Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change
Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

Bubble or not, it's a stock-pickers market: Hedge funds

Jacob Gottlieb of Visium
David Grogan | CNBC

Hedge fund managers say there's still plenty of money yet to be made in the stock market—it's just a matter of picking the right companies.

"We believe almost every sector has some alpha opportunity," Jacob Gottlieb, chief investment officer at $6.5 billion hedge fund firm Visium Asset Management, said Wednesday at the Absolute Return Symposium in New York City. "Alpha" refers to an investment manager's return above the market index, presumably from skill.

Gottlieb said that the declining correlation between stock prices will help investors find winners and losers. "That's a good stock-pickers market," he said.

Examples of sectors Visium is hunting for appreciation in stock prices—"long" bets—include healthcare, mobile technology, industrials, Internet retail and consumer companies such as Jarden and Nike.

Conversely, Gottlieb said that utilities and telecommunications stocks would likely be hurt as interest rates rise because of their bond-like dividend payments.

Another hedge fund manager, Aaron Cowen a veteran of Soros Fund Management and now head of Suvretta Capital Management, also mentioned retail stock-picking opportunities.

Hedge funds eye cheap Russian markets

Cowen gave the examaple of handbag makers, noting that Suvretta was long two unnamed companies that were "doing really well" and shorting, or betting against, a third that was "losing (market) share." The firm was long Michael Kors as of Dec. 31, according to its most recent regulatory filing.

Cowen, who managed more than $700 million as of Jan. 1, also mentioned the opportunity to find winners and losers among restaurants because of their diverse products and business models.

"It's one of the great idiosyncratic stock picking sectors that I've seen," Cowen said of the restaurant industry. He added that biotechnology and energy companies fit the same description.

(Read more: SAC alums Cowen, Karp raising piles of cash)

Other specific stock picks made at the conference came from a trio of smaller hedge fund managers.

Jason Karp, chief investment officer of $1 billion Tourbillon Capital Partners, recommended going long NCR Corporation. Karp, a veteran of Carlson Capital and SAC Capital Advisors, said the ATM and kiosk-focused company had an impressive software business that was dramatically undervalued because it is best known as a hardware-maker.

Efrem Kamen, founder of $170 million Pura Vida Investments, recommended going long Boston Scientific Corporation because of several medical devices being developed by the company such as the "Watchman" atrial fibrillation product. Kamen also noted that there were many short opportunities in the molecular diagnostics industry, particularly with companies that focus on genetics.

Matt Drapkin, founding member of $290 million Becker Drapkin, recommended going long Cascade Microtech, which tests computer chips, because of its likely expanding revenues and profit margins over the next two years.

(Read more: Strauss-Kahn hedge fund aims to raise $2 billion)

Fund managers at the Absolute Return conference also discussed investing in bonds.

Steven Tananbaum, chief investment officer of $18 billion credit focused hedge fund firm GoldenTree Asset Management, noted opportunities in international credit.

Tananbaum recommended securities such as Spanish regional debt and bonds for Russian natural gas producer Gazprom and Seat Pagine Gialle, an Italian directory business.

Andrew Rabinowitz, chief operating officer of Marathon Asset Management, noted that he "hates" high yield bonds and said his $10.5 billion hedge fund firm was shorting them.

David Sherr, founder of One William Street Capital Management, and Michael Barnes, co-CIO of Tricadia Capital noted continued opportunities in mortgage backed securities despite a slow-down in the rapid price acceleration that characterized the market between 2009 and 2012.

(Read more: This could be the next big thing for hedge funds: CMBS)

UDPATED: This story was update to reflect that Visium is a $6.5 billion hedge fund firm.

—By CNBC's Lawrence Delevingne. Follow him on Twitter @ldelevingne.