What are the stocks that the ultimate “smart money” – hedge funds – shorts the most, even in this environment where the Fed and financial engineering, powered by nearly free money, have whipped stocks relentlessly higher? That’s the question. And Goldman Sachs shed some light on it in its new “Hedge Fund Trend Monitor.”
Hedge funds don’t really hedge anymore. They’ve become stock-market jockeys, holding huge chunks of some of the most hyped companies, such as Apple and Facebook, and pharmaceutical companies on the theory that healthcare is eating up an increasing part of individual, corporate, and government spending. Add to it M&A and stock buybacks. It should be a winning trio.
The idea: if enough hedge funds buy enough of the same stocks, their massive buying as a group will help turn this into a self-fulfilling strategy. When the retail buyer finally jumps in, it will help them get out.
But hedge funds are also shorting stocks. In this environment! They know what they’re doing; they’re the “smart money.” How smart?
Hedge fund returns have lagged the S&P 500 index for six years straight through 2014, and only outperformed the index in 3 of the last 12 years, according to Goldman’s prior data, cited by Zero Hedge. That’s how smart they are. But they do charge a lot in fees. That’s how really smart they are!
So on the long side, Goldman’s “Hedge Fund Trend Monitor” features the “hedge fund VIP list that offers investment ideas and tracks long exposure of hedge funds,” as Goldman says. It’s designed for other investors to jump in and do the same – thus amplifying the effect for these hedge funds that are all big Goldman clients. The 50 stocks on the list, as reported by Bloomberg, have been selected by Goldman based on its own criteria, and based on data from its own hedge-fund clients. Make of it what you will.
What we’re more interested in is Goldman’s list of the 30 stocks that represent the largest short positions among Goldman’s hedge-fund clients. This is the smart money, and these are the stocks they’re betting will decline. And Goldman wants us to jump on the bandwagon.
Being short stocks – in this climate where all sins are forgiven the next day and where financial engineering, such as stock buybacks and manipulation of earnings and earnings expectations make all the difference – is a tough thankless job.
The odds are stacked against the short seller from get-go since the risk-reward is totally out of whack, where losses are unlimited and can go far beyond the original bet and take down the entire hedge fund, and where gains, even if the stock goes to zero (which is unlikely for most of the names on this list) is limited to 100%.
Shorting is by design punitive. That way, few investors will do it. Many of those who tried have lost their shirts and blouses, their logic having been perfectly correct, but with the rest of the market not playing along just in time, and they have come to hate the stocks they short. As the saying goes, the Fed-inspired herd can remain irrational a lot longer than iron-clad logic can stay liquid.