BlackRock does not comment on individual stocks or holdings, spokeswoman Olivia Offner said. She said the firm also declined to comment on the analysis.
It is unclear whether the investments are relatively passive or if BlackRock intends to use its enhanced ownership in any of the companies to encourage governance or operational changes.
Analysts interviewed for this story said the former motivation is more likely and saw the BlackRock investments as a good sign for the sector.
Several of the 14 healthcare stocks had seen their prices fall during the summer and autumn when companies such as Tenet saw their earnings plunge on a flattening of insurance exchange volumes and general nervousness around the Affordable Care Act. Other economic factors, such as China's struggles, depressed U.S. stocks.
BlackRock may have seen the widespread stock price declines among the group as a buying opportunity, said Brian Wright, a healthcare analyst at Sterne Agee CRT.
“It sounds like BlackRock was astutely taking advantage of weakness in the stock to own a greater percentage of the company,” Wright said when specifically asked about the higher stake in Centene, a Medicaid managed-care company. Centene—which is on the precipice of closing its $6.8 billion merger with Health Net, another company in which BlackRock has more than than a 5% stake—saw its stock drop to less than $53 per share in late September after topping $81 last June.
At a gathering of Wall Street analysts last month hosted by the Nashville Health Care Council, Frank Morgan of RBC Capital Markets said sector stocks had been oversold and that investors would soon start buying and put a floor under share prices.
BlackRock is on the radar of nearly every CEO leading a major American corporation. The asset manager, for example, is one of the five largest shareholders of such giants as Google, Apple and Facebook.
BlackRock CEO Larry Fink is a major player on Wall Street and has been vocal in telling the CEOs of companies in the S&P 500 to invest in their people and other assets rather than trying to boost share prices with quickie tactics such as stock buybacks.
“The effects of the short-termist phenomenon are troubling both to those seeking to save for long-term goals such as retirement and for our broader economy,” Fink wrote in April in an open letter to the CEOs. “In the face of these pressures, more and more corporate leaders have responded with actions that can deliver immediate returns to shareholders, such as buybacks or dividend increases, while underinvesting in innovation, skilled workforces or essential capital expenditures necessary to sustain long-term growth.”
But senior managers at the 14 healthcare companies can't be blamed if BlackRock's stock-shopping spree makes them a little nervous.
While most 13G disclosures like the ones signaling BlackRock's rising healthcare holdings don't lead to activist behavior, 13Ds do.
In January, Tenet's board of directors created two board seats for Glenview Capital Management when the hedge fund accumulated an 18% stake in the hospital chain, according to a 13D regulatory filing. Glenview and Tenet say the developments are friendly and helpful to raising shareholder value at Tenet.
But Glenview's influence could become more activist. After a year, Glenview could gain two additional Tenet board seats if it keeps its holding above 10%.
Last quarter, BlackRock raised its stake in Tenet to 8.8%.