Sometimes I love my job -- because I get to spend time reading some very smart comments from very smart people. This morning I received a note from reader Simon Murray Wells, who pointed out a discrepancy in the words, words, and deeds of Berkshire Hathaway
Wells noted in the most recent Berkshire Hathaway annual report that Buffett said many of the company's public stock holdings -- which include Wells Fargo Bank
One of the greater things about Berkshire Hathaway is that the company has an "owner's manual" for shareholders, something exceedingly rare in public companies. One of my recommendations in Motley Fool Hidden Gems, Overstock.com
So, in two different documents we have Buffett saying drastically different things. As to the second, and Wells noted this as well, it is probable that Buffett is talking about Berkshire's wholly owned businesses as opposed to the stocks, even the big ones. A while back, a poster on the Fool's Berkshire Hathaway discussion board figured out that Berkshire Hathaway's ownership period for its publicly traded stocks averaged about four years. That's not a huge amount of turnover, but it doesn't correspond with "never sell" either.
I think that there are two points to be made. First, as much as some would like to believe otherwise, Buffett, like every other human being, has some inconsistencies. Unlike most, he seems to be delightfully unconcerned about them. In general, he views stock ownership as being the same as business ownership, but the kind of long-term performance that Buffett has achieved comes in no small part due to his ability of taking advantage of Mr. Market when he loses his mind, and buying low as well as selling dear. In the battle between seeming consistent and taking advantage of an incredible price, you can bet that Buffett's tendency is toward the latter.
Recent actions bear this out -- in the last few years Buffett has sold all of Berkshire's shares in Freddie Mac
Bill Mann owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway.