Sunday, 30 November 2008

The Master: Warren Buffett 5

Things go better with Coke

Berkshire put together a world-class portfolio of high visibility, blue chip growth stocks, including such household names as Coca-Cola, Gillette, American Express, and Wells Fargo.

Buffett could not resist the low price of Coca-Cola in the mid-1980s as the company seemed to struggle for reinvention with new Coke and other twists and turns in corporate strategy (most of which turned out to be unnecessary). Coca-Cola had the balance sheet and certainly the stability of earnings that one would expect of the world's leading purveyor of sugar water. Buffett saw not only the intrinsic value but also the franchise or marketplace value. Coke is arguably the world's most recognized brand, and that brand was and still is the closest thing to a guarantee against dips and significant competitive inroads. It's what Buffett calls a moat around the business.

Intrinsic value on the balance sheet, solid earnings with at least some growth and growth potential, and solid value in the franchise are what Buffett looked for in all his investments. And always -repeat, always - at a good price. Berkshire Hathaway acquired 200 million shares of Coke in the mid-1980s at around $6 to $6.50 per share (split adjusted). Coke generally sells at over $50 today. The Berkshire before-tax profit is in the $10 billion range.

Wanna know what Berkshire buys?

It isn't easy to find out. Berkshire keeps its puchases a secret (to avoid market overreaction, among other reasons). But as much as it tries to avoid disclosure, investmens of certain size and that constitue a certain proportion of ownership must be disclosed. SEC 13F filings contain the disclosures as statements of change of ownership. You can watch these directly or just watch the news. Any time a 13F surfaces, the financial news media is quick to pounce.

The most recent 13F filing, released in mid-May 2007 for the close of business on March 31, uncovered four new purchases, three of them in railroad companies (Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, Burlington Northern Santa Fe) and a new position in health provider, Wellpoint. Buffett increased positions in Comcast, Iron Mountain, Wells Fargo, Johnson & Johnson, and Sanofi-Adventis, while reducing holdings in financials Ameriprise and H&R Block, brewer Anheuser-Busch and Western Union.

We know now, but hardly soon enough to have made a market killing from the knowledge. That said, knowing where Buffett has been and where he is going never hurts. By the way, you can find these 13Fs yourself simply by doing a search on Berkshire Hathaway 13F and the year you're interested in.

Also visit:
The Master: Warren Buffett 9 (9/9)
The Master: Warren Buffett 8
The Master: Warren Buffett 7
The Master: Warren Buffett 6
The Master: Warren Buffett 5
The Master: Warren Buffett 4
The Master: Warren Buffett 3
The Master: Warren Buffett 2
The Master: Warren Buffett 1

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