Monday, November 16, 2009

Buffett’s Berkshire Discloses Exxon, Nestle Stakes

car insurance

Warren Buffett’sBerkshire Hathaway Inc. disclosed stakes in oil producer Exxon Mobil Corp., candy maker Nestle SA, trash hauler Republic Services Inc. and insurer Travelers Cos.

Buffett’s company had about 1.28 million shares of Exxon, the world’s largest oil company, as of Sept. 30, Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire said today in a regulatory filing disclosing U.S. equity investments. Berkshire held 3.4 million American depositary deceipts of Nestle, the world’s largest food producer, 3.63 million shares of Republic and about 27,000 shares of New York-based Travelers.

Stock picks by Buffett, the second-richest American, are watched by mutual funds and individuals looking for clues about his investment strategy. Berkshire bought about $2.23 billion of stocks in the third quarter, according to a separate filing, the most in a year, and agreed this month to pay $26 billion for the 77.4 percent of railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. his firm doesn’t already own.

“A terrible market or a terrible economy is your friend,” Buffett said at a forum in New York last week, when asked whether the stock market rally was unwarranted, given the recession. “It’s a terrible mistake to look at what’s going on in the economy today and decide whether to buy or sell stocks.” The U.S. unemployment rate jumped to a 26-year high in October.

Soda, Credit Cards

Berkshire’s largest holdings, including Coca-Cola Co. and American Express Co., advanced in the biggest back-to-back quarterly rally in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index in 34 years. The value of stocks held by Berkshire insurance units jumped 20 percent in the three months ended Sept. 30 to about $55 billion. Berkshire’s own shares rose 12 percent in the three months ended Sept. 30, the best quarterly performance since 2007.

Investors mimic Berkshire’s stock picks to duplicate Buffett’s investing success, and an academic study in 2007 found that using the strategy for 31 years would have delivered annualized returns of about 25 percent, double the S&P’s return.

Buffett, 79, makes most of the investment decisions at Berkshire, while Lou Simpson, 72, manages the portfolio for car insurance unit Geico Corp. Buffett has cautioned investors against assuming all changes in the equity portfolio are his.

The U.S. economy returned to growth after its worst performance in seven decades, expanding at a 3.5 percent pace in the third quarter, according to Commerce Department figures released last month. Government incentives spurred consumers to spend more on homes and cars.

Berkshire is making what Buffett called an “all-in wager” on the U.S. economy with the deal to purchase Fort Worth, Texas- based Burlington. It is Buffett’s biggest acquisition in more than four decades as Berkshire’s chairman.