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Facebook's Hedge Fund Problem

Stocks in this article: AAPL NFLX FB YHOO GRPN

Updated from 1:24 p.m ET with Zynga CEO departure and closing Facebook share price.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Facebook (FB) is in desperate need of a hedge fund spokesperson as the company's shares remain mired well below a $100 billion valuation given to the social network in its May 2012 initial public offering.

For the ordinary investor, or even a burned buyer of Facebook's IPO, the seeming lack of interest by big money investors is troubling. Buying among hedge funds in upcoming quarterly Securities and Exchange Commission filings or in large individual holdings, however, could be a sign Wall Street's most influential investors finally see value in the billion-member social network's shares.

Unlike competitors in Silicon Valley who've suffered falling share prices, Facebook has almost no vocal Wall Street investors supporting the company's current stock valuation. Currently, Facebook remains relatively un-owned by the hedge fund community, even as the technology and internet sectors become a favorite of hedge fund activists and value investors.

Meanwhile, as venture capital backers and the company's employees exit Facebook shares through lockup expirations, there is little indication Wall Street mega-funds will emerge as a buyer. In contrast, AIG (AIG) and General Motors (GM) and bailed out banks became hedge fund favorites as the U.S. Treasury began selling down its crisis time investments.

In recent years, turnarounds at Yahoo! (YHOO) and Netflix (NFLX) have been cheered on by hedgies as influential as Daniel Loeb-run Third Point and Carl Icahn of Icahn Associates.

Third Point was the key Yahoo! investor in pressing for CEO Marissa Mayer's hiring and the company's recent acquisition of Tumblr, both of which have been received well by markets. Icahn, meanwhile, has cast crucial support of Netflix as the streaming movie service diversifies its content offerings and grows subscribers.

Loeb recently cast his money on the deconsolidation and financial recovery of Japanese electronics giant Sony (SNE). Icahn, who exited an activist position in Yahoo! around the time Third Point entered, is vying for control of Dell (DELL) after becoming the PC-maker's largest independent shareholder.

Loeb and Icahn's work in the tech sector is matched across the hedge fund industry.

David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital Management recently succeeded in spurring Apple (AAPL) to issue $17 billion in debt to fund $50 billion in additional dividends and share repurchases. The iPhone maker is among Greenlight's largest holdings.

As investors await a clear bottoming in Apple shares, Jeffrey Gundlach of Doubline Capital has become a buyer of Apple's shares at about $425 apiece, TheStreet first reported.

Some struggling recently IPO'ed internet and tech players have seen their shares surge in 2013 as hedge funds finally enter stocks at low prices.

Tiger Global Management, for instance, is benefiting from a more than doubling in Groupon (GRPN) shares since becoming one of the daily deal site's largest shareholders in late November. Tiger Global is particularly interested in the potential of Groupon Goods, some sources say. The company also is showing signs of controlling its once-spiraling costs after founder Andrew Mason was ousted as CEO earlier in 2013.

Tiger Global and Barry Rosenstein-run Jana Partners have both also recently built large stakes in restructuring Web-gaming startup Zynga (ZNGA), as the company tries to recover from poorly executed R&D spending and acquisitions.

On Monday, Zynga shares surged over 10% to $3.07 after founder Mark Pincus said he would step down as chief executive of the comapany. Former Microsoft executive Don Mattrick will replace Pincus as Zynga's CEO. Pincus will remain chairman of Zynga and the company's chief product officer.

San Francisco-based hedge fund ValueAct Capital is benefiting from a corporate turnaround at Adobe (ADBE) and the value and activist fund's $2 billion investment in Microsoft (MSFT) has helped to change investor sentiment in the software giant.

In recent years, Elliott Associates has pushed for the sale of tech hardware and software specialists as big as BMC Software. Lone Pine and Starboard Value are other notable funds that have made big tech sector bets, in recent years.

As hedge funds load up on the likes of Sony, Microsoft, Groupon and Zynga, however, there is a notable lack of interest in Facebook.

None of Facebook's 20 biggest shareholders is a hedge fund, according to Bloomberg data. Meanwhile, stake sales by early venture capital investors such as Accel Partners have spooked some and caused shares to drop.

Of course that could change.

Facebook has recently tried to impress on Wall Street that it is becoming more adept at monetizing the social networking platform's user base and that innovation at the company hasn't slowed. Facebook recently held media events for its Facebook Home phone and its Instagram video sharing features.

The ordinary investor, however, may be wise to wait for a large hedge fund to make a bet on Facebook's turnaround before doing so themselves. Facebook shares closed lower in Monday trading to $24.81, about 34% below the company's IPO price.

Bottom Line: Smart money investors are avoiding Facebook shares as they ante up on tech sector turnaround bets.

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York.

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