Hedge-fund managers are widely considered among the top investing minds on Wall Street. For Main Street investors, regulatory reporting requirements give a once-per-quarter opportunity to look behind the curtain of the hedge-fund industry and find out exactly what stocks these funds are buying.
Using that data from the first quarter of this year, here are three financial stocks with lots of buying activity from hedge funds.
First on the list is New-York based investment management and insurance company, Voya Financial (NYSE:VOYA). Voya offers retirement planning, employee benefits services, annuities, investment management, and insurance, among other financial products.
Business has been good for Voya during the past few years. Just this month, the company was named number 268 on the Fortune 500 list -- its first time making the list. Annual net income for 2014 was $2.3 billion.
Voya IPO'd in May of 2013. Since then, the stock has absolutely crushed the S&P 500.
As of March 31, 2015, 59 hedge funds held long positions in Voya's stock, totaling more than $2.9 billion in value at the time. Twenty-nine existing Voya owners increased their positions in the first quarter, while 17 new hedge funds initiated new, bullish positions. Only 11 funds sold shares, with an additional nine exiting their positions fully.
The Allstate Corp
Voya Financial wasn't the only insurance company in the hedge-fund crosshairs. The Allstate Corp (NYSE:ALL) also saw a large amount of interest from the industry in the first quarter.
In total, 64 hedge funds own long positions in Allstate, with 18 of those owners opening new positions in Q1. Thirteen existing owners bought more shares compared to just four funds exiting their positions entirely. However, 22 funds reduced their positions in the quarter by selling shares.
Allstate has beaten the S&P 500 during the past five- and one-year periods; however, it trails the index in year-to-date 2015 performance. The company has particularly struggled during the past three months, falling more than 6% compared to the S&P's 2% advance at the time of this writing.
This weak performance is likely driven by an estimated $451 million in pre-tax catastrophe losses from a series of wind and hail storms in the midwest in April and May. Catastrophe losses in the entire three months of the first quarter, for comparison, were a comparatively small $294 million.
Northstar Realty Finance
Insurance companies were not the only niche getting love from hedge funds in the first quarter. Northstar Realty Finance (NYSE:NRF), a REIT with both direct and debt investments in various commercial real estate interests, was another hedge fund favorite in Q1.
Sixty-four hedge funds held long positions in Northstar as of March 31, with 17 of those funds opening new positions in the quarter. Thirty-one existing owners bought more shares, while 16 sold shares, and an additional nine abandoned the stock entirely. Altogether, hedge funds owned just more than 40% of the stock's total market cap at quarter end.
Because Northstar is structured as a REIT, or a real estate investment trust, the company gets favorable tax treatment so long as it adheres to certain IRS defined rules and practices. One of those requirements is that the company pay out 90% of its net income to shareholders as dividends. For Northstar, that payout currently translates to 9.4% dividend yield.
Examining the dividend yield on a trailing 12-month basis, we can clearly see an encouraging trend at Northstar Realty. Driven by a rapidly growing balance sheet, the company has seen both its stock price and dividend yield steadily improve during the last 18 months.
Hedge funds are betting that the company can continue this expansion, notably in the European market, a geography the company has targeted for diversification and growth. Likewise, the commercial real estate market in the U.S. continues to recover from the dark days of 2008-2009, providing an additional tailwind for the industry, generally, and Northstar, specifically.
Just because a hedge fund is buying or selling a particular stock doesn't necessarily mean you should as well. Identifying these stocks is just the first step. Now that you know the financial stocks that hedge funds love, it's time to dig a little deeper and figure out if you love them, too.