Berkshire reveals confidential bets on Verizon and Chevron

Warren Buffett’s conglomerate took multibillion-dollar stakes in companies late last year.

  • By Eric Platt,
  • Financial Times
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Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRK/B) revealed multibillion-dollar stakes in telecoms company Verizon (VZ) and oil-and-gas major Chevron (CVX) on Tuesday, investments it had previously kept confidential.

The investment conglomerate disclosed it had purchased 58.3m shares of Verizon in the third quarter of 2020 and another 88.4m in the fourth quarter, lifting its stake to $8.6bn, one of its largest equity holdings.

According to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Omaha, Nebraska-based company also bought 48.5m shares in Chevron in the second half of 2020 worth $4.1bn at the end of last year, as well as 4.3m shares of insurance broker Marsh & McLennan (MMC) valued at $499.3m.

Berkshire, which owns the BNSF railroad and Geico insurer, did not say why it had asked US securities regulators for permission to keep the stock purchases confidential in its third-quarter filings. It did not respond to a request for comment.

Buffett works with deputies Todd Combs and Ted Weschler in allocating the $245bn equity portfolio. It was not clear who had made the decision to invest in Verizon and Chevron.

Verizon shares climbed 3 per cent and Chevron advanced 2.5 per cent in after-hours trading following news of the investments. The purchases made Berkshire one of Verizon’s five largest shareholders, with roughly 3.5 per cent of the telecoms company, according to data provider Bloomberg.

Darren Pollock, a portfolio manager at Cheviot Value Management, said the purchases of Verizon and Chevron “make perfect sense” given both were “relatively undervalued and offer high dividend yields”.

“At share prices seen in the last few months, both Verizon and Chevron are available with a considerable margin of safety — limited downside risk while producing considerable income and moderate appreciation potential,” Pollock said. “At worst, they’re a relatively safe parking place for more than $12bn of Berkshire’s growing cash balance.”

The so-called Oracle of Omaha has worked to retool the company’s portfolio over the past year, shifting its investments as the coronavirus crisis sent much of the business world reeling.

Berkshire has cut holdings in several bank stocks, selling the remaining shares it held in JPMorgan Chase (JPM), PNC Financial Services (PNC) and M&T Bank (MTB) in the fourth quarter.

The company also cut its position in Apple (AAPL) by 57.2m shares, although a 14.6 per cent rally in the iPhone maker’s shares in the fourth quarter meant the value of Berkshire’s stake increased. Apple remained its largest equity investment, worth just under $118bn at year-end.

Berkshire tweaked its investments in several drugmakers in the period. It increased its stakes in AbbVie (ABBV), Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) and Merck (MRK), but sold out of Pfizer (PFE).

Investors are awaiting Mr Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders for clues as to how the 90-year-old doyen of the investment world plans to use Berkshire’s roughly $146bn cash pile. The letter and Berkshire’s full-year results are due later this month.

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