Property, merger bets dominate picks at Sohn conference

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Shares in a real estate developer, a cable company and the Canadian creator of the Teletubbies show all rose on Monday after being promoted at an event in New York where hedge fund managers present a diverse range of investment ideas.

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The optimism on show among conference speakers marked a change from last year, when several had expected slowing global economic growth. A late 2016 equities rally however left the average hedge fund performance lagging the broader market, and speakers this year appeared keen to make up lost ground.

Keith Meister, who runs $5.5 billion hedge fund Corvex, revealed the fund’s stake in data communications company CenturyLink Inc, which is merging with Level 3 Communications, sending CenturyLink shares up 4 percent.

Shares in Toronto-listed DHX Media Ltd, which owns rights to popular children’s television shows including Bob the Builder and Teletubbies, jumped more than 7 percent after Debra Fine, founder and president of Fine Capital Partners, announced her position in the company and pegged its fair value at between C$20 and C$30 per share.

And billionaire investor William Ackman, head of Pershing Square Capital Management, underscored his bullishness on Howard Hughes Corp, highlighting the real estate company’s attractive land holdings. His fund has owned the company since 2010 and is its largest investor, owning nearly 9 percent of the company. Ackman is board chairman at Howard Hughes, which rose 4 percent in afternoon trading.

Hedge funds were caught off guard by the surprise Election Day victory of U.S. President Donald Trump in November, which helped spark a more than 12 percent rally in the S&P 500 on the possibility of lower taxes and less regulation. The average hedge fund returned 7.5 percent from the start of May 2016 through March 2017, according to Hedge Fund Research, approximately half the 14.4 percent gain in the benchmark S&P 500 index over the same time.

The hedge fund industry had net outflows of $5.4 billion in the first quarter of 2017, according to HFR. That followed $70.1 billion in outflows in 2016, the largest calendar year loss since 2009, as public pension funds in states including New York, Illinois and Rhode Island pulled money from hedge funds.

Some of the people who spoke on Monday poked fun at themselves for getting it wrong in a year of so many surprises. Last year Stanley Druckenmiller, one of the industry’s best-known macro investors, had urged investors to buy gold because he felt the stock market was overvalued.

“I suggested get out of equities and buy gold. That’s why I’m introducing this year,” said Druckenmiller, who used to work for George Soros and is now a private investor.

Kevin Warsh, a former Federal Reserve governor, was one of the few bearish voices among the Sohn speakers. Calling himself a worrier, Warsh warned central banks and institutional investors looked unprepared should growth in the global economy start to lag.

“They need to be gaining credibility at this time of peace,” Warsh said about his former central bank colleagues.

For a table on picks from the Sohn Investment Conference, click here

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss, additional reporting by Lawrence Delevingne, Sam Forgione and Michael Flaherty; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli