Hedge Funds Haven't Been This Leveraged to Buy Stocks Since the Bull Market Began

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  • Increasing use of borrowed money is a sign of confidence
  • Managers raising longs while cutting back on short positions

Why It's Been a Tough Year for Macro Hedge Funds

Hedge funds are borrowing more to buy equities, a sign of growing confidence in the economy and their favorite stocks.

Leverage among managers who speculate on rising and falling shares has climbed this month to near the highest levels since the bull market began in 2009, according to data compiled by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. on its hedge fund clients.

The increasing use of borrowed money shows that professional money managers are willing to take more risks after trailing the market for an eighth straight year. While leverage means bigger losses if stocks fall, the downside has been minimal this year, with the S&P 500 Index going longer than ever without a 3 percent drop. And nobody wants to miss out a year-end rally as the benchmark just snapped a two-week decline, touching a fresh all-time high.

“Funds added net leverage entering the fourth quarter against a backdrop of strong economic activity, a rising equity market, and high conviction in favorite positions,” Goldman Sachs strategists led by Ben Snider and David Kostin wrote in a note.

Growing risk appetite continued from the third quarter, during which hedge funds increased bullish bets while cutting back on short positions. According to Goldman’s analysis of regulatory filings from 804 funds that own $2.1 trillion of gross equity holdings, the group carried a net long exposure of 51 percent at the end of September, the highest since 2015.

Meanwhile, their short interest as a percentage of the S&P 500’s total market capitalization has fallen to just below 2 percent, matching January of this year as the lowest level since 2012.

Goldman compiles a list of 50 stocks that show up most often among the top 10 holdings of fundamentally-driven hedge funds. The “hedge fund VIP list” included Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba, Google’s parent Alphabet and Microsoft as the top five and added 10 new names:

  • IAC/InterActiveCorp
  • Take-Two
  • MGM Resorts
  • XPO Logistics
  • SBA Communications
  • Equinix
  • Iqvia Holdings
  • GoDaddy
  • NRG Energy
  • Marathon Petroleum

On the short side, AT&T, Intel, Wal-Mart, Priceline and Target are the top five most important positions to hedge funds. Other than Priceline, the VIP short list’s new members included:

  • Cisco
  • Kroger
  • Kimberly-Clark
  • Valero
  • General Mills
  • Walgreens Boots Alliance
  • Allergan
  • AIG
  • United Technologies
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