Updated to reflect analyst comments in pages dedicated to Liberty Media and Tyco International
NEW YORK (
) -- Every quarter hedge funds and large investors file their holdings with the
Securities and Exchange Commission
, revealing value picks, cyclical bets, growth opportunities and activist pushes.
Reading between the lines, the holdings of some of the mightiest investors in the U.S. also gives insight into 2012 expectations for the still lukewarm M&A market, which is expected by many to pop at some point this year.
There are several surprise bets that poker-faced hedge funders made in the fourth quarter. For instance,
some fund managers flocked to struggling Yahoo!
, while struggling bank bull John Paulson
dumped his holdings in America's largest banks
and some managers unveiled
big recovery bets
But after reading the "tea-leaves" on what holdings say about companies, sectors and the economy, it's also worth looking over portfolio changes for companies that may cut deals in the coming year. After all, when major deals like
are announced, it's not much of a surprise to see the likes of Carl Icahn,
AQR Capital Management
among the large shareholders benefitting from a premium-priced takeover.
For instance, with slumping markets and some companies struggling to grow the top-line in 2011, shareholder activists like Icahn, Jana Partners, Bill Ackman-run
Pershing Square Capital Management
and Daniel Loeb-run
pushed for business line divestitures and asset value realization strategies that provided a big lift to shares.
Overall, because of shareholder activism and consensus in C-suites that smaller may be better and more valuable, tepid deal markets didn't temper a 2011 spinoff boom. Across all sectors, corporate divestitures were a bright spot for deal makers, rising 165% from 2011 and representing 5% of all deals activity, according to
5 short sighted stock spinoffs
for more on stock spinoffs.
A poring over filings and top investor holdings shows that some funds are buying the deal rumor and are well positioned to reap big rewards from any future announcement, as investors jockey for 2012 positioning.
It's especially the case because some funds are looking to improve on a mediocre 2011. Hedge funds posted
their worst year since 2008
as market volatility proved to be a challenge even for pro investors. Hennessee Group, an adviser to hedge fund investors, said in January that its
Hennessee Hedge Fund Index
dropped 4.3% in 2011, compared to a flat performance for the
. It was the second year in a row that hedge funds failed to beat equity indices.
A look through this week's filings show that some investors are making big bets on deal activity, with the potential for a quick and sudden jolt to their portfolios. Here are
five deals to watch for in 2012