In a matter of hours Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A ) (NYSE: BRK-B ) will reveal the stocks it bought and sold in the first quarter. Yet you may be fooled by what the media tells you.
The big announcement
The Securities and Exchange Commission requires funds with more than $100 million in stocks to disclose what their investments consist of within 45 days after the previous quarter ends. With the deadline of May 15th, we'll soon learn what the holdings of Berkshire Hathaway were at the end of the March.
According to the most recent quarterly earnings report, we do know Berkshire Hathaway did grow its holdings slightly, adding almost $750 million in new investments, while it also watched its unrealized gains -- its profit from investments -- continue to climb to $58.6 billion:
We also even know what sector the investments will be in, as the major growth in the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio from a cost basis was in the "commercial, industrial, and other" segment:
And of course, that's to say nothing of the reality -- albeit unlikely -- that Berkshire could've added $4 billion worth of one company and sold $3.3 billion of others resulting in the same net gain.
So with all the in mind, the question becomes, "What did Buffett buy?"
That may not be the right question.
The real answer
It's vital to remember the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio is not run by just Buffett, but also loyal lieutenants Todd Combs and Ted Weschler. In the latest letter to shareholders Buffett noted:
In a year in which most equity managers found it impossible to outperform the S&P 500, both Todd Combs and Ted Weschler handily did so. Each now runs a portfolio exceeding $7 billion. They've earned it.
Together they have nearly $15 billion in investments at their disposal, and Buffett trusts them completely.
He went on to say; "Their contributions are just beginning: Both men have Berkshire blood in their veins." And they too entrust one another, as their performance-based pay is actually tied 80% to their personal results and 20% of the other's.
But what Buffett wants us to remember is these men are free to make their own decisions. In the 2011 letter where they are introduced -- and their individual portfolios stood at $1.75 billion -- Buffett noted:
When our quarterly filings report relatively small holdings, these are not likely to be buys I made (though the media often overlook that point) but rather holdings denoting purchases by Todd or Ted.
As a result, we should always remember the question now stands not at "what did Buffett buy?" but instead "what did Buffett, Todd, or Ted buy?"
The key takeaway
Does that mean we shouldn't learn of the additions to the broader Berkshire Hathaway portfolio as we consider our own investments? Of course not.
Buffett himself said this year:
I must again confess that their investments outperformed mine. (Charlie says I should add "by a lot.") If such humiliating comparisons continue, I'll have no choice but to cease talking about them.
And he noted last year Todd and Ted will manage the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio "long after" Buffett and Munger have left, and we "can rest easy when they take over."
All of this is to say, knowing the gain in holdings stands less than $1 billion, Buffett may have indeed made a major purchase during the first three months of the year, but Todd and Ted likely may have added to their own portfolios in small ways.
Yet regardless of who made it, we indeed should pay attention to what it was.
What we do know is that Warren Buffett just bought nearly 9 million shares of this company
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