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3 Things Buffett Likes About Health Care

By Keith Speights - Apr 6, 2013 at 1:35PM

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What does Warren Buffett like about health care? Here are 3 things he likes that can make you a better investor.

Warren Buffett knows what he likes -- and he gets what he likes. While he is widely known for investing in consumer product companies, another industry has also captured his attention and his money. Here are three things Buffett really likes about health care.

1. Keep it simple
Buffett likes to keep things simple and understand the business before he buys. DaVita Healthcare Partners (DVA -0.19%) is a great example of this desired simplicity. The company provides dialysis services for patients with chronic kidney disease or end stage renal disease. Patients with these diseases can't survive without dialysis. DaVita provides the service. It doesn't get much more simple than that.

Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B 2.02%) owns 14% of DaVita, valued at more than $1.9 billion and growing. The stock has a one-year return of nearly 34%.Keeping it simple can pay off.

2. Investing for the long run
Some might look at a company like GlaxoSmithKline (GSK 0.52%) and run for the hills. Just last year, the British pharma lost an estimated $35 billion in sales due to generic competition as key drugs lost patent protection. But Buffett first bought the stock in 2008 -- with full knowledge that the patent cliff was coming. Why? Buffett looks at the long run. His ideal holding period is "forever." 

His position in GlaxoSmithKline isn't huge -- just 1.5 million shares valued at around $71 million. And the stock hasn't done much over the past year, with shares up only 2%. However, remember that Buffett is looking at the long run. Patents may come and go, but obviously Buffett still views Glaxo as a good long-term buy.

3. Buying businesses
Buffett doesn't buy a stock. He buys a business. His aim is to buy a "wonderful company at a fair price." Sanofi (SNY 1.89%) seems to have hit that mark. Berkshire Hathaway bought shares in the French pharmaceutical company back in 2006 and added to its position each year through 2010. Even through Sanofi's share prices were declining during much of that period, Buffett kept on buying. As with Glaxo, he saw the long-term potential for the business and cared less about how the stock was performing in the shorter term.

The short term has looked pretty good for Sanofi lately, though. Shares are up nearly 30% over the past year. While they're not up by nearly that much compared to 2006 levels, remember that Buffett kept adding to his position when shares were dropping. By focusing on buying the business, he has done quite well with his investment in Sanofi.

Liking with open eyes
Just because Warren Buffett likes an investment doesn't mean that he's blind to problems. For example, he cut back most of his position in Johnson & Johnson (JNJ 2.04%) after J&J recalled products and encountered legal problems related to misleading doctors and patients about medication risks. Buffett commented that J&J still had "a lot of wonderful products and it's got a wonderful balance sheet" but that the company had made "too many mistakes."

We can't all be Warren Buffett, but we can learn from him. What he likes about health care can help us find other companies that we can like. But it's up to each of us to keep our eyes open -- and to take action. Like that other famous Mr. Buffett says (singer Jimmy Buffett): "People who think too much before they act don't act too much."

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Stocks Mentioned

Johnson & Johnson Stock Quote
Johnson & Johnson
JNJ
$179.44 (2.04%) $3.59
Sanofi Stock Quote
Sanofi
SNY
$55.43 (1.89%) $1.03
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Stock Quote
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
BRK.B
$310.20 (2.02%) $6.15
GlaxoSmithKline plc Stock Quote
GlaxoSmithKline plc
GSK
$44.75 (0.52%) $0.23
DaVita Inc. Stock Quote
DaVita Inc.
DVA
$94.25 (-0.19%) $0.18

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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