Goldman Sachs & Hedge Funds Bullish On Tower Stocks ~ market folly

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Goldman Sachs & Hedge Funds Bullish On Tower Stocks

While we don't typically highlight shifts in analyst sentiment, we found some moves out of Goldman Sachs late last week intriguing as they were out positive on tower stocks. They raised price targets on American Tower (AMT) from $52 to $53, on SBA Communications (SBAC) from $40 to $43, and on Crown Castle (CCI) from $42 to $46. While AMT is rated a 'buy,' SBAC in particular is on Goldman's Conviction Buy List.

With their updated coverage, Goldman also added Crown Castle to their Conviction Buy List. They believe that CCI trades at a discount to peers and note that shares have recently underperformed. Goldman also feels that of the tower companies, CCI is the most likely to increase guidance. So, now why did this recent adjustment catch our eye? Well, because plenty of hedge funds own these names, of course!

In our hedge fund portfolio tracking series we've noted that a sizable concentration of long/short equity hedge funds have built up large positions in these various tower companies. Now, before we begin, keep in mind that these funds are set to update their portfolio disclosures with the SEC in the next few weeks so their portfolios could have changed drastically. But for now, we want to focus on the data we have, as this has been a building trend for a few quarters now. Here's what we've found:

John Griffin's Blue Ridge Capital has held shares of Crown Castle for over 3 quarters now. It had previously been their 17th largest US equity holding but most recently CCI was their 6th largest position as they added to their stake in the third quarter of 2009.

David Stemerman's Conatus Capital has previously owned both American Tower and Crown Castle. Their most recent portfolio disclosures show they currently prefer SBAC and CCI (their 17th & 18th largest positions), as they sold out of AMT in favor of those names.

Lee Hobson's Highside Capital Management has owned American Tower (AMT) for at least three quarters now, although it has slipped from their 8th largest holding 3 quarters ago to now their 12th largest holding most recently (SBAC was their 14th largest).

Chase Coleman's Tiger Global has owned American Tower for the past few quarters and it has hovered around their 7th and 10th largest US equity holding. They had last sold some shares when we covered Tiger's portfolio.

Matt Iorio's White Elm Capital had CCI as their third largest US equity holding when we looked at their portfolio via 13F filing and we noted they had also started a new position in SBAC.

Chris Shumway's hedge fund Shumway Capital Partners has been involved with all three in some fashion as they were recently selling out of CCI, reducing their SBAC holdings and starting a new position in AMT which we noticed when looking at their portfolio.

So, quite a few prominent names involved in tower stocks as you can see (and that's not even all of them). Again, keep in mind that this data is set to be refreshed in a few weeks and we could see a completely different story then. However, the fact that many of the above funds have held various tower companies over the past three quarters should say something. We track fundamentally research driven hedge funds with longer-term investment timeframes in hope of finding their next big plays.

We've previously touched on how many of the 'Tiger Cub' funds often hold similar positions in their portfolios and this is no different. (A Tiger Cub is a fund started by someone who was previously involved with legendary hedge fund manager Julian Robertson's Tiger Management). In fact, hedge fund replicator Alphaclone even has a Tiger Cub portfolio that takes the most popular stocks amongst Tiger Cub hedge funds and combines them into a portfolio that outperforms the market by a wide margin. These tower stocks are by far some of their more common holdings.

So, given the recent bullishness out of Goldman Sachs on tower companies, we thought it would be prudent to examine the large hedge fund presence as well. We'll have to see if this theme continues when the new sets of portfolio disclosures come out in a few weeks. As always, we'll cover those in our hedge fund portfolio tracking series.

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