By Aaron Pressman
BOSTON (Reuters) - Even as gold was approaching record highs during the third quarter, more of the best-known hedge fund managers were placing bets on the precious metal.
Former Goldman Sachs trader Chris Shumway's fund added 2.1 million shares of the SPDR Gold Trust <GLD.P> and Dan Loeb's Third Point LLC bought 115,000 shares during the third quarter, according to securities filings on Monday. Highfields Capital added call options on 1.6 million shares of the gold ETF and calls on 200,000 shares of the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF <GDX.P>
At the same time, some of the early hedge fund gold pioneers were trimming their stakes. George Soros sold over half of one million shares of the gold ETF to finish the quarter with 4.7 million shares, while Eric Mindich reduced his Eton Park Capital's stake by 2 million shares to 4.6 million. John Paulson maintained a 31.5 million share holding of the ETF through the quarter.
Soros has said several times this year that gold is "the ultimate bubble."
"I called gold the ultimate bubble which means it may go higher," Soros explained in September at a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York. "But it's certainly not safe and it's not going to last forever."
Gold has risen sharply this year. The SPDR trust is up 23 percent so far in 2010. Spot gold hit a record of $1,424.10 last week, without adjusting for inflation. Gold would still almost have to double in price to reach its 1980 record after including inflation.
The metal staged its largest one-day drop in 4-1/2 months on Friday, retreating from last week's record on concern the market had become overbought and as talk of a potential interest rate rise in China knocked commodities sharply lower.
Some managers were also adding shares of companies in the technology industry during the quarter, led by Lee Ainslie. Last month at the Value Investing Congress in New York, he said that tech stocks were the cheapest in 20 years.
During the third quarter, Ainslie added shares of Dell <DELL.O>, Google <GOOG.O> and Hewlett Packard <HPQ.N> among others. Chris Shumway and Lone Pine Capital's Stephen Mandel added shares of Apple <AAPL.O> to their funds. And David Tepper's Appaloosa Management bought shares of HP, Cisco Systems <CSCO.O>, Microsoft <MSFT.O> and Intel <INTC.O>.
"Fundamentally, managers are looking for opportunities again and the tech stocks have been depressed for a very long time," said Jayesh Punater, president and CEO of Gravitas, a hedge fund and fund of funds service provider. "They seem to have some more confidence in equities, even though there is more volatility, and they are making more investments there."
After many hedge fund managers took big stakes in financial institutions at the start of the year, their outlook became more nuanced during the third quarter with some early supporters trimming their holdings and others loading up.
For example, John Paulson cut its 506 million shares in Citigroup <C.N> back to 424 million. He also cut back on Bank of America <BAC.N>, which has performed poorly the past few months as it has absorbed much of the heat over the foreclosure crisis.
Bill Ackman's Pershing Square Capital also reduced his exposure to Citigroup.
But Tiger Cub Andreas Halvorsen's Viking Global got into Citi during the quarter, adding a 97 million share position.
(Reporting by Aaron Pressman, Svea Herbst and Emily Chasan; Editing by Bernard Orr)