Hedge funds are hightailing it out of the stock market

Hedge funds sold a lot of stock in the first quarter of 2016.

“The top 50 hedge funds sold off US equities for the second consecutive quarter. Funds unloaded nearly $55 billion worth of shares in U.S. equities during the first quarter, which was more than triple the value removed in Q4,” said Andrew Birstingl of FactSet in a note Thursday.

In aggregate, these funds decreased their exposure to equities by 6.9%, and sold off assets in every sector that FactSet tracks.

The most sold-off stock according to Birstingl was Apple, while the stock in which funds increased their position the most was Facebook.

Hedge funds are even having a rough go of it with the stocks they have hung on to.

“On a total return basis, the aggregate hedge fund portfolio of the top 50 holdings has underperformed the S&P 500 Total Return Index in Q1 2016 and year-to-date,” wrote Birstingl.

“Hedge fund holdings decreased 1.5% in the first quarter and are currently down 2.9% for the year. The S&P 500 Total Return index increased 1.4% in the first quarter and is currently up 1.1% this year.”

There are a lot of reasons this could be happening.

For one thing, the underperformance of hedge funds’ stocks, along with other asset classes, led many investors to yank their money out of the funds. This means that many of the hedge funds are likely to need cash on hand to fulfil these redemption requests. Thus, these funds would need to sell positions to generate said cash.

Another possible explanation is simply that the recent stock market volatility is getting hedge funds to pull back from equities. Or perhaps, as Birstingl noted, it’s because some of the largest hedge fund darlings such as Apple, Allergan, and Netflix are all getting crushed in 2016.

Whatever the reason for the selling, and it’s most likely some combination of these and other factors, it’s clear that hedge funds are looking for the exits.

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