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Why the World’s Reigning Hedge Fund King Likes Facebook Inc.

Josh Brown, who runs the popular blog The Reformed Broker, recently wrote about a gathering of financial gurus at Las Vegas' Bellagio Hotel and Casino. According to Brown, everyone was there to see one man -- primarily because of this man's huge returns, larger-than-life personality, and penchant for philanthropy.

Before being introduced, the conference's organizer stated: "If you had put a million dollars with [this man] when he started ... 20 years ago, it would now be worth $149 million net of fees." 

The man is David Tepper, and he runs the hugely successful Appaloosa Management hedge fund. And recently, he's been buying up shares of Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB  ) . Though it's impossible to know for certain why Tepper likes Facebook right now, we can make some pretty educated guesses as to what he might be thinking, and what to look for in the quarters ahead.

Source: Appaloosa Management, via Wikimedia Commons. 

During the first quarter of the year, Appaloosa bought roughly 500,000 shares of Facebook that are now worth about $30 million. While that constitutes only 0.3% of Appaloosa's holdings, Facebook was one of the four major positions the hedge fund added earlier this year.

Monster success of Facebook's mobile strategy
One of the tricky things about the 13-F filings hedge funds have to file with the SEC is that they don't specify when in the quarter shares of different stocks were purchased.

If Tepper was able to purchase shares of Facebook before fourth-quarter earnings were announced in late January, he benefited from a 14% pop when the social-media site blew Wall Street estimates out of the water -- thanks in large part to the company's ability to monetize its mobile app through advertising.

 The company's first-quarter earnings, reported in late April, were every bit as impressive, but investors were more muted in their reaction, and shares have basically remained flat since.

While the market has witnessed a general technology sell-off over the same time frame, shares could also be flat because investors are worried that the type of growth -- seen in the following graph -- the company has demonstrated could soon be slowing.

Source: SEC filings. Net income reflects non-GAAP numbers. Figures in millions.

No matter when Tepper made his investment in Facebook, it's highly likely that the company's ability to effectively monetize its mobile strategy played a key role and probably gives Tepper confidence in CEO Mark Zuckerberg's ability to continue doing the same in the future.

What to watch for next quarter
But as encouraging as Tepper's move may seem for investors, they might want to keep their eye on what the hedge fund guru does during the current quarter with his Facebook shares.

That's because it is entirely possible that Tepper initiated his position before Facebook went on a spending spree that left many analysts scratching their heads. In late February, Facebook announced that it had acquired WhatsApp for the princely sum of $19 billion. The company followed that up by paying $2 billion for virtual-reality specialist Oculus VR.

While some think that Zuckerberg is showing a lack of fiscal restraint in paying such large sums for these companies, others believe he's a visionary who is simply laying the foundation for Facebook's future. If Tepper keeps his shares, it'll be a sign that he believes in Zuckerberg. If he sells, it could mean he's not so hot on this strategy -- although, admittedly, Tepper could have any number of reasons for selling his shares.

Either way, it will be interesting to watch when Appaloosa files its statements later this summer.

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  • Report this Comment On May 26, 2014, at 8:28 PM, cantloseitall12 wrote:

    I don't pretend to be a stock analyst, but looking at stocks that became Super stocks down the road like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, I see a lot of the same characteristics in Facebook. I own a few thousand shares of FB. I am sitting on a nice profit having bought it at $27 and $34. One way or the other, I have no intention of selling it for the next 2 years at least.

    I would not be overly surprised if it were trading at $200 or $300 by then. Repeat. I am not a stock expert but this is my hunch.

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Brian Stoffel

Brian Stoffel has been a Fool since 2008, and a financial journalist for the Motley Fool since 2010. He tends to follow the investment strategies of Fool-founder David Gardner, looking for the most innovative companies driving positive change for the future.

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