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Hedge funds have been selling big winners this year

  • Hedge funds loaded up on Procter & Gamble but ditched big winners Amazon and Microsoft.
  • Stock pickers in general have had a rough year, underperforming the S&P 500 by about 4 percentage points.

Hedge fund managers' most popular stock to start the year has been a familiar name that is falling short in terms of performance, while the least popular companies all have been crushing the market.

Procter & Gamble pulled in nearly $2.7 billion in hedge fund cash during the first quarter, nearly double the next most popular stock, according to figures released this week from S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Nelson Peltz's Trian Management was solely responsible for the gush of interest thanks to the $3.5 billion stake it took in the company back in February. Otherwise, P&G actually saw outflows.

The huge flows came even though the company has fallen short compared with the broader market. P&G shares are up just 2.9 percent year to date. The stock did outperform in the first quarter, gaining 6.4 percent to the S&P 500's 4.6 percent, but has fallen off lately.

Shares also outperformed the broader consumer staples sector in Q1 but have fallen behind in that regard as well.

Procter & Gamble Tide brand detergent
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Procter & Gamble Tide brand detergent

Other hedge fund favorites during the first quarter were Praxair and Marriott International ($1.4 billion each combined in increases and new positions), both of which have been stellar performers, as well as Constellation Brands ($859 million) and Formula One ($765 million).

Among the stocks that had fallen the most out of favor in terms of outflows, the top two are head-scratchers: Microsoft and Amazon, which have seen declines in hedge fund investments of $1.6 billion apiece. The former is up more than 9 percent year to date, easily beating the market, while Amazon has roared more than 23 percent higher.

Other big exits came from Autodesk (-$913 million), Safran (-$898 million) and Charter Communications (-$732 million). Each company has beaten the S&P 500 easily this year.

Hedge funds broadly this year are up 3.1 percent, as gauged by the HFRI Fund Weighted Composite Index. That compares with the 7.2 percent total return for the S&P 500 through April.

Due to Peltz's P&G investment, the first quarter was stellar for consumer staples, which easily outdistanced the other S&P 500 sectors.