Growth Fund, one of the Monument Funds, based in Bethesda, Md., there are significant changes afoot.

Monument Advisors, the fund's investment manager, last month asked shareholders to approve a change in the fund's investment mandate. The fund wants to shed its focus on investing in companies based in the Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland area. Instead, the adviser wants to transform the fund into a health sciences fund later this year and subsequently change its name to the Monument Medical Sciences Fund.

According to proxy documents, it is not that the fund adviser has decided the D.C. area is not sufficiently promising for investments. In fact, quite the opposite is true. In January, 1998, at the same time it launched the Monument Washington Regional Growth Fund, Monument launched a more assertive sister fund, the Monument Washington Regional Aggressive Growth Fund. According to the adviser, the two funds were launched to capitalize on technology companies located in what has become "the Silicon Valley of the East Coast."

But the funds have not done very well. Each fund now has less than $1 million in assets. Dave Kugler, president of the Monument Funds group, said the Washington regional funds have been struggling to get into distribution channels where the competition from larger funds is fierce.

Further hurting the funds, the much larger $76.8 million Growth Fund of Washington, D.C., managed by Washington Management Corp., also of Washington, D.C., has already attracted many investors interested in investing in that region. Consequently, Monument has decided to concentrate its regional investing efforts solely within the more aggressive fund portfolio while shifting the other into a health sciences fund.

"We can bring more value to shareholders by being a niche technology fund," said Kugler. "You just have to pick your battles."

Monument is not alone in its efforts to create a new identity. Fund advisers choose to carve out new paths for fledgling funds for a variety of reasons. Some decide a broader investment mandate makes more sense. Others choose to narrow their focus to a single sector, geographic region or niche market or choose to better take advantage of their investment talent.

Last year, the no-load Royce Global Services Fund, a series of the New York-based Royce Fund, chose to narrow its focus. The fund originally invested in domestic and foreign stocks of companies in a variety of service industries. But it decided to confine itself to the financial services industry and obtained shareholder approval to do so. According to Morningstar, as of March 31, 1999, assets under management of the remade Royce Financial Services Fund were $2 million.

Sometimes circumstances dictate the direction a fund will take. In 1991, Tocqueville Asset Management of New York launched the Tocqueville Euro-Pacific Fund, an international-only fund, said Tocqueville president Robert Kleinschmidt. An investment team in Paris handled the fund's European investments while another Hong Kong manager was responsible for Asian investments. When it became clear a few years later that the investment styles of the two managers were quite divergent, Tocqueville chose to split the funds in two, producing the Tocqueville Europe Fund and the Tocqueville Asia Pacific Fund.

But when the Hong Kong manager subsequently left a few years later, Tocqueville chose to reunite the funds.