With the global economy at risk due to the European crisis and market volatility scaring investors, it's natural to believe the right place to be invested would be consumer staples. These are companies that are defensive, cyclical names which can help protect against downside risk.
Unfortunately, there hasn't been a whole lot of growth opportunity in consumer staples stocks. The overall sector rose 10.5% in 2011 -- second best among all S&P 500 sectors -- but worries over growth have abated and investors have sought out slightly riskier assets for a higher return.
In the fourth quarter, earnings for the staples sector grew by only 2.3% from a year ago. Based on estimates, consumer staples will see earnings rise 7.9% in 2012, according to FactSet Research, below the growth rates of industrials, technology and even consumer discretionary names. That may explain why staples are up only 0.4% in 2012, the third worst performing sector.Few hedge funds made big alterations to their holdings of consumer staples stocks. Phillipe Laffont's Coatue Management made only one change to its consumer staples holdings, cutting its stake in controversial company Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) in half. JAT Capital sold completely out of its stake in Green Mountain during the quarter, along with Smithfield Foods (SFD). David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital shuffled up its discretionary holdings, dropping its stake in CVS Caremark (CVS) while picking up shares of General Motors (GM), Best Buy (BBY) and CBS (CBS), among others. While Maverick Capital made big cuts to discretionary names, the fund picked up shares of several staples companies, including Sara Lee (SLE) and CVS. Bill Ackman, meanwhile, trimmed his big position in Kraft Foods (KFT). Moore Capital was more active in the staples space, dumping shares of Altria (MO), Procter & Gamble (PG) and PepsiCo (PEP). Carl Icahn was also a seller of consumer staples, unloading a massive stake in Clorox (CLX) after losing a battle to buy the company. Nelson Peltz's Trian Fund Management, meanwhile, sold more than 2.3 million shares of Pepsi. >>To see these stocks in action, visit the Consumer Staples Stocks Bought and Sold by Hedge Funds portfolio on Stockpickr.