Shellshocked venture capitalists became even more stingy with their money in the first quarter, curtailing their investments in startups to the lowest level since 1998, according to a report released Monday.

The $5.1 billion that venture capitalists invested during the three months ended March 31 represented a 53 percent drop from the same time last year, according to statistics compiled by Ernst & Young and VentureOne. The first-quarter volume marked the lowest quarterly amount since startups raised $4.8 billion during the final three months of 1998, the report said.