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Will the Best Leon Cooperman Picks Please Stand Up?

By guest contributor Insider Monkey author Jake Mann. It’s not uncommon to hear hedge fund managers and other prominent investors sounding off on the economy, companies they’re invested in, or even why they hate Apple. So when Leon Cooperman, the billionaire head of Omega Advisors, was on CNBC earlier this week discussing his favorite stock picks, it would appear that this was rational advice all viewers should pay attention to.

Except it’s not.

According to our research at Insider Monkey, the best opportunity for hedge fund piggybackers to outperform the market lies in the small-cap space. Our newsletter that follows this strategy returned 47.6% in its first year (learn how we did it here), and longer-term returns are equally as promising.

In his interview on CNBC, Cooperman mentioned five of his top value investments: Sprint (S), AIG (AIG), Qualcomm (QCOM), KKR Financial (KFN) and SandRidge Energy (SD). All of these picks are fine and dandy in their own right, but only the last two are actually small-caps. In addition to KKR and SandRidge, Leon Cooperman has a few other small-cap stock picks that you should know about.

Atlas Energy

Atlas Energy (ATLS) is Cooperman’s top small-cap pick, and sits at the seventh largest position in his $6.5 billion equity portfolio. Richard Driehaus and Jim Simons are a couple other names that hold this oil and gas E&P, which is up 45% year-to-date. Shares of Atlas have had such a good 2013 because of a few factors: 1) MLPs have seen rising interest from traditional institutional investors, 2) more ETFs are looking at this space, 3) dividend yields have been growing, and 4) the macro environment for domestic natural gas, oil and NGLs is very bullish.

In addition to the impressive appreciation, Atlas Energy pays a 3.5% dividend yield that has quadrupled since 2011, and the valuation isn’t overblown at an enterprise value 2.3 times its revenue.

Chimera Investment

Chimera Investment (CIM), on the other hand, is a small-cap REIT that has been held by Cooperman since the second quarter of 2012 (see the full history here). Like the mythological origin of its name suggests, Chimera is a multi-faceted REIT that invests in residential MBS and different types of mortgage loans and it breaths quite a bit of fire with a 12% dividend yield.

Although quarterly dividend payments have fluctuated in value, they’ve been consistent in presence, and free cash flow has more than doubled over the past two years. On average, Wall Street expects funds from operations to grow by 5% to 6% a year over the next half-decade, but be aware that FFO has missed analyst targets in four of Chimera’s past five quarters. Even with the volatility, there’s no denying this REIT’s ridiculously attractive yield.

Atlas Pipeline Partners

Keeping Cooperman’s big bet on Atlas Energy in mind, it’s no surprise that the billionaire is also bullish on another MLP affiliated with the company, Atlas Pipeline Partners (APL). The natural gas processor is the 14th largest holding in Cooperman’s equity portfolio, and shares have had a solid year, up 20.8%.

In comparison to Atlas Energy, Atlas Pipeline’s focus as a full-service midstream company has allowed it to generate about twice the cash as its aforementioned ally, and thus, a higher dividend yield. Atlas Pipeline currently offers a yield of 6.5% on its shares and dividend payments have grown in five consecutive years. 

A couple more

We haven’t even discussed KKR and SandRidge yet. The latter is another oil and gas E&P, but unlike some of Cooperman’s other picks in the energy sector, SandRidge does not currently pay a dividend. With earnings growth of more than 40% expected this year alone, however, there’s much more momentum behind any bullish thesis here, and shares are actually pretty cheaply valued at 1.6 times book and a close parity on a price-to-sales basis.

Cooperman has held SandRidge stock since the fourth quarter of 2012 and depending on when he bought in, he could have booked as much as a 15% return so far on his investment.

KKR Financial, meanwhile, sits just inside Leon Cooperman’s 15 largest holdings and offers a whopping dividend yield of 8%. Yes, they’re up only 3.5% over the past year, but shares of KKR Financial are extremely attractive because of their depressed valuation; they trade at less than 7 times forward earnings and a price-to-earnings growth ratio of a mere 0.6. With double-digit annual earnings growth expected over the next five years and positive free cash flow, dividends appear sustainable.

Disclosure: none

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