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Trying to figure out what Warren Buffett is buying might be harder than trying to find Carmen Sandiego. Still, though, you won't find a shortage of investors eagerly anticipating what his next moves will be.
Last quarter, it was energy generator NRG (NYSE: NRG ) and a few additions to Ingersoll-Rand (NYSE: IR ) and Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE: SNY ) . None of that was terribly exciting, seeing as how all of those industries have kept their acts together. What gets people fired up is thinking about a company like Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A ) (NYSE: BRK-B ) making big purchases in something like financial stocks, where negativity and pessimism dominate the mood.
The good news is, yes, he's scooping up financial shares. The bad news, if you want to call it that, is he's giving us a 50-50 shot at guessing which one it is: Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) or American Express (NYSE: AXP ) .
Buffett told CNBC last week he's been buying shares in one of the two companies as of late. Both are two of Berkshire's largest existing financial-services holdings; not surprisingly, they're some of the only financial companies that haven't suffered mind-boggling losses lately.
Nonetheless, the carnage hasn't totally bypassed these two. AmEx is down some 35% in the last year. Wells Fargo is off around 20%. What makes it exciting is that neither of these two got carried away with anything too complex over the years, so their underlying assets, franchises, and prospects are still pretty stellar.
In fact, Buffett himself commented a few months back, "Wells Fargo stock was down last year. I don't think the intrinsic business value shrunk. In fact, I said I thought it probably increased a touch." That's pretty impressive stuff. As many financial companies begin to deleverage and unwind the limitless amounts of debt used to juice earnings over the years, the thought of even maintaining current intrinsic value in this market is a feat in itself.
For more on what Buffett and his disciples are buying: