In my last article, I noted that “Big Money” managers were wildly bullish on U.S. stocks—74% were bullish and only 7% were bearish.
But what about those legendary masters of the universe – the global macro hedge fund managers who, if their reputations are to be believed, hold the fates of companies and even entire countries in the palms of their hands?
At last week’s Ira Sohn Investment Conference, we got to hear the latest investment themes from some of the biggest names in the business, including Bill Ackman, Jim Chanos, Stanley Druckenmiller, and David Einhorn, among others.
Some of these “smart money” guys haven’t been looking too smart of late. Ackman has taken enormous losses in JC Penney (JCP); at one point, his losses on the investment were over $500 million. He also appears to be on the wrong side of a very large short position in Herbalife (HLF).
This year Ackman is recommending Procter & Gamble (PG), even though it is sitting near 52-week highs and is trading at a substantial premium to the broader market…after a long run in which consumer staples have outperformed.
Ackman is agitating for management change. We’ll see how Ackman’s recommendation plays out, but I wouldn’t expect market-beating returns here.
Most of the speakers focused their comments on individual stocks, but there were some “big picture” themes worth noting as well. Kyle Bass of Hayman Capital reiterated his bearish call on Japan, saying that “the beginning of the end has begun.”
I agree with Bass’ view on Japan and recently called it “the short opportunity of a lifetime” on the Trading Deck. I can’t say I agree with Bass in his bullish defense of gold, however.
Stanley Druckenmiller, a legendary investor and a former top trader under George Soros, had perhaps the most interesting macro perspective. Druckenmiller argued that the commodity supercycle—the massive decade-long bull market enjoyed by most commodities—is over. The primary culprit? A slowdown in commodity demand from China.
I would take Druckenmiller seriously here. This is a man who enjoyed a 30-year run without losing money and who is one of the best managers alive today. Druckenmiller sees the slowdown in China—coming at a time when commodity production is being ramped up globally—resulting in a supply glut and sharply lower prices.
I believe this is good news for companies with large raw materials costs and for countries that import large volumes of commodities, but it is very bad news for Brazil, South Africa and Australia, among other resource-rich countries.
Still, you might want to take the words of all of these masters of the universe with a grain of salt the size of their egos. Consider this: 88% of hedge fund managers underperformed the S&P 500 last year.