Cooperman, chairman and CEO of the $11 billion Omega Advisors, has quite the track record to beat after going 10 for 10 on his 2012 picks. At last year's conference, Cooperman grouped his 10 best long ideas into three categories: "quality growth," "phoenix from the ashes" and "growth with high income" situations. To date, eight of his picks are in positive territory, all posting double-digit gains. Cooperman's top-performing recommendation is Qualicorp, which has surged 55 percent since July 17, 2013.
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His other picks:
Quality Growth: Express Scripts, +10 percent, Qualcomm, +28 percent, Thermo Fisher Scientific, +37 percent.
Phoenix from the ashes: Qualicorp, +55 percent, Sandridge, +39 percent.
Growth with high income situations: Arbor Realty Trust, +9 percent, Atlas Resource Partners, -8 percent, Chimera Investment, +11 percent, KKR Financial Holdings (KKR) +20 percent, THL Credits -14 percent.
Cooperman's flagship fund, Omega Overseas Partners, also posted double-digit gains in 2013, closing the year up an impressive 30 percent.
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Icahn also had a big year. The blunt billionaire, known for announcing his new stakes in companies via Twitter while publicly bashing CEOs and corporate boards at the center of his activist campaigns, was the "Alpha Agitator" at 2013's conference. Icahn touched on a slew of topics, including his thoughts on two big positions he held at the time: Dell and Herbalife.
Dell: Icahn ripped the board of Dell saying he's never seen a board as dysfunctional. Although Icahn's activist plan for Dell didn't pan out exactly as he wanted, he reportedly pocketed about $70 million on a six-month investment in the company. Dell officially went private and delisted from the Nasdaq after close-of-trading on Oct. 29, 2013.
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Icahn also referred to Herbalife as the "daughter of all short squeezes" and disclosed that he hadn't sold a share of the nutritional supplement company. Icahn has since added to his position—as of March 31, he held 17 million shares, making him the No. 1 shareholder of the company. Herbalife is up 21 percent since July 17, 2013.
The activist investor also showed the audience his comedic side, joking about how his wife complicates his investing because she watches him like a hawk and checks his returns every day to make sure he's making money. And that he did. Icahn's investment fund returned 31 percent in 2013.
Paulson, best known for netting $15 billion in 2007 by betting against subprime mortgages, disclosed he was once again betting on the housing market—this time on the bullish side. During his first-ever TV interview at last year's conference, Paulson told CNBC the "housing market has bottomed" and it was time to go long. In fact, Paulson stated that he was as sure on this housing recovery bet as he was on his subprime mortgage short.
The bet definitely paid off, Paulson's Recovery Fund closed the year up 63 percent and was recently named the best event-driven vehicle at the 2013 Absolute Return Awards.
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The Paulson & Co. president and portfolio manager also defended his long-term thesis on gold, saying that the precious metal was in a "pause period, but over time as we see the economy grow, credit expand and inflation indicators start to rise" he said, "the demand for gold will start to increase again." Gold futures are down about 1 percent since July 17, 2013, but up 6.6 percent in 2014.
After steep losses in 2011 and 2012, Paulson said 2013 was shaping up to be a very strong and profitable year, with most of his funds returning 5 to 32 percent. That trend continued for the rest of the 2013, with many of Paulson's funds, including his flagship, delivering double-digit returns.
—Those interested in tickets to this year's event can find details at DeliveringAlpha.com.