New York hedge fund managers from Bill Ackman and David Einhorn to Silicon Valley venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya pitched their top investment ideas Monday at the Sohn Investment Conference, the annual gathering of some of Wall Street’s highest-profile stock pickers.
Also known as the Ira Sohn conference, the event has been the site some of hedge funds’ best—and worst—calls in recent years. Last year, for example, so-called “bond king” Jeffrey Gundlach, the CEO of DoubleLine, told the conference audience that Donald Trump would be America’s next President, a prediction that was considered outlandish at the time. In 2015, Ackman, the founder of hedge fund Pershing Square, announced his multi-billion dollar bet on Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX); he proceeded to lose nearly his entire investment, or $7.7 million every day for about two years, as Valeant stock sank 95%.
This year, the Wall Street bigwigs stuck to many lesser-known companies, but their picks—both bullish and bearish, with several investors recommending shorting stocks, or betting that their prices will fall—moved market prices in several cases. Here’s a roundup of their best ideas.
David Einhorn, Greenlight Capital
The Greenlight Capital hedge fund manager is shorting oil services company Core Laboratories (CLB), whose stock fell more than 2% after his presentation. Einhorn thinks Core Labs stock will fall more than 45% as energy commodity prices are unlikely to recover as much as the company’s management hopes. “We expect Core’s earnings to disappoint over the next few years,” he said. The hedge fund manager said Wall Street analysts have gotten too excited about Core’s growth prospects, when it’s actually a “cyclical business” that is positioned very poorly in the current environment of low oil and natural gas prices.
“Unfortunately for Core, most of its opportunities are in shale,” Einhorn said. “This time around, it’s exposed to the least desirable parts of the sector.”
Keith Meister, Corvex Management
The activist hedge fund manager and Carl Icahn protege is bullish on telecom provider CenturyLink (CTL) ahead of its acquisition of Level 3 Communications (LVLT). Meister’s Corvex Management owns 5.5% of CenturyLink stock, which is now the hedge fund’s largest holding, he said. He thinks Level 3 CEO Jeff Storey should take the reins of CenturyLink after the deal, positioning the newly combined company for growth.
“The Level 3 merger is game changing,” Meister said at the Sohn Conference. “Would you pay a premium to buy the New England Patriots and then not start Tom Brady?” CenturyLink stock rose more than 5% Monday.
Debra Fine, Fine Capital Partners
The only female hedge fund manager to present at the Sohn Conference, Debra Fine suggested Canada-based content producer DHX Media (DHXM) was better positioned than Netflix to capitalize on television programing for kids, including its plans to bring back the 1990s hit, The Teletubbies.
DHX also produces shows including “My Little Pony,” “Inspector Gadget” and “Bob the Builder,” and can also take advantage of opportunities to sell related merchandise to children, according to the founder and president of Fine Capital Partners. “A Polly Pocket comforter is a much bigger seller than House of Cards sheets,” Fine said.
DHX Media stock surged as much as 7% following her presentation, and ended the day up more than 6%.
To some attendees’ disappointment, Pershing Square hedge fund manager Bill Ackman did not unveil a new investment idea, but rather talked up his longtime stock holding, Howard Hughes Corp. (HHC). Ackman, who is also chairman of the Howard Hughes board of directors, said the real estate company was poised to thrive in the current economic environment, with many strong land development projects in its pipeline, from New York City’s South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan to Hawaii beachfront property.
“I think this is one of the most attractive times in the history of the company to invest,” Ackman said. Howard Hughes stock rose nearly 4% for the day.
Brad Gerstner, Altimeter Capital
One of the hedge fund managers behind an activist campaign at United Airlines explained why he’s bullish on the company, now officially called United Continental Holdings (UAL). Citing Warren Buffett’s statements from this weekend’s Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, where the Oracle of Omaha also explained his bet on airline stocks including United. Gerstner said he thinks United Airlines stock is worth double or triple its current share price of about $75, or even more, with his target price at as much as $235 a share.
“What do you need to believe to invest in United? You have to believe that the competitive dynamics really have changed as a result of consolidation,” he said. “That these look more like railroads, as Charlie Munger said, and you have to believe that the historical skepticism that has been pounded into most financial analysts for decades is too negative.” United Airlines stock still fell slightly on Monday.
Josh Resnick, Jericho Capital Asset Management
The founder and managing partner of private family office Jericho Capital had one of the harshest presentations of the day, announcing that he is shorting telecom company Frontier Communications (FTR). With Frontier stock already trading at just about $1.50 a share, Resnick said he thinks it will eventually be worth just pennies. “We think it’s going bankrupt,” Resnick said, holding up an old corded landline phone, which he called “your grandma’s traditional wireless phone.”
“The problem is, even grandmas are switching to wireless,” he said. The revenue declines in its landline and other legacy businesses will “wipe out” half of Frontier’s pre-tax earnings in the next three years, he said, and force the company to cut its dividend entirely. Then, Resnick predicted, “We’ll be short a 20 cent stock, not a $1.5 stock.” Frontier stock fell about 4% in after-hours trading following the presentation.
Larry Robbins, Glenview Capital Management
At last year’s Sohn Conference, the founder and CEO of hedge fund Glenview Capital still believed that regulators would bless the mergers of health insurance companies whose stocks he owned, including Anthem, Cigna, Aetna and Humana. That didn’t work out so well. Now, Robbins is betting on a few different companies whose tie-ups are likely to get a friendlier reception from antitrust officials, and which he thinks will create value in the combined businesses. Those companies are DXC Technology, which formed when Hewlett Packard Enterprises (HPE) spun off and merged its services unit with the firm formerly known as CSC; FMC (FMC), which acquired a business formerly owned by DuPont (DD) before it merged with Dow Chemical; and Quintiles (Q), a health data and clinical trials company that recently completed its merger with IMS Health.
“A lot of stocks were left for dead because they were in regulatory purgatory, they were in Armageddon land and no one wanted to touch them,” Robbins said, noting that these three stocks are now trading at relative highs. “Those losers can become winners. Those winners have far to run.”