One of the great maxims of traders and Wall Street pros is to follow the "smart money."

I'm not much for the thesis that institutional shoppers tend to make smarter investing decisions, but many of you who've read my ruminations on insider buying say you'd also like to know how the Big Money is betting. Your wish is my command.

Next up: Acme Packet (Nasdaq: APKT). Are institutions bullish or bearish when it comes to this maker of session border controllers?

Foolish facts


Acme Packet

CAPS stars (out of 5) **
Total ratings 536
Percent bulls 84.3%
Percent bears 15.7%
Bullish pitches 51 out of 58
Highest-rated peers Digi International, Spirent Communications, Network Engines

Data current as of April 1.

We know two things about the Internet and mobile networks right now. First, there's more digital data flowing today than ever before. Overall traffic grew 62% last year after a 74% gain the year prior, researcher Telegeography reports. The promises of streamed entertainment and cloud computing have made us ravenous consumers of bandwidth.

Second, most carriers still aren't ready to deliver 4G speeds. They'd better hurry up and get there. If a Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO) report is to be believed, mobile data traffic is on pace to increase -- wait for it -- 26-fold between 2010 and 2015.

There are multiple ways for investors to play these trends. One of the best, though most misunderstood, is through infrastructure upgrades. The Internet's peering points need updating, preferably in the form of optical networking systems from the likes of Infinera (Nasdaq: INFN).

Cloud computing also increases the need to manage network border points. By "border points," I mean dividing areas inside a network or between networks. These spaces need translators for sharing data effectively between carriers, digital sentries for keeping data secure, and traffic cops to ensure the right data "packets" (all data is broken down into packets) move in the order they were intended to.

Acme Packet's session border controllers provide all this and more, and have since the company invented the category in 2000. Co-founders Andy Ory and Patrick MeLampy still run the business and own more than 14% of the outstanding shares.

Institutional ownership history

Top Owners





Fidelity Investments 4,000 1,068,561 5,880,833 5,880,833
Bank of America, Asset Mgmt. 4,979,094 4,982,208 4,572,073 4,572,073
Wellington Management Co. - 7,000 2,966,419 2,966,419
BlackRock 38,031 1,849,179 2,713,949 2,713,949
The Vanguard Group, Inc. 664,374 1,118,777 1,603,377 1,603,377
TOP 25 TOTAL 6,478,112 14,854,272 36,763,651 36,763,651

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.
*Indicates the number of shares owned.

Big Money investors love this story, and big names that bet early -- such as Fidelity and BlackRock -- have enjoyed huge gains. Shares of Acme Packet have more than quadrupled since the company debuted on the public markets in October 2006.

Interestingly, institutional investors have continued buying in each of the past six quarters. Among mutual funds, the mid-cap growth Brandywine (BRWIX) fund opened a new position in Acme Packet in the December quarter, around the same time that manager Steve Wymer added shares to his highly rated Fidelity Growth Company (FDGRX) fund.

Competitor and peer checkup


Institutional Ownership

Insider Ownership

Acme Packet 85.88% 19.28%
Cisco Systems 69.93% 0.10%
Juniper Networks (Nasdaq: JNPR) 93.87% 2.83%
Sonus Networks (Nasdaq: SONS) 64.16% 1.69%

Source: Capital IQ. Data current as of April 1.

Both funds have enjoyed this year's 27% rally, but I suspect both funds intend to hold as long as possible given the predictably massive investment needed to undergird the modern Internet. Acme Packet has become an essential part of the digital infrastructure.

Looking at this table, I get the sense that both Ory and MeLampy understand the extraordinary position they find themselves in. Unlike the founding teams of most of their competitors, they continue to hold a significant stake in the business.

Both also took substantial pay cuts in cash compensation when revenue growth stalled during the Great Recession of 2008. That's an extraordinary step that shows a commitment to the company and its shareholders. And it's just one of many reasons we added this stock to our Motley Fool Rule Breakers scorecard in September, and continue to recommend it today.

Do you agree? Disagree? Use the comments box below to let me know how you would rate Acme Packet. You can also recommend other stocks for me to evaluate by sending me an email, or replying to me on Twitter.

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