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Deja vu for Paulson as Allergan loss hurts US hedge funds

For hedge fund titan John Paulson, history may be repeating itself.

The billionaire investor lost an estimated $258 million on Tuesday when the share price of drug company Allergan tumbled nearly 15 percent on speculation new tax rules would scuttle its merger with Pfizer.

Research firm Symmetric.io calculated the hypothetical loss based on publicly disclosed stock holdings as of Dec. 31, 2015.

That estimated decline comes after Paulson lost money in late 2014 when his Advantage fund dropped 13.6 percent in October of that year after U.S. pharmaceutical company AbbVie backed out of a planned deal with Irish drug maker Shire after new tax rules made the deal less lucrative for the companies.

Hedge-fund manager John Paulson
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Hedge-fund manager John Paulson

Merger-arbitrage specialists such as the $18 billion Paulson & Co. bet on the outcome of mergers. Paulson's bet that the Allergan deal would go ahead has been rattled by the new tax rules, which were unveiled on Monday.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that Pfizer was leaning toward abandoning its $160 billion agreement to buy Botox maker Allergan.

Paulson, who made his reputation on bets against the U.S. housing market and said recently in a video interview how critical it was to stay the course in investing, did not comment.

The Paulson Partners fund, which bets on corporate events such as mergers, is down 7.7 percent in 2016 through February, according to a person familiar with the returns. The Paulson Advantage Plus Fund lost 11.24 percent in the first two months of the year. More recent figures were not available.

Paulson is not the only fund that got burned: Symmetric.io estimated that hedge funds in total lost $3 billion on Allergan on Tuesday. Research from Goldman Sachs shows that 80 hedge funds counted Allergan as one of their top 10 holdings at the end of the fourth quarter, making the company one of the most popular stocks in the hedge fund industry.

The pain appears to have been particularly acute for four large hedge fund firms. Viking Global Investors, Paulson & Co., Third Point, and Pentwater Capital Management each lost more than $200 million on Tuesday, the Symmetric.io data show, according to year-end holding disclosures.

It is possible that positions have since changed. The firms mentioned either declined to comment or did not respond to a request for comment.

Less than a year ago, Daniel Loeb's Third Point invested with Allergan and praised the company's management team, including Chief Executive Brent Saunders. In a July 2015 letter to clients, Loeb was particularly happy to hear Saunders talk about the opportunity for a transformational transaction.

That was after Allergan had already merged with Actavis but before the Pfizer deal was announced late last year.

The risk of the deal being scuttled also hurt players who had made smaller bets on Allergan.

Scott Ferguson who runs Sachem Head Capital Management, is invested with Allergan and lost an estimated $78 million on paper, according to Symmetric.io. Ferguson was not available to comment. Similarly, Keith Meister's Corvex Management lost an estimated $33.6 million, while Philippe Laffont's Coatue Management lost an estimated $38.4 million, the Symmetric.io data show. The firms were not immediately available to comment.