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U.S. hedge funds bet on retail, tech in second quarter as economy sizzled

By David Randall and Svea Herbst-Bayliss

(Reuters) - Prominent hedge fund managers appeared to make big second-quarter bets that the U.S. economy would continue to expand despite increasing concerns about a broadening trade dispute between the United States and China, regulatory filings showed Tuesday.

Third Point added new positions in payment companies PayPal Holdings Inc (PYPL.O) and Visa Inc (V.N), both of which are up more than 19 percent year to date. Greenlight Capital, run by billionaire investor David Einhorn, added new positions in low-to-middle income retailers including Dollar Tree Inc (DLTR.O), Dollar General Corp (DG.N), Gap Inc (GPS.N), and TJX Companies Inc (TJX.N), the parent company of discount retailers TJ Maxx and HomeGoods.

Activist fund Jana Partners added shares of broad-based exchange-traded funds that track the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000 indexes and took new positions in Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) and food delivery company GrubHub Inc (GRUB.N).

The flurry of new positions in cyclical companies came during a quarter in which U.S. gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 4.1 percent, nearly double the 2.2 percent rate of the first quarter of the year, according to Commerce Department estimates.

A rally in cyclical companies would help boost hedge fund industry returns at a time when many fund firms are under pressure from investors to lower their fees or improve their performance. Hedge funds, on average, are up 1.5 percent since the start of January, according to research firm Hedge Fund Research, well behind the 6.2 percent gain in the benchmark S&P 500 index over the same time.

"Everyone is comparing everything to the S&P 500 and that's a very difficult hurdle for the last few years," said Sol Waksman, president of research firm BarclayHedge.

Quarterly disclosures of hedge fund managers’ stock holdings, in what are known as 13F filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, are one of the few public ways of learning what the managers are selling and buying. But relying on the filings to develop an investment strategy comes with some risk because the disclosures come 45 days after the end of each quarter and may not reflect current positions. Still, the filings offer a glimpse into what hedge fund managers saw as opportunities to make money on the long side.

The filings do not disclose short positions, or bets that a stock will fall in price. As a result, the public filings do not always present a complete picture of a management firm's stock holdings.


TRIMMING THE FAANGS

Large hedge fund managers cut their positions in some of the so-called FAANG stocks - the moniker given to Facebook Inc (FB.O), Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Netflix Inc (NFLX.O), and Google-parent Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) - that led the market higher last year.

Third Point sold all of its stake in Alphabet and divested 1 million shares of Facebook, reducing its position in the company by 25 percent. At the same time, it increased its stake in Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) by nearly 310 percent, buying 1.7 million shares.

Omega Advisors, meanwhile, sold all of its position in Netflix and added new holdings in biotechnology companies including Madrigal Pharmaceuticals Inc (MDGL.O) and Deciphera Pharmaceuticals Inc (DCPH.O).

A number of prominent fund managers sharply cut their stake in Apple only weeks before it became the first publicly traded U.S. company to be worth more than $1 trillion.

Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital slashed its stake by 77 percent, while Philippe Laffont’s Coatue Management got rid of 95 percent. Advisory firm Diamond Hill Capital Management cut its stake by 27 percent. Other big holders, including Sanders Capital and Adage Capital Partners, trimmed only small amounts in the second quarter.


(Reporting by David Randall in New York and Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Boston; Editing by Jennifer Ablan, Steve Orlofsky and Lisa Shumaker)