WSJ Puts Spotlight on Motivation for Buffett's PetroChina Sales

The Wall Street Journal's widely followed Heard on the Street column todayfocuses on Warren Buffett's big PetroChina sales in recent weeks, even as the stock has rallied to new highs.

It neatly recaps the question we've been asking here at WBW: Is Buffett selling because he thinks PetroChina has become overvalued after an enormous run-up or is he selling in response to human-rights activists who see divestment as a way to pressure China over its ties to Sudan, which is accused of supporting mass killings in Darfur?

We just don't know for sure what's motivating Buffett, but generally investors assume he's locking in profits ahead of a potential nosedive and activists assume he's making a statement.

  • The Investor View: "There is a lot of euphoria and blue sky in the valuations, with very little worry over downside risk. We've been taking money off the table, and it looks like old Warren's been doing the same." - Devan Kaloo, Aberdeen Asset Managers, London
  • The Activist View: "I think he finally gets it." - Eric Cohen, Investors Against Genocide

The Journal leans a bit toward the Activist View when it says that "even some longtime Berkshire watchers suspect the controversy over Darfur, particularly in light of the coming Beijing Olympics, had some impact on Mr. Buffett's decision to sell." It also features a photograph of a billboard that reads, "Will your conscience let you off on a technicality? Berkshire: Sell PetroChina. Save Darfur." The caption: Maybe It Worked.

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