Berkshire Hathaway Inc. disclosed stakes in General Motors Co. and Viacom Inc. as deputies Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, both former hedge-fund managers, built their portfolios under Chairman Warren Buffett.
Buffett’s firm had 10 million shares of the automaker on March 31, the Omaha, Nebraska-based company said Tuesday in a filing disclosing U.S. stockholdings at the end of the first quarter. The stake in New York-based Viacom was about 1.59 million shares. The filing excludes some confidential data.
Record earnings at operating businesses including railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe and utility company MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. helped boost Berkshire’s cash pile at the end of 2011, leaving the company with more funds to invest. Buffett has said his firm avoids buying assets based on macroeconomic conditions and instead looks at businesses’ intrinsic worth.
“Everyone’s freaking out about Europe and Greece and Spain, and Buffett sees value, so he’s buying stuff,” Jeff Matthews, author of “Secrets in Plain Sight: Business and Investing Secrets of Warren Buffett,” said in an interview before Berkshire’s filing was released.
Buffett, 81, has been preparing the company for his eventual departure as chairman and chief executive officer, in part by hiring Weschler and Combs to help oversee investments. Buffett has said he makes Berkshire’s larger wagers, while the back-up stock pickers are responsible for smaller bets. Each oversees $2.75 billion, Buffett said May 5 at the company’s annual meeting.
GM jumped 4.1 percent to $22.30 in extended trading at 4:25 p.m. in New York.
Berkshire’s stock portfolio climbed to $89.1 billion on March 31 from $77 billion at the end of December as Wells Fargo & Co. and American Express Co. surged more than 20 percent. Buffett’s firm spent about $3.4 billion on equities in the quarter, according to regulatory filings.
Buffett, the world’s third-richest person, and Berkshire Vice Chairman Charles Munger built a reputation over more than four decades leading Berkshire for buying equities and companies below their intrinsic value and reaping gains as prices rose. The stock picks are watched by mutual funds and individuals looking for clues about their investment strategy.
“The beauty of stocks is that they do sell at silly prices from time to time,” Buffett said at the annual meeting. “That’s how Charlie and I got rich.”
Berkshire omitted some information about its portfolio in the filing. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sometimes allows companies to withhold data from the public to limit copycat investing while a firm is building or cutting a position. Buffett’s firm requested confidential treatment in filings last year, as he spent more than $10 billion amassing a stake in International Business Machines Corp.
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