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CME Group Inc (CME), Assured Guaranty Ltd. (AGO): BlueCrest Capital’s Key Picks for 2013

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Some investors view hedge funds as slow, underperforming financial vehicles of yesteryear, which is a grave misconception. For those who have known where to look, there have been ways to beat the market by focusing on the best picks of the best fund managers. At Insider Monkey, we track 450 of the industry’s 8,000-plus funds, and our small-cap strategy beat the market by 18% a year for more than a decade in our back tests. Since we started sharing this strategy with the public, it has returned another 18% in just 5 months (learn how to use this yourself).

CME Group Inc

With this in mind, it’s also important to take a look at the top stock picks of each fund individually, so let’s focus on Michael Platt and William Reeves’s BlueCrest Capital Management. We’ll look at what BlueCrest’s top five equity holdings were at the end of the fourth quarter, to see how it was preparing for 2013.

Just a quick note before we get started: it’s tempting to think that the delay in hedgies’ 13F filings make it impossible to track them, but in fact, just the opposite is true. Our research shows that this lag has actually aided outperformance, because on average, the smart money is early into its investments (see more about this here).

Assured Guaranty Ltd. (NYSE:AGO) is the top long-only equity holding of BlueCrest, as it has been for four consecutive quarters. The hedge fund was upping its stake in the credit protection company by 23% last quarter, the most in its portfolio (ignoring new positions, obviously). Now, Assured has a decent amount of hedge fund interest, held by 26 of the managers we track, and it’s worth noting that top-tier names like Jim Simons, Chuck Royce and Louis Bacon were upping their stakes last quarter. At a 27% discount below book value parity, Assured Guaranty Ltd. (NYSE:AGO) is obviously cheap, and the sell-side does expect EPS to skyrocket by more than 60% this year. It’s easy to see why BlueCrest is bullish.

Louisiana-Pacific Corporation (NYSE:LPX) and Range Resources Corp. (NYSE:RRC), meanwhile, sit at the No.’s 2 and 3 spots in the fund’s equity portfolio, when we’re looking at long-only holdings. Like AGO, Louisiana-Pacific and Range saw hedge fund interest in the mid-to-upper twenties, and both companies have seen their stock price generate a healthy return year-to-date. Range Resources has had the better 2013, returning over 22%, as the Street has nearly an identical EPS forecast on this independent gas explorer and developer as it has on AGO for the current year.

Louisiana-Pacific is sitting on similarly impressive bottom line prospects–analysts are predicting EPS to grow by 117-118% this year. So, we can begin to see that earnings momentum–especially in the nearer term–is one of the main screeners that BlueCrest employs in its equity portfolio.

Solazyme Inc (NASDAQ:SZYM) saw the hedge fund hold its stake steady last quarter, as the renewable oil production player has had a solid 2013, returning just over 11%. Though shares trade at a trailing P/E north of 40x, the sell-side expects EPS to grow by 113.4% next year, with long-range estimates predicting 35% annual growth through at least 2017. Clearly, we can see what the crux of Solazyme’s bullish thesis is, and it’s worth noting that Wall Street’s average price target on the stock indicates that a whopping 56% upside is expected from current levels. Ken Griffin (check out Griffin and Citadel’s newest equity investments) and Steven Cohen were upping their stakes last quarter, giving BlueCrest some solid company.

CME Group Inc (NASDAQ:CME), lastly, rounds out this top five, as BlueCrest upped its stake by 400% in the third quarter, and held the position steady last quarter.

Why has the fund been so bullish on CME Group Inc (NASDAQ:CME)?

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