Even though Warren Buffett always says he likes stocks more when they're cheaper, he didn't do a lot of buying as Wall Street's major indexes fell to their bear-market lows (so far) in early March.
Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has just released its first quarter stock portfolio snapshot, and there are no blockbuster buys or new names.
As he hinted during his live CNBC interview last week, Buffett may have "run out of gas" and decided to keep a substantial cash cushion rather than plunging into stocks.
While conceding that it is currently "among the more attractive" times to be an investor, he told Becky Quick that stocks were "far cheaper" in 1974 and 1975.
A few of Berkshire's stakes did, however, get larger.
Buffett added to Berkshire's positions in Johnson & Johnson, Wells Fargo, US Bancorp, Norfolk Southern and Nalco Holding during the first three months of the year.
Berkshire's stake in J&J rebounded by 13.6 percent, or about four million shares, rising to 32.5 million as of March 31, compared to 28.6 million at the end of December.
The increase is especially interesting because the big news out of the fourth quarter portfolio filing was that Berkshire had cut its J&J stake by almost 54 percent between September 30 and December 31. (61.8 million shares vs. 28.6 million shares.)
The money helped fund Berkshire's $8 billion in loans to Goldman Sachs and General Electric last fall. Those preferred stock holdings are generating a hefty 10 percent annual return for Berkshire. That yield is not affected by price changes for GE or Goldman's common stock, although Berkshire could make an additional profit from "bonus" warrants that allow it to buy common stock in the future at pre-determined prices.
Buffett has been publicly praising Wells Fargo and US Bancorp in recent weeks, and Berkshire did increase its holdings in the two banks during the first quarter. The Wells Fargo stake increased by about 12 million shares during the period, or 4.3 percent.
The US Bancorp stake is up by 2.2 percent, or 1.5 million shares to 69.0 million, but that's still below the 72.9 million shares reported for the end of last year's third quarter.
Berkshire also increased its holdings in Union Pacific by 7.3 percent to 9.6 million shares. No change for Norfolk Southern, another railroad in the portfolio, and a 9.5 percent increase for Burlington Northern had already been reportedin early February. (No change since then.)
Berkshire cut its Carmax stake by almost a third, dropping over five million shares to 12 million by the end of the first quarter. That stock was added to the portfolio in 2007's third quarter.
UnitedHealth Group , had its stake slashed by almost 29 percent, falling to 4.5 million shares from 6.3 million shares.
Buffett has called his decision to buy Conoco stock last year a "major mistake" and one of the "dumb things" he did in 2008. Berkshire's first quarter earnings report says it has been selling millions of shares at a loss for tax purposes.
STOCK BY STOCK LISTING OF BERKSHIRE PORTFOLIO CHANGES
Here are the details from tonight's Berkshire Hathaway portfolio snapshot as of March 31, 2009, compared to the filing for December 31, 2008.
- Burlington Northern increased 9.5% to 76,777,029 shares from 70,089,829 shares. (Berkshire had previously reported holding 76,777,029 shares as of January 30.)
- Johnson & Johnson stake increased 13.6% to 32,508,891 shares from 28,611,591 shares.
- Nalco Holding stake increased 3.0% to 9,000,000 shares from 8,739,100 shares.
- US Bancorp stake increased 2.2% to 69,039,426 shares from 67,551,426 shares.
- Union Pacific stake increased 7.3% to 9,558,000 shares from 8,906,000 shares.
- Wells Fargo stake increased 4.3% to 302,609,212 shares from 290,244,868 shares.
- Carmax stake decreased 32.0% to 12,000,000 shares from 17,636,500 shares.
- ConocoPhillips stake decreased 10.8% to 71,228,096 shares from 79,896,273 shares. The decrease was previously disclosed in Berkshire's first quarter earnings report.
- Constellation Energy stake decreased 25.5% to 14,828,207 shares as of March 31 from 19,894,322 shares on December 31. An SEC filing yesterday discloses that the stake has since decreased to 12,476,154 shares as of May 12.
- UnitedHealth Group stake decreased 28.6% to 4,500,000 shares from 6,300,000 shares.
- American Express unchanged at 151,610,700 shares.
- Bank of America unchanged at 5,000,000 shares.
- Coca-Cola unchanged at 200,000,000 shares.
- Comcast unchanged at 12,000,000 shares.
- Comdisco unchanged at 1,538,377 shares.
- Costco Wholesale unchanged at 5,254,000 shares.
- Eaton Corp. unchanged at 3,200,000 shares.
- Gannett unchanged at 3,447,600 shares.
- General Electric unchanged at 7,777,900 shares.
- GlaxoSmithKline unchanged at 1,510,500 shares.
- Home Depot unchanged at 3,700,000 shares.
- Ingersoll-Rand unchanged at 7,782,600 shares.
- Iron Mountain unchanged at 3,372,200 shares.
- Kraft Foods unchanged at 138,272,500 shares.
- Lowes Companies unchanged at 6,500,000 shares.
- M&T Bank unchanged at 6,715,060 shares.
- Moody's unchanged at 48,000,000 shares.
- Nike unchanged at 7,641,000 shares.
- Norfolk Southern unchanged at 1,933,000 shares.
- NRG Energy unchanged at 7,200,000 shares.
- Procter & Gamble unchanged at 9,530,990 shares.
- Sanofi Aventis unchanged at 3,903,933 shares.
- SunTrust Banks unchanged at 3,204,600 shares.
- Torchmark unchanged at 2,823,879 shares.
- USG unchanged at 17,072,192 shares.
- United Parcel Service unchanged at 1,429,200 shares.
- Wabco Holdings unchanged at 2,700,000 shares.
- Wal-Mart Stores unchanged at 19,944,300 shares.
- Washington Post unchanged at 1,727,765 shares.
- Wellpoint stake unchanged at 4,777,300 shares.
- Wesco Financial unchanged at 5,703,087 shares.
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Berkshire Class A:
Berkshire Class B:
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