Warren Buffett likes to say his preferred holding period for businesses is forever, but when it comes to stocks, he is more willing to trade.
(ticker: BRK.A, BRK.B) disclosed on Monday that it had largely eliminated its remaining holding in
(WFC), cut back its stake in
(CVX) by more than 50%, to 23.7 million shares, and reduced an investment in
(MRK) by 37%, to 17.9 million shares, according to its quarterly 13-F filing.
The Chevron sale is notable because Berkshire accumulated a position of 48.5 million shares relatively recently, in the second half of 2020, making Chevron Berkshire’s second largest new equity investment of the year, behind only
(VZ). The Merck holding also was accumulated in 2020.
Berkshire was even granted confidentiality by the Securities and Exchange Commission and didn’t have to disclose its Chevron holding at the end of the third quarter as Berkshire was building its position.
There was little or no change in most of Berkshire’s equity portfolio, totaling almost $300 billion, which is overseen by CEO Buffett. He has not been enamored of stocks, preferring to use Berkshire’s ample cash flow to repurchase Berkshire shares.
The company was a net seller of $4 billion of stocks in the first quarter, according to its 10-Q report. Its only sizable new purchase was nearly $1 billion of
(AON), the insurance broker. Berkshire was a net seller of $8 billion of stocks in 2020, while it bought back almost $25 billion of its own shares.
There also had been speculation that an institutional buyer had been accumulating Berkshire’s supervoting class A stock in the first quarter, given the elevated volume in shares that typically trade lightly. But no large buyer was evident in the 13-F filings.
CEO Buffett defended the Chevron investment at Berkshire’s annual meeting on May 1. Many socially responsible investors are uncomfortable owning companies that produce fossil fuels.
“Chevron is not an evil company in the least,” Buffett told shareholders. “And I have no compunction about owning — in the least about owning Chevron. And if we own the entire business, I would not feel uncomfortable about being in that business.”
Berkshire probably realized a nice profit on its Chevron holding. The stock rallied in the first quarter to $105, from $85, compared with Berkshire’s cost of $83 a share.
Last year, Berkshire steadily reduced its formerly large holding in Wells Fargo that had totaled 345 million shares at the end of 2019.
Buffett was a longtime fan of Wells Fargo and Berkshire had held the bank’s stock for 30 years. Berkshire sold down its stake to just 675,000 shares on March 31 from about 52 million at year-end 2020.
Wells Fargo has been one of several sales by Berkshire of bank stocks in recent quarters as it unloaded holdings of
Goldman Sachs Group
(GS) in 2020. Its largest bank position is now a billion-share holding in
Bank of America
(BAC) worth over $40 billion.
In selling the banks, Berkshire has missed out on big gains as the sector has rallied, probably leaving more than $10 billion on the table, Barron’s estimates. Wells Fargo shares have more than doubled since early November to $47.
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