Some of the most prominent investors are breaking from the crowd that has been chasing the rally in U.S. technology stocks.
Hedge fund managers, whose positioning is closely watched as a gauge of market sentiment, have been selling technology shares for a third month, according to prime brokerage data compiled by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Over that period, they’ve unwound about half of the inflows that were accumulated during the previous nine months.
While tech stocks remain one of their favorite sectors, the retreat means some foregone profits for an industry that’s been struggling to keep up with the market. Computer and software makers have rallied 16% in the past three months, beating all other major sectors in the S&P 500 and doubling the benchmark’s gain.
“It appears that hedge funds have been fading the rally in U.S. info tech stocks,” Goldman said in the note to clients, without giving any hints on the rational behind the rising skepticism.
Tech shares have been on a tear in recent months as investors continue to flock into companies whose sales are perceived as resilient amid a slowing economy. At 29 times earnings, tech stocks were traded at a 28% premium to the S&P 500, the most since the U.S. bull market began in 2009.
But Apple Inc.’s warning on missing its quarterly revenue forecast because of the coronavirus outbreak in China showed the group may now be more vulnerable to a global slowdown, at least for now. China plays a central role in global manufacturing, especially technology. Just about every major piece of consumer electronics is made in the country, from iPhones and gaming consoles to half the world’s liquid crystal display or LCD screens.
While there is no shortage of reasons for caution, nothing has been able to halt tech’s momentum. Despite Apple’s warning, the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 eked out a gain Tuesday, while the S&P 500 slipped. So much love exists among investors that being long U.S. tech and growth stocks was cited as the most crowded trade for a fourth straight month, according to Bank of America Corp.’s latest survey of money managers.
The affection can also be found in exchange-trade funds. About $3 billion has been added to ETFs focusing on tech stocks this month, poised for the biggest inflows since August 2018, data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence showed.
While others are piling in, hedge funds are pulling out. Their disposal last week, concentrated in software and technology-services providers, exceeded all other sectors, Goldman’s data showed.
In another piece of evidence about the industry’s growing weariness, tech’s combined value in all hedge funds tracked by Bloomberg stayed little changed during the fourth quarter, when the shares jumped 14%. While it’s not exact science, flat value during a rally could mean some positions were cut.
Missing out on some of the market’s best rallies may be one reason why hedge funds are off to a slow start to the year. Equity funds tracked by Hedge Fund Research are up less than 1% this year, compared with an increase of more than 4% for the S&P 500.
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