Green Dot Corporation (GDOT) Investors Seeing Green As Shares Jump 35%: Did Hedge Funds See It Coming?

Did hedge funds see Green Dot Corporation (NYSE:GDOT)’s big jump today coming a mile (or at least a few months) off? Shares of the prepaid debit card issuer have surged to as high as $20.76 per share on today, a massive 35.6% from its closing price on Monday. The rally comes as the company announced Monday afternoon that it will remain the program manager and issuing bank for the Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) MoneyCard after signing a new five-year deal with the monolithic retailer. The move wasn’t totally unexpected, as the pair have been in business together since 2007 and just last year launched a joint mobile checking account primarily aimed at Wal-Mart’s U.S customers. Nonetheless, there was heavy competition for the contract, which Green Dot did not take lightly upon being awarded the renewed deal, expressing gratitude and satisfaction in a statement issued yesterday. Furthermore, Green Dot Corporation has also revealed that its Board of Directors approved a $150 million share buyback program. In other news, Compass Point, in a note released today, has lifted its target price on Green Dot Corporation’s stock to $22 from a previous $18 target, with the stock already pushing towards those levels in morning trading today. Should investors be concerned over the  decrease in hedge fund sentiment however?

Green Dot Corporation (NYSE:GDOT)

Let’s first take a step back and analyze how tracking hedge funds can help an everyday investor. Through our research, we discovered that a portfolio of the 15 most popular small-cap picks of hedge funds beat the S&P 500 Total Return Index by nearly a percentage point per month on average between 1999 and 2012. On the other hand, the most popular large-cap picks of hedge funds underperformed the same index by seven basis points per month during the same period. This is likely a surprise to many investors, who think of small-caps as risky, unpredictable stocks and put more faith in large-cap stocks. In forward tests since August 2012, these top small-cap stocks beat the market by an impressive 84 percentage points, returning over 144% (read the details here). Hence, a retail investor needs to isolate himself from the herd and take advantage of the best growth opportunities in the market by concentrating on small-cap stocks.

Tracking the interest of insiders and hedge funds in a stock is a powerful tool to provide valuable insight to investors. While some investors scoff at the notion of worrying about hedge fund activity, believing their poor returns in recent years to be a reflection of poor stock picking ability, that is not actually the case. Hedge funds have under-performed the market for several reasons which don’t actually have anything to do with stock picking, but rather with the composition of their investments. Insider activity meanwhile is just as important, and research studies have proven the efficacy of piggybacking insider purchases.

Let’s start then with the insider activity at Green Dot Corporation (NYSE:GDOT), where there was a large purchase of the company’s stock by Director Steven Streit in the first quarter of the year. Streit purchased 206,800 shares of the company at the start of February. In terms of sales, Chief Operating Officer Kuan Archer sold 9,375 shares of the company by the start of 2015. Because of the importance of insider purchases, we can consider this an extremely positive indicator for the stock.

Let’s move on to look at how smart money has been treating Green Dot Corporation (NYSE:GDOT) recently.

What does the smart money think about Green Dot Corporation (NYSE:GDOT)?

At the end of the first quarter, a total of 19 of the hedge funds tracked by Insider Monkey held long positions in this stock, a change of -24% from the fourth quarter. In terms of value of holdings, hedge funds tracked by Insider Monkey had a total of $94.23 million in Green Dot Corporation shares in their portfolios by the end of the first quarter, a steep decline of 99.49% from the $187.98 million held at the end of the previous quarter, even considering the fact that the company’s shares declined 20.25% during the period.

Nonetheless, there are still hedge funds bullish on Green Dot Corporation. Joseph A. Jolson’s Harvest Capital Strategies had the biggest position in Green Dot Corporation (NYSE:GDOT), worth close to $35.4 million, amounting to 3.1% of its total 13F portfolio. The second-most bullish hedge fund manager was QVT Financial, managed by Daniel Gold, which held a $14.9 million position; the fund had 0.8% of its 13F portfolio invested in the stock. Some other peers that hold long positions consist of Neil Chriss’ Hutchin Hill Capital, Ken Griffin’s Citadel Investment Group, and Tom Henwood’s OMT Capital Management.

Judging by the fact that Green Dot Corporation (NYSE:GDOT) has experienced bearish sentiment from hedge fund managers, logic holds that there exists a select few fund managers who slashed their entire stakes last quarter. Interestingly, David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital sold off the biggest stake of all the hedgies tracked by Insider Monkey, valued at about $25.6 million in call options. Joseph A. Jolson’s fund, Harvest Capital Strategies, also cut its call options, about $10.3 million worth, though as mentioned, it maintained a large long position. These bearish behaviors are intriguing to say the least however, as aggregate hedge fund interest dropped by 6 funds last quarter.

Judging from the exodus of hedge funds in the first quarter, it seems hedgies did not see Green Dot Corporation’s jump coming today, while the insider purchase appears to have been the apt indicator here, again proving its importance and signifying why we monitor such activity in stocks. Given the conflicting signals and the already massive jump today, we hold a neutral position on the stock at this time.

Disclosure: None