Morgan Stanley Turns In A Strong Report Card On Speculation

At the beginning of the year, I drew up a list of stocks that Morgan Stanley (MS) recently included in 13G filings to disclose significant stakes. My interest was sparked by a surprising stake in Xunlei Limited (XNET), and I was further surprised to find a notable list of speculative stakes by Morgan. Now that the stock market is on the mend from an episode of deeply oversold conditions, I thought I would take a quick look at the year-to-date performance of those stocks. The relatively strong performance card suggests that Morgan Stanley sure knows how to speculate.

For reference, the S&P 500 (SPY) is up 2.2% year-to-date. The more speculative Nasdaq is up 4.9% year-to-date. The even more speculative iShares Russell 2000 ETF (IWM) is up just 0.6% since the end of 2017.

Year-to-date performance of Morgan’s recent positions, mostly speculative, in descending order:

Atara Biotherapeutics, Inc. (ATRA): 151%
SharpSpring, Inc. (SHSP): 13.0%
Apptio, Inc. (APTI): 11.4%
PennyMac Financial Services, Inc. (PFSI): 11.2%
Asbury Automotive Group, Inc. (ABG): 7.5%
Overstock (OSTK): 0.4%
Highland Floating Rate Opportun (HFRO): -0.3%
BlackRock 2022 Global Income Opportunity Trust (BGIO): -1.5%
Roku (ROKU): -7.0%
Xunlei Limited (XNET): -13.0%
PHH Corporation (PHH): -15.0%
Diana Container Ships (DCIX): -31.5%

I am guessing the position in Atara is by itself enough to make up for the losing positions, including the head scratcher position in DCIX. Morgan’s strongest stocks barely swooned during the recent sell-off. ATRA is at an all-time high. APTI is just off its all-time high. SHSP actually RALLIED during the sell-off. PFSI took a spill during the sell-off, but its bounce back has been sharp enough to send the stock soaring to a new all-time high.

In other words, when Morgan speaks it likely pays to listen. However, and very ironically, my two active positions which overlap with Morgan are hedged shorts in OSTK and ROKU that I have flipped multiple times. I have not shorted XNET this year.

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Disclosure: short OSTK shares, long OSTK calendar call spread, short ROKU shares, long ROKU calls, long ROKU calendar call spread

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