Berkshire’s 13F Filing Hints at Surprise in the Wings

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Berkshire Hathaway’s Form 13F filing, which is required to be filed quarterly with the Securities and Exchange Commission, always give plenty to chew on for Berkshire watchers.

On the surface it has been a relatively quiet 2nd quarter 2015 for much of its minority-share stock holdings, with its purchase of a large number of shares in Charter Communications one of the few major increases.

Steady as She Goes

Berkshire’s four biggest holdings all remained unchanged, with Wells Fargo making up 24.68% of the total portfolio, Coca-Cola 14.64%, IBM 12.07%, and American Express 10.99%.

In the case of Coca-Cola, the $518 million in dividends it received in 2014, on a very low cost basis, meant an effective yield of 40%, so no wonder Warren Buffett calls Coca-Cola one of his “forever stocks.” You would drink five Cokes a day too if it got you a 40% return.

A Surprise Coming Soon?

The company did note that “confidential information has been omitted from the public Form 13F report and filed separately with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission,” which likely implies that the company is amassing shares in a company, and in such a case it is not required to reveal the company publicly. Berkshire used the same strategy when it took a position in IBM that made it the company’s largest minority-owner with just over 8% of the company. We will have to wait and see if there is another surprise minority-ownership company bombshell, however we do know that the purchase was in the $3 billion range.

Stocks on the Increase

Berkshire bought 2,535,542 shares of the cable TV operator Charter Communications, increasing its position by 42% to 8,514,678 shares. The position is 7.6009% of Berkshire’s total portfolio.

Berkshire first took a position in Charter Communications during the 2nd quarter of 2014. The company has been on the rise since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009, and is in the process of merging with Time Warner Cable Inc. and acquiring Bright House Networks, a video service provider and cable internet provider. The merger is the work of Chairman John Malone whose Liberty Broadband is the largest Charter Communications shareholder. Berkshire has long been a buyer of shares in Malone’s companies, although in 2014 it sold its entire stake in premium cable channel Starz.

A Stock That’s Paying Dividends

Berkshire also increased its position in U.S. Bancorp by 1,289,777 shares, an increase of 1%, bringing its total to 85,063,167 shares. The position is 4.7538% of Berkshire’s total portfolio.

While Berkshire is famous for being the stock that doesn’t pay a dividend, it certainly loves to receive them, and U.S. Bancorp has been one of the stronger stocks in the banking sector for dividends. The company announced a 4.1% dividend increase in June, the 5th consecutive dividend increase since 2011.

A Potential Lubrizol Acquisition?

Also reported were the 20,000,000 shares of Axalta Coating Systems that it bought from the Carlyle Group for $28 per share. Berkshire first announced plans for the purchase in April, and the big question is whether the former DuPont unit is an acquisition target for Berkshire Hathaway’s Lubrizol Corporation. The $28 price was below the $31.30 share price that Axalta was trading at after the announcement. It now sits at $30.38 as of Friday’s closing bell.

Another Potential Takeover Candidate

DaVita Healthcare Partners, which also looks like a good fit with Berkshire, considering that an aging population and increased health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act benefits its kidney dialysis business, was unchanged at 38,565,570 shares.

Berkshire entered into a standstill agreement with Davita in May 2014, pledging not purchase more than 25% of the company. Its ownership stake currently sits at just under 17.95%.

And One That’s Not So Likely, Yet

The 13F filing does not yet reflect Berkshire’s 26% ownership of Kraft Heinz, which closed after the quarter ended. The filing does show that Berkshire owned 578,000 shares in snack maker Mondelēz International, Inc., which has recently been rumored as a possible merger candidate with Kraft Heinz. Warren Buffett just last week downplayed the possibility, noting that there was still much worked to be done in integrating Kraft and Heinz.

Stocks on the Decrease

Major decreases in holdings, included bailing on energy sector stocks Phillips 66 and National Oilwell Varco. Berkshire sold its entire 7,499,450 position in Phillips 66, and its entire 1,978,895 position in National Oilwell Varco. Both have been hit hard by low oil prices.

Berkshire had already liquidated most its Phillips 66 position in 2014 when it swapped it for ownership of Phillips Specialty Products Inc. and approximately $450 million in cash. The move brought tax saving to Berkshire and a new unit to Lubrizol.

Whither Viacom

Also going down were Berkshire’s shares in Viacom, Chicago Bridge & Iron Company, and WABCO Holdings Inc.

Its Viacom position decreased a whopping 31% as Berkshire sold 2,618,358 shares. Berkshire looks to be wise to get out of Viacom as fast as it can. The mass media company has seen its stock value plummet 42% year to date, as it struggles to hold on to viewers and carriers of its channels. Among its troubles, Viacom is in a battle with satellite TV provider Dish TV, which has dropped the company’s channels from its service.

Berkshire’s holdings in Chicago Bridge & Iron Company decreased 12% as it sold 1,374,189 shares. Berkshire first took a position in the engineering, procurement and construction company during the 1st quarter of 2013 only to watch the share price peak at $86.50 in April 2014 before crashing all the way down to $34.51 a year later. Year to date the stock has risen $23.25% but it appears that Berkshire has now cooled on it as an investment.

Buffett, Combs or Weschler

Berkshire does not normally announce which transactions are the work of Warren Buffett, and which transactions are the work of his two portfolio managers Todd Combs and Ted Weschler. However, Buffett recently revealed that Berkshire’s 2.9% position in aerospace manufacturer Precision Castparts was originally purchased by Todd Combs. It was Buffett that decided to make the bid to purchase the entire company for $37 billion.

While Warren Buffett has acquired most of Berkshire’s portfolio, Todd Combs and Ted Weschler each manage a portfolio that is roughly $9 billion in assets. The two investment managers are widely assumed to be the future managers of the entire portfolio.

The total portfolio slipped to a market value of $107.182 Billion from $110.776 billion at the end of the 1st quarter 2015.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.