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Hedge-fund managers return Wednesday to their unofficial stadium of bold calls.
The 15th annual Ira Sohn Investment Research Conference is the same event where David Einhorn famously said in 2008 that he was bearish on Lehman Bros., and Bill Ackman in 2007 said MBIA Inc. (MBI) and Ambac Financial Group Inc. (ABK) would be hurt by the subprime mortgage crisis. Lehman collapsed less than four months later, and shares of MBIA and Ambac fell sharply during the financial crisis.
Both Ackman and Einhorn are back this year, and they are among the many who have made money off the investments they touted in 2009.
The unusual conference--at which 12 hedge fund managers present their favorite investment ideas in concise 15-minute presentations--was founded 15 years ago in honor of Ira Sohn, a Wall Street analyst who died of cancer at 29. The conference raises funds for pediatric illnesses. It is followed keenly by investors looking for new perspectives from top hedge fund names.
At last year's conference, which raised about $4 million for pediatric cancers, Ackman argued that the stock of mall owner General Growth Properties Inc. (GGP) was a good play despite the company being in bankruptcy. Much has happened with the investment since then, and Pershing Square is part of a group providing the financing for General Growth's bankruptcy exit. According to a person familiar with the investment, Pershing Square has made well over $1 billion in General Growth.
Einhorn, in a spirited presentation called "The Curse of the Triple A," asked the 1,200-plus attendees why anyone would be bullish about Moody's Corp. (MCO), considering the ratings agency gave AAA ratings to so many companies and assets that suffered severely during the financial crisis. He said he was shorting the stock. Since then, big holder Warren Buffett, via Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRKA), has sold sizable chunks of his Moody's shares, and the stock has dropped more than 25% from the closing price the day before Einhorn's presentation.
Among the other good calls at last year's conference, Steve Mandel of Lone Pine Capital spent his 15 minutes saying he was bullish on Strayer Education Inc. (STRA), and that stock is up more than 25% since the day before his presentation. Filings show Lone Pine has taken a bit off the Strayer bet, but the investment has made Lone Pine tens of millions of dollars, even by conservative estimates.
Not all of last year's speakers can claim such prescience. Short-seller James Chanos of Kynikos Associates, who spoke directly after Mandel, and joked that he hoped he had left the building, was bearish on education stocks like Strayer, but singled out the stock of a home-oxygen company, Lincare Holdings Inc. (LNCR), as one he was shorting. Lincare's stock has doubled in the past year, during which the stock market has risen more than 20%.
Most investors speaking at the conference made good calls. Joseph Healey of HealthCor Management recommended Valeant Pharmaceuticals International (VRX) and Hologic Inc. (HOLX). Valeant's stock has doubled since then, and Hologic's is up more than 20%.
Mark Kingdon of Kingdon Capital touted the stock of Bank of America Corp. (BAC), which has risen in the past year. Kingdon, however, sold most of its Bank of America shares in the quarter after the presentation, according to filings.
This year, joining Ackman and Einhorn is David Tepper of Appaloosa Management, who earned $4 billion in 2009 according to Alpha Magazine, which the magazine called a record for hedge fund managers.
James Dinan of York Capital Management, Seth Klarman of Baupost Group, Steve Eisman of FrontPoint Partners and Larry Robbins of Glenview Capital Management are also scheduled to speak this year, as are Daniel Arbess of Perella Weinberg, Jonathon Jacobson of Highfield Capital Management, former auto industry restructuring guru Steve Rattner, and real estate magnate Sam Zell.
-By Joseph Checkler; Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2152; email@example.com