Berkshire Hathaway fine-tunes its holdings

By Josh Funk
Sunday, February 21, 2010

OMAHA -- Billionaire Warren Buffett's company reduced its holdings in Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil during the last three months of 2009, according to documents filed last week.

Berkshire Hathaway disclosed those moves and several other changes to its $58 billion U.S. stock portfolio in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The filing offers a snapshot of the Omaha-based company's holdings as of Dec. 31.

Berkshire added to its stakes in Iron Mountain, Becton Dickinson, Republic Services and Wells Fargo.

But the filing also said Berkshire has received permission from the SEC to omit some information to protect its trading strategy, so the document offers an incomplete picture.

Berkshire regularly asks the SEC's permission not to immediately disclose its holdings when it is making significant investment changes. Berkshire says the information could hurt its trading strategy because the market likes to follow what the "Oracle of Omaha" does. (Buffett is a director of The Washington Post Co. and the largest non-family shareholder.)

Berkshire officials do not typically comment on stock holdings beyond what the company is legally required to disclose.

After buying more than 8 million shares of Johnson & Johnson during the first half of 2009, Berkshire sold 9.8 million shares in the fourth quarter. So Berkshire held 27.1 million shares of the New Brunswick, N.J.-based drug and medical products maker at the end of the year.

Berkshire sold 8.8 million shares of consumer products giant Procter & Gamble during the fourth quarter, leaving Buffett's company with 87.5 million shares.

Berkshire also sharply reduced its holdings in oil producers ConocoPhillips and Exxon. Berkshire held 37.7 million shares of ConocoPhillips on Dec. 31 after selling 19.7 million shares. The smaller Exxon stake Berkshire first revealed last fall was cut from 1.3 million shares to 421,800 shares at year's end.

Berkshire more than doubled its stake in Iron Mountain, a Boston-based data- and document-storage company, to 7 million shares.

Berkshire increased its stake in Franklin Lakes, N.J.-based Becton Dickinson to 1.5 million shares. Previously, Berkshire held 1.2 million shares of the company, which makes medical devices and lab equipment.

Berkshire's investment in Phoenix-based waste hauler Republic Services grew to 8.3 million shares at year's end from 3.6 million at the end of September.

Berkshire said in a separate filing Tuesday that it held 342.2 million Wells Fargo shares, giving it control of 6.7 percent of the bank. That's up from the 312.4 million Wells Fargo shares Berkshire held a year ago.

The filings do not differentiate between investments Berkshire makes, investments any of nearly 80 subsidiaries make or investments Buffett makes.

-- Associated Press

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