By David Randall and Trevor Hunnicutt
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Several big-name hedge fund investors trimmed their stakes in healthcare companies in the second quarter as the sector led the broad U.S. stock market higher, rallying amid a Republican effort to repeal and replace President Obama's signature healthcare law.
Jana Partners sold all of its shares in nine healthcare companies, ranging from small-cap biotech company Acadia Pharmaceuticals Inc <ACAD.O> to health information company WebMD Health Corp <WBMD.O> to insurer Aetna Inc <AET.N>, according to quarterly filings released Monday.
Billionaire Daniel Loeb's Third Point sold 175,000 shares, or about 18 percent of its stake, in health insurance company Humana Inc <HUM.N> and 5 million shares of hospital products maker Baxter International Inc <BAX.N>, or approximately 10 percent of its prior position. Shares of both companies are up more than 20 percent year to date.
Farallon Capital Management LLC, founded by Tom Steyer, dissolved its stakes in pharmaceuticals companies Eli Lilly and Co <LLY.N> and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co <BMY.N>, according to filings. The hedge fund also trimmed stakes in AstraZeneca Plc <AZN.L> and Allergan Plc <AGN.N>.
Healthcare stocks in the S&P 500 rose 6.7 percent in the second quarter, more than double the 2.6 percent gain in the broad S&P 500 index, after trailing the broad market following Donald Trump's surprise victory in the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Senate Republicans delayed a vote on a healthcare overhaul bill on June 27 after it became clear that they did not have enough votes for it to pass. One month later, a scaled-down plan to replace Obama's Affordable Care Act failed in the Senate.
Healthcare stocks have underperformed since the current quarter began on July 1, dipping 0.5 percent compared with a 1.9 percent gain by the broad S&P 500, suggesting that the move by hedge fund managers could signal the end of the rally.
"If sentiment from certain institutional investors weakens for healthcare it could negatively impact stocks" despite the sector's strong fundamentals, said Todd Rosenbluth, director of mutual fund research at CFRA Research.
Quarterly disclosures of hedge fund managers' stock holdings, in what are known as 13F filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, are one of the few public ways of tracking what the managers are selling and buying. But relying on the filings to develop an investment strategy comes with some risk because the disclosures come 45 days after the end of each quarter and may not reflect current positions.
Overall, hedge funds gained 1 percent in the second quarter, according to Chicago-based fund tracker Hedge Fund Research, less than half of the 2.5 percent gain in the first quarter.
There were few signs that hedge fund managers were attempting to call a bottom in energy stocks as the falling price of oil helped send the sector down 7 percent in the quarter. Third Point sold all of its stake in Rice Energy Inc <RICE.N>, Halcon Resources Corp <HK.N>, Enerplus Corp <ERF.TO>, and Pioneer Natural Resources Co <PXD.N.>.
Jana Partners sold all of its stake in Resolute Energy Corp <REN.N>, while Omega Advisors sold its entire stake in seven energy companies, including Cheniere Energy Inc <LNG.A>, Eclipse Resources Corp <ECR.N>, and Williams Partners LP <WPZ.N>.
(Reporting by David Randall; Editing by Jennifer Ablan, Phil Berlowitz and Steve Orlofsky)