Apple just can't catch a break these days; even the hedge funds are starting to turn on it.
The tech giant is still one of the most popular individual stock holdings among the hedge-fund set, but its popularity is fading, according to a couple of studies out on Thursday. One, by data provider FactSet, found that the 50 biggest hedge funds shed $2.9 billion in Apple stock in the fourth quarter of 2012, the latest data available, giving it the dubious distinction of being the most-sold of any stock.
Apple went from being the top holding of 12 hedge funds to being the favorite of just six, according to FactSet. In all, 26 of the top 50 hedge funds hold Apple, according to FactSet. But 32 of the top 50 own Google, and 30 own bailed-out insurance giant American International Group (AIG).
Separately, a broader Goldman Sachs study of hedge-fund holdings found that Apple, the top hedge-fund holding for three years running, fell to No. 3 in the fourth quarter, supplanted by AIG and Google, Reuters reports.
Everybody suddenly loves Google again, whose stock has surged to nearly $800 a share, raising talk that it is the "new Apple." Apple's stock, in contrast, has tumbled 37 percent from a high in September of $705.07.
Apple is down more than 16 percent so far this year, making it the second-worst performer in the S&P 500, after Cliffs Natural Resources. It traded on Thursday well below $450. Apple, which is still worth about $417 billion, recently regained its title as the biggest U.S. company by market value, just above Exxon Mobil at a little less than $400 billion.
Apple's pains have been aggravated by the strength of competitors like Samsung, fear that demand for the iPhone is flagging and missteps with recent product releases, including the Apple Maps debacle.
Some hedge funds have stuck with Apple as their top holding, including David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital. But even that relationship can be best described as complicated, with Einhorn suing Apple over the company's handling of its $137 billion cash stockpile. Thursday afternoon Einhorn hosted a conference call urging Apple to give shareholders back some of that cash, in the form of a new kind of preferred stock he calls "iPrefs."