Mark Mobius vs. Warren Buffett


Warren Buffett may be making big cuts in his PetroChina holdings, but another very well-known international investor is sticking with the big Chinese energy company.

Mark Mobius, the executive chairman of Templeton Asset Management, told journalists in Hong Kong, "We still hold PetroChina ... we bought some (recently). I don't want to criticize Mr. Buffett, I think he's a very smart, wise person. But since he has sold, has the PetroChina price gone up or down? It's gone up, probably by 20 percent since he began selling. You can appreciate the fact he's sitting on an incredible profit, but just because he's selling does not mean the stock price is going to go down."

Mobius, who has a 5.1% PetroChina stake, tells Bloomberg, "These oil companies still have a way to go. We've been maintaining the weighting we have in energy because we feel these oil companies are going to continue to benefit from high oil prices."

We don't know if Buffett agrees with that assessment or not. He may simply be locking in some very big profits. (Over 600% since he first started buying PetroChina in 2003.)

He might even be responding to human rights activists who want him to send a message to the Chinese government protesting its involvement with the Sudanese government.

All we know for sure is that his PetroChina stake has been disappearing.

Last night, we learned that Buffett's stake was down to just above 3% as of September 30, slashed from roughly 10% at the beginning of the month.

In last night's post, I said I wouldn't be surprised if Buffett has already sold the whole stake. Today, Bloomberg has another story quoting JPMorgan analyst Brynjar Eirik Bustnes as saying, "Considering the price level and volumes traded in PetroChina since September 25 (the date of the most recent Hong Kong filing), we would not be surprised if Buffett has already sold off his entire stake. Clearly in the current market nobody seems to care."

That's a reference to the fact (pointed out by Mobius as well) that PetroChina shares have continued to rise to new highs as Buffett has continued to sell. Currently, in New York trading:

Do Mr. Market and Mr. Mobius have it right while Mr. Buffett is wrong? If PetroChina's shares do indeed head lower in the next weeks and months, Buffett wins this little 'contest' outright.

But if part or all of his motivation is to distance himself from the killings in Darfur, then there's another scorecard and Buffett will be the winner no matter what happens to the stock.

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