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Fund managers love these small- and mid-cap stocks, and for good reason

Tracking hedge fund money

In a year that has had little good news for hedge funds comes one positive tidbit: Their holdings of stocks outside the large-cap space have done quite well.

Hedge funds' most-owned stocks in the Russell 2500 index of small- and mid-cap stocks have returned 7.3 percent in the third quarter, better than the index's 5.3 percent gain, according to data from Citigroup analyst Scott Chronert. That's also well ahead of the 3.4 percent return for the stocks in the index that are most loved by mutual fund managers.

For the year, hedge funds have limped to a 3 percent gain, according to totals through July from industry tracker HFR. Mutual funds returned 4.8 percent through July, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Overall, the most-owned names in the small- and mid-cap space have performed either in line or a bit better than their indexes. Interestingly, in the large-cap space one of the best trades of the year has been selling the most-owned stocks and buying the least owned.

On a sector basis in the small and mids, hedge funds have been snapping up energy stocks and ditching consumer discretionary. Among the mutual funds, one noticeable trend in the space has been a move away from health care.

In the Russell 2500, the average return of the 20 most-owned stocks by hedge and mutual funds is 6 percent for the third quarter; the median return is 8.1 percent, and index is up 5.8 percent.

The top 10 most-owned stocks on the Russell 2500:

r2500 stocks 160823 Cox EC

Company Ticker QTD return % (through Monday)
Envision HealthcareEVHC-16.1
Newfield ExplorationNFX5
Take-Two InteractiveTTWO8.1
Gulfport EnergyGPOR-14.5
Alaska AirALK15.1
Southwestern EnergySWN9.1
Foot LockerFL24.8
Post HoldingsPOST2.7
Interpublic GroupIPG0.3

On the Russell 2000 small-cap index, the average quarter-to-date return for the 20 most-loved stocks is 7.8 percent, while the median is 7.4 percent, matching the index's overall return.

The 10 most-loved stocks on the index:

r2k Cox 160823 EC

Name Ticker QTD Return % (through Monday)
MGIC InvestmentMTG32.3
American EagleAEO19.5
Big LotsBIG6.7
Penn NationalPENN6.3
Office DepotODP6.3
Jack in the BoxJACK14.4
Integrated DeviceIDTI1.3