Goldman Sees More Pain for Facebook, Micron on Hedge Fund Exodus

(Bloomberg) -- It’s been a tough few months for tech stocks from social media giant Facebook Inc. to memory chipmaker Micron Technology Inc., which have been at the forefront of the U.S. stock market’s autumn rout. If history is a guide, the bloodletting probably isn’t over.

Goldman Sachs identified Facebook and Micron among a list of companies that had the biggest declines in hedge fund ownership during the third quarter. Such “falling stars” have historically continued to trail the market over the next three to 12 months, strategists led by Ben Snider and David Kostin wrote in a note to clients Wednesday.

Goldman Sees More Pain for Facebook, Micron on Hedge Fund Exodus

A violent unwinding of popular positions is one feature that has set the recent market rout apart from the one in February. As fears built over interest rates, global trade and corporate profits, hedge fund managers have cut back risk, taking profits on winners such as technology and pivoting to industries that offer stable income and dividends like health-care. Down an average 4 percent this year, hedge funds have reduced their leverage, a measure of risk appetite, to the lowest level since the first half of 2017.

“Changes in popularity with hedge fund investors can be strong signals for future stock performance,” the Goldman strategists wrote. “Hedge fund returns, portfolio leverage, and the performance of popular stocks have entered a vicious downward cycle.”

After a red-hot start to the year, funds started bailing on some of the momentum trades. Former market darlings including Facebook and Marriott International Inc. saw a number of holders cashing out, while semiconductor stocks including Micron and NXP Semiconductors NV suffered similar fates.

Since 2002, a Goldman basket of hedge-fund “falling stars” has underperformed peers by 60 basis points over the next quarter. On the flip side, “rising star” stocks that saw the largest boost in hedge fund ownership have tended to outperform by a similar amount. That bodes particularly well for a number of defensive companies in the health-care and consumer staples groups.

Software company ServiceNow Inc. saw the largest bump in hedge fund ownership followed by CenterPoint Energy Inc. and Monster Beverage Corp. Among the health-care companies that saw increased fund ownership were Medtronic PLC, Express Scripts Holding Co, and Becton, Dickinson and Co. Defensive names like United Technologies Corp., Sysco Corp., and Southern Co. were also boosted.

For the first time since 2016, health-care stocks were the most favored among major industries, accounting for 18 percent of hedge funds’ net exposure. Meanwhile, money managers raised holdings in utilities above their market representation for the first time since the 2008 global financial crisis.

Tech shares were the most shunned, according to Goldman’s analysis of 823 hedge funds with $2.2 trillion in equity holdings that took into account both long and short positions.

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