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Morning Brief: Jana Partners Has Best Year Since 2013

The firm’s stake in Whole Foods, which was quickly sold to Amazon, was the year’s winning play.

Barry Rosenstein’s Jana Partners, the flagship hedge fund managed by the firm of the same name, gained 5.7 percent last year, its biggest annual gain since 2013. The firm’s leveraged fund, Jana Nirvana, rose 7 percent.

In what was a tough year for activists, Jana still underperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index, which gained 21.8 percent for the year.

Jana’s biggest coup of the year was its stake in Whole Foods, which was bought by Amazon a little more than three months after Jana announced its 8.3 percent stake. Jana earned about $300 million, or 42.75 percent, on its investment for those three months. That netted an annualized gain of 156 percent, compared with 20 percent for the S&P 500.

Other big winners included Bloomin’ Brands, in which Jana announced an 8.9 percent stake on November 20. It is up 24 percent since then. Jana also took a 5.06 percent stake in jeweler Tiffany in February, and it has gained 28.69 percent since Jana’s purchase.

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Former hedge fund manager Peter Thiel, who closed his Clarium Capital after the 2008 financial crisis, has become a big investor in bitcoin, the Wall Street Journalreported.

Thiel’s venture capital firm, Founders Fund, began investing in bitcoin in the middle of last year, the Journal reported.

Bitcoin hit a record high of $19,511 on December 18 but has since been falling. It traded at about $14,563 on Tuesday.

The downturn led at least another former hedge fund manager, Michael Novogratz, to shelve plans to open a cryptocurrency fund in late December.

Bitcoin gained 1,500 percent against the dollar last year.

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Mick McGuire’s Marcato Capital Management started off the new year with a bang on Tuesday, when the CEO of one of the companies it is targeting resigned.

Rent-A-Center CEO Mark Speese has left, and former president Mitchell Fadel has taken his place effective immediately, the company said in a statement.

Rent-A-Center also said it plans to explore “strategic and financial alternatives.”

Last July, Marcato threatened to run a proxy contest to throw out the current board members at their 2018 annual meeting.

Marcato and another hedge fund firm, Engaged Capital, have been arguing for a sale of the company.

The change of leadership was first reported by Reuters.

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