One of the great maxims of traders and Wall Street pros is to follow the "smart money."

I'm not much for the thesis that institutional shoppers tend to make smarter investing decisions, but many of you who've read my ruminations on insider buying say you'd also like to know how the Big Money is betting. Your wish is my command.

Next up: KKR Financial (NYSE: KFN). Are institutions bullish or bearish when it comes to this asset manager?

Foolish facts


KKR Financial

CAPS rating (out of 5) ***
Total ratings 337
Percent bulls 86.1%
Percent bears 13.9%
Bullish pitches 36 out of 38
Highest rated peers Primus Guaranty, NYSE Euronext, Marlin Business Services

Data current as of Dec. 27.

Fools can't make up their minds about KKR Financial, but Big Money investors harbor no doubts about the underlying strength of the company's portfolio and liquidity.

This month, hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman added 1.1 million more shares to his already considerable position in KKR. (Funds he controls own 10.17% of the company as of this writing, according to Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.)

Cooperman probably likes KKR's dividend, which yields 5.1% as of this writing. Putting that in perspective, Cooperman's 17,937,227 shares are on track to pay him and his various trusts $8.6 million in dividends this year alone. Talk about impressive -- and yet the promise of cash is only one reason to buy at current levels. Value is another.

"KKR Financial Holdings ought to benefit from the super favorable yield curve and the super favorable spread between lower risk securities and higher risk securities [and] loans. Qualifies for my 12 best low price value stocks screen, which outperforms most in up markets. I am bullish. Selling for 5 [times] forward earnings. Awesome dividend yield," wrote All-Star Fool mrindependent in October.

Institutional ownership history

Top Owners





Omega Advisors 3,136,596 6,021,202 13,485,567 14,326,867
Fidelity Investments - 13,299,698 15,187,600 12,611,659
Thornburg Investment Management 6,834,259 15,095,109 6,698,800 9,076,862
Cobalt Capital Management 100,000 - 6,434,704 7,098,455
Legg Mason Capital Management 5,972 - 6,199,100 6,266,693
TOP 25 TOTAL 29,522,882 59,500,220 74,125,811 77,719,918

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.
*Indicates the number of shares owned.

Big Money investors would appear to agree. They've shopped for KKR shares since 2008. Among the top five, only Fidelity has taken some profits. T. Rowe Price added another 260,000 shares to its position in the September quarter.

What's driving the enthusiasm? That's hard to say, but the implications of a possible $18.50-per-share bid for Del Monte Foods (NYSE: DLM) could play a part. Valuation probably also factors into the equation.

Competitor and peer checkup


Institutional Ownership

Insider Ownership

Apollo Investment (Nasdaq: AINV) 58.95% 0.19%
BlackRock (NYSE: BLK) 86.00% 2.17%
Capital Trust (NYSE: CT) 17.57% 3.32%
KKR Financial 41.76% 12.50%
Prospect Capital (Nasdaq: PSEC) 28.08% 1.50%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data current as of Dec. 27.

Regardless, it's the data from this final table that convinces me that KKR Financial is a buy. Institutions own less than 50% of the stock, giving Big Money buyers plenty of room to purchase shares and push the price higher. This same dynamic has helped the Scrooge portfolio beat the market by roughly 18 points annually over the past six years.

At the same time, insiders have bet alongside Cooperman. For example, Scott Nuttall, a member of KKR's investment committee, still owns more than 1.6% of the company's shares outstanding. I think both men are right about KKR Financial, which is why I've rated the stock to outperform in my CAPS portfolio.

Think I'm right? Wrong? Let me know you would rate KKR Financial using the comments box below. You can also recommend other stocks for me to evaluate by sending me an email, or replying to me on Twitter.

Interested in more info on KKR Financial? Add it to your watchlist by clicking here.

BlackRock is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. NYSE Euronext is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Apollo Investment and Prospect Capital at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool owns shares of T. Rowe Price and is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy is smarter than the average bear.