Hedge Funds Are Piling Into Nikola Corporation (NKLA)

How do you pick the next stock to invest in? One way would be to spend days of research browsing through thousands of publicly traded companies. However, an easier way is to look at the stocks that smart money investors are collectively bullish on. Hedge funds and other institutional investors usually invest large amounts of capital and have to conduct due diligence while choosing their next pick. They don’t always get it right, but, on average, their stock picks historically generated strong returns after adjusting for known risk factors. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the recent hedge fund activity surrounding Nikola Corporation (NASDAQ:NKLA) and determine whether hedge funds had an edge regarding this stock.

Is Nikola Corporation (NASDAQ:NKLA) a bargain? The best stock pickers were getting more optimistic. The number of long hedge fund bets advanced by 16 in recent months. Nikola Corporation (NASDAQ:NKLA) was in 29 hedge funds’ portfolios at the end of the second quarter of 2020. The all time high for this statistics is 13. This means the bullish number of hedge fund positions in this stock currently sits at its all time high. Our calculations also showed that NKLA isn’t among the 30 most popular stocks among hedge funds (click for Q2 rankings and see the video for a quick look at the top 5 stocks).

Video: Watch our video about the top 5 most popular hedge fund stocks.

So, why do we pay attention to hedge fund sentiment before making any investment decisions? Our research has shown that hedge funds’ small-cap stock picks managed to beat the market by double digits annually between 1999 and 2016, but the margin of outperformance has been declining in recent years. Nevertheless, we were still able to identify in advance a select group of hedge fund holdings that outperformed the S&P 500 ETFs by more than 56 percentage points since March 2017 (see the details here). We were also able to identify in advance a select group of hedge fund holdings that underperformed the market by 10 percentage points annually between 2006 and 2017. Interestingly the margin of underperformance of these stocks has been increasing in recent years. Investors who are long the market and short these stocks would have returned more than 27% annually between 2015 and 2017. We have been tracking and sharing the list of these stocks since February 2017 in our quarterly newsletter. Even if you aren’t comfortable with shorting stocks, you should at least avoid initiating long positions in stocks that are in our short portfolio.

Scott Bessent of Key Square Capital Management

Scott Bessent of Key Square Capital Management

At Insider Monkey we leave no stone unturned when looking for the next great investment idea. For example, this “mom” trader turned $2000 into $2 million within 2 years. So, we are checking out her best trade idea of the month. We read hedge fund investor letters and listen to stock pitches at hedge fund conferences. We go through lists like the 10 most profitable companies in the world to pick the best large-cap stocks to buy. Even though we recommend positions in only a tiny fraction of the companies we analyze, we check out as many stocks as we can. Keeping this in mind let’s take a glance at the latest hedge fund action encompassing Nikola Corporation (NASDAQ:NKLA).

Hedge fund activity in Nikola Corporation (NASDAQ:NKLA)

At the end of the second quarter, a total of 29 of the hedge funds tracked by Insider Monkey held long positions in this stock, a change of 123% from the previous quarter. On the other hand, there were a total of 13 hedge funds with a bullish position in NKLA a year ago. With hedge funds’ sentiment swirling, there exists a select group of notable hedge fund managers who were adding to their stakes significantly (or already accumulated large positions).

Among these funds, ValueAct Capital held the most valuable stake in Nikola Corporation (NASDAQ:NKLA), which was worth $788.4 million at the end of the third quarter. On the second spot was Key Square Capital Management which amassed $135.1 million worth of shares. Citadel Investment Group, Hudson Bay Capital Management, and Luxor Capital Group were also very fond of the stock, becoming one of the largest hedge fund holders of the company. In terms of the portfolio weights assigned to each position Key Square Capital Management allocated the biggest weight to Nikola Corporation (NASDAQ:NKLA), around 32% of its 13F portfolio. Beryl Capital Management is also relatively very bullish on the stock, dishing out 12.83 percent of its 13F equity portfolio to NKLA.

As aggregate interest increased, key money managers were leading the bulls’ herd. ValueAct Capital, managed by Jeffrey Ubben, established the biggest position in Nikola Corporation (NASDAQ:NKLA). ValueAct Capital had $788.4 million invested in the company at the end of the quarter. Scott Bessent’s Key Square Capital Management also made a $135.1 million investment in the stock during the quarter. The following funds were also among the new NKLA investors: Sander Gerber’s Hudson Bay Capital Management, Christian Leone’s Luxor Capital Group, and David Alexander Witkin’s Beryl Capital Management.

Let’s go over hedge fund activity in other stocks similar to Nikola Corporation (NASDAQ:NKLA). We will take a look at Marathon Petroleum Corp (NYSE:MPC), Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), Prudential Financial Inc (NYSE:PRU), Consolidated Edison, Inc. (NYSE:ED), Valero Energy Corporation (NYSE:VLO), Xilinx, Inc. (NASDAQ:XLNX), and TransDigm Group Incorporated (NYSE:TDG). This group of stocks’ market caps match NKLA’s market cap.

Ticker No of HFs with positions Total Value of HF Positions (x1000) Change in HF Position
MPC 62 1444528 5
F 30 791591 -3
PRU 26 437049 -2
ED 31 714139 6
VLO 39 157343 -6
XLNX 47 1054542 9
TDG 62 6065530 4
Average 42.4 1523532 1.9

View table here if you experience formatting issues.

As you can see these stocks had an average of 42.4 hedge funds with bullish positions and the average amount invested in these stocks was $1524 million. That figure was $1382 million in NKLA’s case. Marathon Petroleum Corp (NYSE:MPC) is the most popular stock in this table. On the other hand Prudential Financial Inc (NYSE:PRU) is the least popular one with only 26 bullish hedge fund positions. Nikola Corporation (NASDAQ:NKLA) is not the least popular stock in this group but hedge fund interest is still below average. Our overall hedge fund sentiment score for NKLA is 44.2. Stocks with higher number of hedge fund positions relative to other stocks as well as relative to their historical range receive a higher sentiment score. This is a slightly negative signal and we’d rather spend our time researching stocks that hedge funds are piling on. Our calculations showed that top 10 most popular stocks among hedge funds returned 41.4% in 2019 and outperformed the S&P 500 ETF (SPY) by 10.1 percentage points. These stocks gained 23.8% in 2020 through September 14th and surpassed the market by 17.6 percentage points. Unfortunately NKLA wasn’t nearly as popular as these 10 stocks (hedge fund sentiment was quite bearish); NKLA investors were disappointed as the stock returned -47% since Q2 and underperformed the market. If you are interested in investing in large cap stocks with huge upside potential, you should check out the top 10 most popular stocks among hedge funds as most of these stocks already outperformed the market in 2020.

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Disclosure: None. This article was originally published at Insider Monkey.