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AIG's headquarters in New York. The company supplanted Apple as most favoured stock among hedge funds. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
AIG's headquarters in New York. The company supplanted Apple as most favoured stock among hedge funds. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

NUMBER CRUNCHER

10 stocks that hedge funds love ... and 10 stocks they're shorting Add to ...

What are we looking for?

The stocks that U.S. hedge funds love the most – and those that they are betting the most against. To be clear, following the latest picks that most of these funds must reveal in 13F filings every quarter isn’t always a winning strategy. Consider this humbling fact: The average fund returned just 8 per cent last year, when the S&P 500 gained 13 per cent – or 16 per cent when including dividends.

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Investors also only get word of the buying and selling activity several weeks after the transactions occur, and in some cases the best time to place an order may have passed. Still, it’s interesting to see what these big minds in finance are doing with their cash, and using a follow-the-hedge-funds strategy has produced winning periods in the past.

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The two lists come from a recent Goldman Sachs report that looked at the stocks that most frequently were among the 10 largest holdings of hedge funds – as well as the companies that represented the largest short positions. Hedge funds frequently employ shorting strategies to make money off a stock when its value goes down.

Goldman tracked 725 hedge funds that had $1.3-trillion (U.S.) of gross equity positions, and the findings were based on data available as of Dec. 31. The Goldman report notes that hedge fund net long exposure rose to 52 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year, the highest in six years. In other words, they’re a bullish bunch.

What we found

Apple lost the crown as the most favoured stock, supplanted by American International Group. That was the right call: Since Oct. 1, 2012, insurer AIG has gained about 15 per cent. Apple – now the third most widely held stock among funds – has plummeted 32 per cent.

Among these U.S. giants is a familiar Canadian name. Nexen was the fifth-biggest hedge fund long position, with 37 funds holding the stock as a top 10 holding. Prior to the fourth quarter, Nexen wasn’t anywhere close to being a top holding.

Chinese state-owned firm CNOOC Ltd. completed its $15.1-billion takeover of Nexen this week after the deal set off a storm of controversy late last year. The stock traded well below the offering price of $27.50 (U.S.) per share – sometimes by more than 15 per cent – until Ottawa approved the deal on Dec. 7. Even after the federal government gave its green light, the oil producer still traded a little shy of the offering price, as the deal wasn’t completely assured until U.S. regulators gave it the nod on Feb. 12.

While many Canadian retail investors were nervous about placing a bet on whether Nexen would fall into Chinese hands, the hedge fund community displayed remarkable confidence.

Follow on Twitter: @eyeonequities

 

Hedge fund holdings: the long and short of it

Largest hedge fund positions
Company Ticker Equity cap. ($ bil) No. of funds with stock as top 10 hldg. (Dec. 31)
American Int'l Group AIG-N $58 80
Google Inc. GOOG-Q 259 73
Apple Inc. AAPL-Q 439 67
Citigroup Inc. C-N 130 40
Nexen Inc. NXY-N 15 37
JPMorgan Chase JPM-N 187 34
Priceline.com PCLN-Q 35 31
Microsoft Corp. MSFT-Q 236 30
General Motors Co. GM-N 43 29

Source: Goldman Sachs Global ESC Research, FactSet, IDC

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