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"It's Nuts!" Hedgies Hammered Amid Media Massacre

“People are shooting first and asking questions later...this indiscriminate selling, to me, is just nuts," exclaims on billion-dollar AUM hedge fund CIO as media stocks faced a bloodbath this week. Small (illiquid) doors and large crowds do not mix well as Bloomberg reports, hedge funds own an average 9.7% of the 15 companies in the S&P Media Index - which has tumbled over 8% in 2 days - its biggest loss since 2008. Exuberant return chasing on merger speculation has reversed into panic-selling as Disney, Time Warner Inc., Fox, CBS and Comcast Corp. erased almost $50 billion of value in two days.

 

 

The love affair between hedge funds and media stocks is being tested. As Bloomberg reports, hedge funds have been near-constant champions of the industry, drawn in by its high cash generation and buybacks, takeover speculation and the straight-up momentum of the stocks themselves. This week’s retreat represents the sharpest rebuke to that thesis -- and one of its only setbacks in a bull market well into its seventh year.

“A lot of these funds are speculating on deals, they’re investors playing the spread and not fundamentals,” said Alpha Theory Advisors president Benjamin Dunn, who acts as adviser to hedge funds with about $6 billion in assets. “A few of these names are down big today and you got some pile-on effect with the smaller ones as well.”

 

Hedge funds own an average 9.7 percent of the 15 companies in the gauge, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s a bigger stake than in any of the other 23 industry groups within the S&P 500. The positions largely reflect merger speculation, said Dunn, who is based in Crested Butte, Colorado.

 

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Disappointing results from Walt Disney Co. after the close of trading Tuesday sparked the rout. Selling spread to other television and publishing companies as quarterly reports from CBS Corp. to 21st Century Fox Inc. and Viacom Inc. were marked by shrinking U.S. ad sales and profits propped up by stock buybacks. Viacom fell 14 percent Thursday, its biggest drop since October 2008, while Fox slid 6.4 percent.

 

Until Tuesday, media shares were the best-performing stocks of the bull market, rising 531 percent to eclipse automakers, retail stores and banks. The industry’s market capitalization was about $650 billion, compared with $135 billion in March 2009.

 

That value is evaporating. In just five stocks -- Disney, Time Warner Inc., Fox, CBS and Comcast Corp. -- almost $50 billion of value has been erased in two days.

“It’s been a rough few days,” said Walter Todd, who oversees about $1.1 billion as chief investment officer for Greenwood Capital Associates

Charts: Bloomberg