By Alistair Barr
David Einhorn, head of hedge-fund firm Greenlight Capital, closed more than a dozen short positions recently because rising stock markets have made it more difficult to hedge and bet against companies.
Greenlight covered short positions in which he had "lower confidence" during the first quarter, including four negative bets against companies in the for-profit education industry, Einhorn wrote in an April 29 letter to investors. MarketWatch obtained a copy of the letter Monday.
"We are in a particularly difficult environment for shorting stocks," Einhorn said in the letter, which didn't identify the positions that were closed.
"Much like Charlie Sheen, who seems to believe that all publicity is good publicity, recent market behavior suggests that we are in the part of the cycle where 'all news is good news,'" Einhorn wrote earlier in the letter.
The head of Greenlight Capital became one of the most-watched hedge-fund managers after he warned Lehman Brothers (LEHMQ) was under-capitalized in 2008, several months before the investment bank collapsed, triggering the global financial crisis.
Stocks slumped in late 2008 and early 2009. But the market has surged since then, helped by trillions of dollars in monetary and fiscal stimulus.
Those gains have made it difficult for hedge funds to short stocks--an important tool for protecting against potential losses.
Greenlight Capital's hedge funds lost at least 2.5% in the first quarter, one of the firm's toughest opening quarters.
"This quarter we were repeatedly confuzzled when we read company news announcements that we expected to cause falling stock prices, only to see them rise instead--and sometimes sharply at that," Einhorn wrote in his April 29 letter.
In addition to profitably exiting four short positions in the for-profit education sector, Einhorn said Greenlight closed two foreign bank shorts, a domestic bank short and a technology short. Two of the bank positions were closed at losses, as was the tech position, he noted.
"We also covered several others where performance exceeded our expectations," Einhorn wrote.
Still, the hedge-fund manager stuck to two of his most-prominent negative bets--against credit-rating company Moody's Corp. (MCO) and Florida land giant St. Joe Co. (JOE).
Greenlight also kept short positions on two energy-technology companies, which the firm expects to "dramatically" miss earnings forecasts this year. These stocks weren't identified in the letter.
"We believe that this environment is cyclical, and that it will continue this way ... until it doesn't," Einhorn wrote.
In April, Einhorn was up 0.8%, leaving him down 2.6% in the first four months of 2011, according to a disclosure on the website of reinsurer Greenlight Capital Re Ltd. (GLRE).
Also, Greenlight disclosed a position in shares of Yahoo Inc. (YHOO) as Einhorn highlighted bullish prospects for the Internet company's exposure to China.
-By Alistair Barr; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com