A little more than a week ago, Wall Street's brightest and most-successful money managers lifted their funds' proverbial hoods and gave investors a look at what they'd been buying and selling in the most-recent quarter.
Although Form 13F filings demonstrated quite a bit of buying from active money managers, especially in beaten-down growth stocks, they also unveiled some potentially surprising selling activity. What follows are four widely held stocks that billionaire money managers dumped during the first quarter.
To begin with, cloud-based e-commerce platform Shopify (SHOP 1.61%) was given a sizable reduction by Stephen Mandel of Lone Pine Capital. Entering 2022, Mandel's fund held a greater than 1% stake in Shopify's outstanding shares. But following the sale of more than 355,000 shares during the first quarter, Lone Pine's stake is down to about 0.91%.
The likeliest reason for Mandel paring down one of Lone Pine's core positions is the expectation that a recession will occur in the United States. With first-quarter U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) retracing 1.4%, there's even a possibility we're already in a recession and just don't (officially) know it.
Since Shopify's operating model is primarily geared to help small businesses grow, and small businesses might not be profitable or time-tested, there's some level of concern that a key component of Shopify's growth could struggle for however long a U.S. economic slowdown/recession lasts.
The other possible reason for Mandel reducing Lone Pine's stake in Shopify is valuation. The company has consistently traded at a nosebleed premium to its sales and profit potential since the pandemic began. On one hand, this made sense given the e-commerce solutions the company provides. With various lockdowns throughout the U.S. and internationally, consumers turned to online retail solutions en masse in 2020.
On the other hand, with inflation soaring and access to capital becoming pricier as lending rates rise, growth prospects for small businesses appear muted. Even with Shopify nearly 80% below its all-time high, set just six months ago, the company still trades at 6 times Wall Street's forecast sales in 2022 and at a triple-digit projected price-to-earnings ratio.
While I do believe a premium is warranted for Shopify's impressive growth rate, it could be a bumpy ride until the Fed's monetary tightening cycle is complete.
Another widely held stock that was given the partial heave-ho in the first quarter by a billionaire money manager is conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A 0.55%) (BRK.B 0.50%). Jim Simons of Renaissance Technologies sold 868,800 Class B shares (BRK.B), which amounted to a 92% reduction in his fund's stake, relative to where things stood on Dec. 31, 2021.
The most logical reason to nearly exit this position in Berkshire probably has to do with signs of economic weakness in the United States. As noted, U.S. GDP went backward in the first quarter, and a number of recent big-box retailer reports have shown inventory levels are rising and low-income consumers are feeling the pinch of inflation. Because Berkshire Hathaway's investment portfolio is packed with cyclical businesses, shares of the company are at risk of coming under some short-term pressure.
However, it would be foolish (with a small 'f') to overlook Buffett's long-term track record. Since taking over as CEO in 1965, he's led the company's Class A shares (BRK.A) to an average annual return of 20.1%, which works out to 3,641,613%, in aggregate, over 57 years. By acquiring and investing in time-tested businesses, and hanging on to those investments for long periods, Buffett has demonstrated how powerful time and patience can be.
What's more, Buffett's company is on pace to collect more than $6 billion in dividend income over the next 12 months. Companies that pay a dividend are almost always profitable and time-tested. They also have a history of vastly outperforming stocks that don't pay a dividend.
In other words, Simons' fund may eventually regret selling most of its stake in Berkshire Hathaway.
Cybersecurity stock CrowdStrike Holdings (CRWD 0.19%) is yet another widely held stock that was on one billionaire's sell list in the first quarter. Philippe Laffont of Coatue Management sold nearly 485,000 shares, equating to 44% of Coatue's stake entering 2022.
The probable reason for Laffont to reduce his fund's position in CrowdStrike is valuation. Similar to Shopify, CrowdStrike has traded at a nosebleed valuation relative to sales and profits since the pandemic began.
As a premier provider of end-user security, it found itself in the right place at the right time when the pandemic hit and people were forced to lean on the internet and cloud more than ever before. But even after a 50% retracement in its shares, CrowdStrike is still valued at 16 times Wall Street's sales estimate for the company in 2022, and north of 100 times analysts' profit projection.
Although CrowdStrike is pricey, it does have two catalysts working in its favor. First, cybersecurity has evolved into a basic necessity over the past two decades. No matter how poorly the U.S. economy is performing, businesses of all sizes need protection. Because hackers and robots don't take a day off from trying to steal data, demand for cybersecurity solutions remains elevated.
The other buy-side catalyst is the company's cloud-native platform, known as Falcon. This platform oversees about a trillion events daily and leans on artificial intelligence to become more efficient at recognizing and responding to potential threats over time. A gross retention rate of 98% suggests that businesses have come to trust CrowdStrike's solutions.
Lastly, at least one billionaire was hitting the brakes on electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer Tesla (TSLA -2.76%). Israel Englander of Millennium Management sold 551,827 shares of Tesla during the first quarter, which was just shy of half of his fund's stake entering the year.
Why sell Tesla? The most obvious reason would be the expectation of production shortfalls and challenges in the coming quarters. Whereas most major automakers have reduced production due to supply shortages, Tesla has maintained a production pace that would allow the company to eclipse the psychologically important 1 million mark this year. However, with strict COVID-19 lockdowns in China, meeting previous production forecasts appears all but impossible now.
Valuation has been a persistent concern, as well, for years. While traditional auto stocks are valued at single-digit price-to-earnings multiples, Tesla was valued as high as 15 times sales and more than 100 times forecast earnings earlier this year. Even now, with shares 47% below their all-time high, Tesla is still valued at a lofty 8 times Wall Street's forecast for sales and 54 times projected profits for 2022.
On the other side of the coin, we have Tesla's competitive advantages, such as its mass production, as well as the range, power, and capacity provided by its batteries. First-mover advantages certainly count for something in next-big-thing industries, and it's hard to overlook the EV maker's market share lead in the U.S.
However, CEO Elon Musk looks to be the real wild card for the company -- and it's never a good thing when the CEO is the focus. Though innovative, Musk has proved to be a liability and distraction for Tesla on more than one occasion. In an economic environment where valuations are being heavily scrutinized by Wall Street and investors, Tesla is a company that might not fare well.