By Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Jennifer Ablan
(Reuters) - Top U.S. hedge fund managers in the fourth quarter focused on the consumer sector, with investment plays ranging from high-end auction house Sotheby's to big retailers Target Corp and Walgreen Co
General Motors also became the flavor of the quarter with many hedge funds as the U.S. government exited its position. This year, however, the stock price has fallen nearly 14 percent, making for a rough start for new Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra.
But on Friday, the automaker's stock rose 75 cents, or 2.13 percent, to $35.95.
Soros Fund Management LLC, founded by billionaire investor George Soros, purchased new stakes in banking giants J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup in the fourth quarter. Soros also boosted holdings in GM.
The quarterly disclosures of manager stock holdings, in what are known as 13F filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, are always intriguing for investors trying to divine a pattern in what savvy traders are selling and buying.
But relying on the filings to develop an investment strategy comes with some peril because the disclosures are backward looking and come out 45 days after the end of each quarter.
Still, the filings offer a glimpse into what hedge fund managers saw as opportunities to make money on the long side. The filings don't disclose short positions, bets that a stock will fall in price. And there's also little disclosure on bonds and other securities that do not trade on exchanges.
Upon request, the SEC also permits managers to omit sensitive stock positions from 13F filings. As a result, the public filings don't always present a complete picture of a manager's stock holdings.
Here are some of the hot stocks and sectors in which hedge fund managers either took new positions or exited from in the fourth quarter.
JP MORGAN CHASE, CITIGROUP
Soros's fund owned about 2.8 million shares of JP Morgan as of December 31, and 2.3 million shares of Citi. Soros held no shares in either bank at the end of the third quarter.
Activist investor Marcato Capital Management, run by Mick McGuire, boosted the firm's holdings of Sotheby's by 35 percent, having bought an additional 1,200,000 shares in the auction house to now own 4,562,991.
Eric Mindich's Eton Park Capital Management also is a huge fan of Sotheby's, buying an additional 265,000 shares, bringing the firm's stake to 2.2 million shares.
Tiger Consumer Management got back into Facebook after exiting it in the third quarter. The filing shows the fund owned 1,384,507 shares of the social media powerhouse at the end of the fourth quarter.
Andreas Halvorsen's Viking Global Investors bought an additional 13.9 million class A shares, bringing its stake to 18.3 million class A shares.
Scout Capital Management closed out of its position, selling 3 million shares. Scout Capital may be going on a junk food diet, as it liquidated its entire position in Whole Foods and Starbucks but added 3.9 million shares in Yum! Brands Inc.
The fund's owners said last month that they are splitting up and shutting down the $6.7 billion fund after 13 years. Returns were strong at 21 percent last year.
Kyle Bass's Hayman Capital announced in early December that he established a position and that the 4,606,005 million shares he owned made up nearly one quarter of his portfolio.
Bridger Capital trimmed its holdings in General Motors Co by selling 155,000 shares, but the fund still owns 1,695,000 shares, which ranks the stock as the fund's fourth largest position.
Bronson Point Management, founded by former managers at SAC and Pequot, added to its holding of GM by buying another 400,000 shares, increasing its stake by 34 percent. And Cooperman's Omega added a new position, buying 1.04 million shares of the automaker.
Leon Cooperman's Omega added a new position, buying 1.04 million shares, and Mindich's Eton Park Capital Management opened a new stake of 2.74 mln shares.
Soros Fund Management held more than 4.9 million shares of GM and more than 1.4 million call options, the filing showed, up from around 1.28 million shares and more than 350,000 call options on September 30.
Blue Ridge sold all of its Netflix stake, liquidating 349,000 shares of the American provider of on-demand Internet streaming media, while billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn cut his stake by 2.9 million shares, bringing his exposure to 2.7 million shares.
Chase Coleman and Feroz Dewan's Tiger Global Management bought an additional 223,000 shares, bringing their stake to 663,000 shares.
Carlson Capital took a new position in Target, buying 1.4 million shares only weeks before the retailer made headlines after becoming the victim of computer hackers who stole millions of credit card records.
Viking Global Investors opened a new stake of 11.6 million shares. Jana Partners increased its stake in Walgreen to 7.3 million sole shares versus 1.3 million sole shares. For more on activist investors Jana Partners, please see.
Fresh from bankruptcy and a merger with US Airways, the "new" American has become a new favorite with money managers and the stock has climbed 38.71 percent this year alone.
Hutchin Hill opened a new position in the airline with 875,000 shares.
TIME WARNER CABLE
Farallon Capital Management added to its holding of Time Warner Cable Inc in the fourth quarter by buying 1,905,500 shares. It owned 2,432,00 shares at the end of the quarter, making it the firm's biggest position.
On Thursday, a proposed all-stock deal in which Comcast Corp would take over Time Warner Cable for $45.2 billion was announced.
SIRIUS XM HOLDINGS
Viking Global Investors opened a new stake of 15.1 million shares.
THERMO FISHER SCIENTIFIC
Aaron Cowen's Suvretta Capital opened a new position, buying 322,000 shares to make it his fund's third biggest positions, while Omega Advisors added 209,630 shares.
Adage sold 607,400 shares of the scientific instrument maker, cutting its stake by 43 percent to own 800,505 shares at the end of the quarter. And Loeb's Third Point also dissolved its share stake in Thermo Fisher.
Loeb's Third Point took a stake in BlackBerry, the Canadian telecommunication and wireless equipment company best known as the developer of the BlackBerry brand of smartphones and tablets, of 10 million shares.
TAKE-TWO INTERACTIVE SOFTWARE INC
David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital took a sole share stake in Take-Two Interactive of 4.2 million shares in the fourth quarter, while Icahn dissolved his entire share stake of 12 million shares.
(Compiled by Jennifer Ablan; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)