Many investors pay mutual fund managers thousands of dollars each year to make the right moves with their money. But thanks to Securities and Exchange Commission disclosure rules, you get a free look every three months at the investments that mutual funds buy. Although they come with a time lag, that information can give you some great insight into the way that professional investors think about strategy.
Every quarter, institutional investors and mutual funds that meet certain size requirements must disclose their holdings to the SEC on what's called Form 13F. These 13F reports provide most of the information that market trackers follow in seeing what top investors like Warren Buffett and George Soros are doing with their money.
Following the manager of the decade
Bruce Berkowitz is no stranger to the limelight. Thanks to his Fairholme Fund success, Berkowitz earned Fund Manager of the Decade recognition from Morningstar. More recently, he's earned plenty of attention for taking focused positions in financial stocks as well as waging a huge fight for control of the Florida land-owning St. Joe Co.
But where Berkowitz sees value right now is in stocks of big pharmaceutical companies. According to Fairholme's 13F filings, the fund added Eli Lilly
The moves share a common theme with Berkowitz's earlier bets, as many investors have discounted future prospects for pharma stocks for some time. Both Lilly and AstraZeneca trade at earnings multiples of less than 10, as shareholders fear that the steep patent cliffs they each face in coming years will lead to shrinking revenue and threatened earnings shortfalls. Making contrary bets is Berkowitz's trademark, and if these pan out, the fund could break out of its recent slump.
By contrast, Donald Yacktman may not have won a prestigious award from Morningstar, but his namesake Yacktman Fund is no slouch. With returns of 12% annually over the past 10 years, Yacktman tops its large-value category. And combined with the Yacktman Focused Fund, which he also manages, Yacktman has made some interesting moves of his own during the quarter.
In particular, Yacktman added big stakes in dividend-paying stocks during the first three months of the year. Within his top 10 holdings, the biggest percentage jumps came from Sysco
Yet what may reveal Yacktman's investing strategy more clearly than his March 31 holdings was an interview he gave to CNBC earlier this month. Following Microsoft's purchase of Skype, Yacktman said that the tech giant overpaid for the acquisition and should instead have paid a special one-time dividend or used the $8.5 billion to buy back shares.
Nevertheless, with other market commentators like Jeremy Grantham suggesting that large-cap value stocks are the safest place to hide in a scary market, it's not surprising to see a value investor with Yacktman's record following suit. Even if the stock market's long bullish bounce from the market meltdown comes to an end, these stocks all have a reasonable margin of safety built into the prices, which should help cushion the blow from a future downturn.
Go your own way
So what should you do with this information? Simply mimicking these investment moves can sometimes work out well, although you should remember that by now, all of these holdings are six weeks out of date. Since the actual portfolios these fund managers own could be completely different by now, you don't want to give too much weight to 13F filings.
More valuable, though, is to look through the reasoning behind each pick and apply it to your own investing strategy. Just because top fund managers cycle in and out of stocks doesn't mean that you have to be equally active. Often, taking an idea from a guru investor serves as a springboard to discovering exactly which investments you want to hold for the long run.
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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger tries to explain to friends how 13Fs are like red carpet interviews of the fund world. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article, though he does own shares of Fairholme Fund. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended Microsoft, Sysco, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, and GlaxoSmithKline; as well as diagonal call positions on Microsoft and PepsiCo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft, GlaxoSmithKline, and PepsiCo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool's disclosure policy likes the view from the top.