Quest for Alpha: Micro-Cap Stocks With Big Hedge Fund Buying

From 1980 to 2007 the share of U.S. common equity held by institutions more than doubled - from 32% to 68% of total market value. With that in mind it is no wonder the trends of institutions have captured analyst attention over the years.

Generating alpha
MoneyWatch reports on a 2010 study, Institutional Investors and the Limits of Arbitrage, which examined the performance and unique trading behaviors of institutions. The study began with a group of 500 in 1980 and ended with 2,700 in 2007.

Institutions, which include mutual funds, hedge funds, pensions, bank trust departments, and others, have been found to take on different investing techniques than the "Average Joe" stock picker. And because of their large share of the market, their decisions carry significantly more weight in shifting values.

The study concluded that institutions tend to do little stock picking, and more or less held onto their market portfolio. And those that traded the least seemed to do the best.

By doing so, the institutions generated less risk to the market and generated more revenue for their portfolio, a process known as generating alpha.

Risky stock picking
Among their findings they learned any Institutional stock-picking ability "was reliable only for smaller stocks, which made up a tiny fraction of holdings. For example, institutions' investment in micro-cap stocks (stocks below the NYSE 20th percentile) outperformed a value-weighted index of those stocks by a significant 0.57 percent quarterly, but represented just 1 percent of their total holdings."

Larry Swedroe of MoneyWatch argues that the stock picking skills that were exhibited with small cap stocks were similar to those of individual investors. "Many investors hope to strike it rich by purchasing low-priced stocks, stocks in bankruptcy and IPOs, essentially playing the lottery and hoping they'll come up with the winning ticket."

But these characteristics are risky, and Swedroe says that if institutions searched within the micro-cap market for stocks that do not exhibit these traits, they may be able to generate more alpha from the universe.

Investing ideas
So, some may argue that micro-cap stocks are one of the last remaining areas that institutional investors can generate consistent alpha (add value to a portfolio's returns without adding risk).

With that in mind, we started with a universe of about 200 micro-cap stocks, with market caps between $100M - $300M.

We collected data on institutional money flows and identified a list of names that have seen significant institutional buying over the last quarter.

From this universe, we wanted to apply another sentiment screen. To find those companies, we collected data on short-selling, and identified a list of companies that have seen significant short covering over the last month.

Big money managers have boosted their holdings of these stocks over the last quarter, and short-sellers seem to think these stocks are ready to pop higher -- do you agree?

List sorted by average trading volume. (Click here to access free, interactive tools to analyze these ideas)

List compiled by Eben Esterhuizen, CFA:

1. The McClatchy Company (NYSE: MNI  ) : Operates as a newspaper publisher in the United States. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 11.6M shares, which represents about 23.78% of the company's float of 48.78M shares. Shares shorted have decreased from 28.36M to 26.28M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 4.26% of the company's float of 48.78M shares.

2. Camelot Information Systems (NYSE: CIS  ) : Provides enterprise application services and financial industry information technology (IT) services in the People's Republic of China. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 2.0M shares, which represents about 7.29% of the company's float of 27.43M shares. Shares shorted have decreased from 3.60M to 2.32M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 4.67% of the company's float of 27.43M shares.

3. MIPS Technologies (Nasdaq: MIPS  ) : Provides industry-standard processor architectures and cores that power various home entertainment, communications, networking, and portable multimedia products. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 5.0M shares, which represents about 11.31% of the company's float of 44.21M shares. Shares shorted have decreased from 4.44M to 3.56M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 1.99% of the company's float of 44.21M shares.

4. Sify Technologies (Nasdaq: SIFY  ) : Provides enterprise and consumer Internet services primarily in India. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 725.0K shares, which represents about 15.49% of the company's float of 4.68M shares. Shares shorted have decreased from 3.33M to 3.12M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 4.49% of the company's float of 4.68M shares.

5. DepoMed (Nasdaq: DEPO  ) : Develops and commercializes pharmaceutical products based on its proprietary oral drug delivery technologies in the United States. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 4.0M shares, which represents about 8.64% of the company's float of 46.32M shares. Shares shorted have decreased from 5.44M to 4.77M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 1.45% of the company's float of 46.32M shares.

6. Accuride (NYSE: ACW  ) : Engages in the manufacture and supply of components to the commercial vehicle industry in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 5.2M shares, which represents about 16.66% of the company's float of 31.21M shares. Shares shorted have decreased from 2.69M to 2.24M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 1.44% of the company's float of 31.21M shares.

7. Complete Genomics (Nasdaq: GNOM  ) : Develops and commercializes a DNA sequencing platform for human genome sequencing and analysis. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 5.1M shares, which represents about 49.9% of the company's float of 10.22M shares. Shares shorted have decreased from 1.99M to 1.53M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 4.5% of the company's float of 10.22M shares.

8. Zix (Nasdaq: ZIXI  ) : Provides Internet-based applications in software as a service model that enables the use of secure email for sensitive information exchange primarily in the healthcare, financial services, insurance, and government sectors in the United States. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 5.0M shares, which represents about 8.14% of the company's float of 61.46M shares. Shares shorted have decreased from 6.97M to 5.46M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 2.46% of the company's float of 61.46M shares.

9. Xenoport (Nasdaq: XNPT  ) : Focuses on developing and commercializing internally discovered product candidates that utilize the body's natural nutrient transport mechanisms to enhance the therapeutic benefits of drugs. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 7.9M shares, which represents about 24.74% of the company's float of 31.93M shares. Shares shorted have decreased from 3.36M to 2.89M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 1.47% of the company's float of 31.93M shares.

Interactive Chart: Press Play to compare changes in analyst ratings over the last two years for the stocks mentioned above. Analyst ratings sourced from Zacks Investment Research.


Kapitall's Eben Esterhuizen and Rebecca Lipman do not own any of the shares mentioned above. Institutional data sourced from Fidelity. Short data from Yahoo! Finance.

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Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 18, 2011, at 5:08 PM, StocksInc wrote:

    Once again, no one will discuss the pending lawsuit against Zix Corporation from RPost for a Patent Infringement Lawsuit pending in Texas Court. Insiders have sold all shares in the $4 range and many institutions have also sold all shares according posters in message areas. According to their last quarterly report there was no mention of this lawsuit in their Legal Proceeding section. Why?

  • Report this Comment On November 22, 2011, at 3:12 PM, garifolle wrote:

    @ Stocksinc

    You should know that Kapital never bothers to dig deeper.

    It runs scans, that's it that's all.

    I suppose that they forgot to run a last scan, the one that would eliminate insiders big sales.

    Do not expect from Kapital to think, like other authors from the Fool.

    There site is a cute playground.

    But once in a while, it gives you ideas that you can explore.

    I do not follow Zix very closely, but rulings on Patent Infringement rarely impact the stock price for a long time: at $2.69 (the price as I write this), the negative part of it is probably priced in, and whether the win or they loose, you might see the stock jump up.

    Unless of course, the company totally relies on that Patent.

    But in this case, would have institutions bought?

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