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Hedge Funds Done Selling Conagra Brands, Inc. (CAG)

Reymerlyn Martin

It seems that the masses and most of the financial media hate hedge funds and what they do, but why is this hatred of hedge funds so prominent? At the end of the day, these asset management firms do not gamble the hard-earned money of the people who are on the edge of poverty. Truth be told, most hedge fund managers and other smaller players within this industry are very smart and skilled investors. Of course, they may also make wrong bets in some instances, but no one knows what the future holds and how market participants will react to the bountiful news that floods in each day. The Standard and Poor’s 500 Total Return Index ETFs returned approximately 27.5% in 2019 (through the end of November). Conversely, hedge funds’ top 20 large-cap stock picks generated a return of 37.4% during the same 11-month period, with the majority of these stock picks outperforming the broader market benchmark. Coincidence? It might happen to be so, but it is unlikely. Our research covering the last 18 years indicates that hedge funds' consensus stock picks generate superior risk-adjusted returns. That's why we believe it isn't a waste of time to check out hedge fund sentiment before you invest in a stock like Conagra Brands, Inc. (NYSE:CAG).

Conagra Brands, Inc. (NYSE:CAG) was in 27 hedge funds' portfolios at the end of the third quarter of 2019. CAG has seen an increase in support from the world's most elite money managers recently. There were 24 hedge funds in our database with CAG positions at the end of the previous quarter. Our calculations also showed that CAG isn't among the 30 most popular stocks among hedge funds (click for Q3 rankings and see the video below for Q2 rankings). Video: Click the image to watch our video about the top 5 most popular hedge fund stocks.

5 Most Popular Stocks Among Hedge Funds

So, why do we pay attention to hedge fund sentiment before making any investment decisions? Our research has shown that hedge funds' small-cap stock picks managed to beat the market by double digits annually between 1999 and 2016, but the margin of outperformance has been declining in recent years. Nevertheless, we were still able to identify in advance a select group of hedge fund holdings that outperformed the Russell 2000 ETFs by 40 percentage points since May 2014 (see the details here). We were also able to identify in advance a select group of hedge fund holdings that underperformed the market by 10 percentage points annually between 2006 and 2017. Interestingly the margin of underperformance of these stocks has been increasing in recent years. Investors who are long the market and short these stocks would have returned more than 27% annually between 2015 and 2017. We have been tracking and sharing the list of these stocks since February 2017 in our quarterly newsletter. Even if you aren't comfortable with shorting stocks, you should at least avoid initiating long positions in stocks that are in our short portfolio.

[caption id="attachment_30594" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Barry Rosenstein of JANA Partners[/caption]

Barry Rosenstein JANA PARTNERS

Unlike the largest US hedge funds that are convinced Dow will soar past 40,000 or the world's most bearish hedge fund that's more convinced than ever that a crash is coming, our long-short investment strategy doesn't rely on bull or bear markets to deliver double digit returns. We only rely on the best performing hedge funds' buy/sell signals. We're going to take a look at the recent hedge fund action encompassing Conagra Brands, Inc. (NYSE:CAG).

What have hedge funds been doing with Conagra Brands, Inc. (NYSE:CAG)?

Heading into the fourth quarter of 2019, a total of 27 of the hedge funds tracked by Insider Monkey held long positions in this stock, a change of 13% from one quarter earlier. The graph below displays the number of hedge funds with bullish position in CAG over the last 17 quarters. So, let's examine which hedge funds were among the top holders of the stock and which hedge funds were making big moves.

CAG_dec2019

More specifically, JANA Partners was the largest shareholder of Conagra Brands, Inc. (NYSE:CAG), with a stake worth $459 million reported as of the end of September. Trailing JANA Partners was GAMCO Investors, which amassed a stake valued at $59.1 million. Millennium Management, Adage Capital Management, and PEAK6 Capital Management were also very fond of the stock, becoming one of the largest hedge fund holders of the company. In terms of the portfolio weights assigned to each position JANA Partners allocated the biggest weight to Conagra Brands, Inc. (NYSE:CAG), around 36.99% of its portfolio. Cognios Capital is also relatively very bullish on the stock, earmarking 0.97 percent of its 13F equity portfolio to CAG.

As industrywide interest jumped, some big names have jumped into Conagra Brands, Inc. (NYSE:CAG) headfirst. Renaissance Technologies created the most outsized position in Conagra Brands, Inc. (NYSE:CAG). Renaissance Technologies had $11.3 million invested in the company at the end of the quarter. Israel Englander's Millennium Management also made a $6.1 million investment in the stock during the quarter. The other funds with new positions in the stock are Anand Parekh's Alyeska Investment Group, Lee Ainslie's Maverick Capital, and David Costen Haley's HBK Investments.

Let's also examine hedge fund activity in other stocks - not necessarily in the same industry as Conagra Brands, Inc. (NYSE:CAG) but similarly valued. These stocks are Waters Corporation (NYSE:WAT), Mid America Apartment Communities Inc (NYSE:MAA), Huntington Bancshares Incorporated (NASDAQ:HBAN), and Ulta Beauty, Inc. (NASDAQ:ULTA). All of these stocks' market caps are similar to CAG's market cap.

[table] Ticker, No of HFs with positions, Total Value of HF Positions (x1000), Change in HF Position WAT,25,595467,-1 MAA,17,298982,4 HBAN,20,96244,-3 ULTA,39,900250,-5 Average,25.25,472736,-1.25 [/table]

View table here if you experience formatting issues.

As you can see these stocks had an average of 25.25 hedge funds with bullish positions and the average amount invested in these stocks was $473 million. That figure was $682 million in CAG's case. Ulta Beauty, Inc. (NASDAQ:ULTA) is the most popular stock in this table. On the other hand Mid America Apartment Communities Inc (NYSE:MAA) is the least popular one with only 17 bullish hedge fund positions. Conagra Brands, Inc. (NYSE:CAG) is not the most popular stock in this group but hedge fund interest is still above average. This is a slightly positive signal but we'd rather spend our time researching stocks that hedge funds are piling on. Our calculations showed that top 20 most popular stocks among hedge funds returned 37.4% in 2019 through the end of November and outperformed the S&P 500 ETF (SPY) by 9.9 percentage points. Unfortunately CAG wasn't nearly as popular as these 20 stocks and hedge funds that were betting on CAG were disappointed as the stock returned -5.2% during the fourth quarter (through the end of November) and underperformed the market. If you are interested in investing in large cap stocks with huge upside potential, you should check out the top 20 most popular stocks among hedge funds as many of these stocks already outperformed the market so far this year.

Disclosure: None. This article was originally published at Insider Monkey.

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