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Can Investors Make Money Following Hedge Fund Investments?

Every quarter, Institutional Investor tracks the 13F filings of all the top hedge fund managers. Can you make money following the filings of the smart money set, even if their disclosures are delayed by 45 days? Stephen Taub has the answer.

Can you make money following the filings of the smart money set, even if their disclosures are delayed by 45 days?

Yes. At least this was the case in the second quarter.

If you bought the most heavily owned stocks by hedge funds in mid-May after the holdings were disclosed not only would you have made money, you would have outperformed the overall market.

The same is true if you were privy to these holdings when the first quarter actually ended.

By mid-May — 45 days after the first quarter ended — holders of at least $100 million in US equity-oriented investments were required to tell regulators their holdings as of March 31, 2011. It is a snapshot of one day in time. If a manager took a position on January 1 and unloaded all of it on March 30, you never would have known if it amounted to less than 5 percent of the company’s outstanding shares.

Even so, journalists — me included — like to take a look at these 13F filings every quarter to get a glimpse of what hedge funds were up to in the first quarter. It is sometimes of questionable value, but you take what you can get.

But, as it turns out, it was profit-making information this time around.

After the filings were made, Credit Suisse Securities Quantitative team calculated the 15 stocks most overweight by hedge funds, a list we published at the time.

We did not include Massey Energy — one of the 15 most heavily owned stocks by hedge funds at the end of the first quarter — since at the time it had already agreed to be acquired by Alpha Natural Resources for about $7 billion, or nearly $66 per share in stock and cash. The deal was approved on June 1.

As it turns out, the market’s correction that began at the beginning of May provided investors a buying opportunity, as the S&P 500 recorded about one-third of its peak-to-trough correction by May 16.

As a result, eight of the 14 stocks excluding Massey were lower the day most of the hedge funds filed their 13F than they traded for at the end of the first quarter. The S&P 500, however, was up slightly, by 0.3 percent from March 31 to May 16.

Six of the 14 stocks analyzed lost money from March 31 to June 30. However, just four lost money from May 16 until the end of the quarter.

Altogether, the average return for the most widely held hedge fund stocks from May 16 until the end of the quarter was 1.8 percent. This compared to a loss of 0.7 percent for the S&P 500. So, buying the hedge funds’ favorite stocks right after the 13F filings were made was a good strategy, outperforming the benchmark by 2.5 percentage points in just six-and-a-half weeks. That’s a healthy return.

It was a little less profitable if you bought the same stocks at the end of the first quarter and held them for the next three months. The average return for the 14 stocks worked out to a 0.9 percent gain compared to a 0.4 percent loss for the S&P 500. The hedgie favorites would have performed much better had two of the 14 stocks not fallen by double-digit percentage rates during that period.

The best stock to buy after the May 16 close was AutoNation, up 9.7 percent. It also made money for the entire quarter, rising 3.5 percent.

Cigna was up 5.9 percent from May 17 to June 30, making it the second best performer for that period. However, it gained 16.1 percent for the entire quarter.

Having to wait until mid-May also cut your losses if you owned Sears Holdings or Pioneer Natural Resources.

Altogether, six stocks fared worse since May 16 than they performed for the entire quarter.

Below is the list of 14 stocks and their performance.

CompanyTickerStock Price 3/31/11Stock Price 5/16/11Stock Price 6/30/11Return 4/1/11-
6/30/11
Return 5/16/11-
6/30/11
Sears HoldingsSHLD$82.65$75.36$71.44-13.6%-5.2%
CitigroupC44.2041.1941.64-5.81.1
WellpointWLP69.6980.7678.7713.0-2.5
AutoZoneAZO273.56283.65294.857.83.9
ViacomVIA-B46.5249.2351.009.63.6
Anadarko PeteAPC81.9273.4076.76-6.34.6
Priceline.comPCLN506.44503.38511.931.11.7
AutoNationAN35.3733.3636.613.59.7
Motorola SolutionsMSI44.6946.2946.043.0-0.5
WilliamsWMB31.1829.7830.25-3.01.6
General DynamicsGD76.5674.2474.52-2.70.4
Family Dollar StoresFDO51.3252.1852.562.40.7
CignaCI44.2848.5851.4316.15.9
Pioneer Natural ResourcesPXD101.9289.9589.57-12.1-0.4
Average return0.91.8
S&P 5001325.851329.471320.64-0.4-0.7


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