Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A) disclosed a stake in billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Global Plc (LBTYA) valued at about $246 million as Warren Buffett’s backup stock pickers shuffle their bets on pay-TV providers.
Berkshire held 2.95 million shares of Liberty Global on Dec. 31, Buffett’s Omaha, Nebraska-based company said yesterday in a regulatory filing. Malone’s London-based firm slipped 0.6 percent to $83.60 in New York before the stake was disclosed.
Equity holdings at Berkshire surged past $100 billion in 2013 as Wells Fargo & Co. and American Express Co. advanced. The company benefited from picks by Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, Buffett’s deputy investment managers. Each beat the 30 percent gain by the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index last year.
“They’re proving themselves,” said David Kass, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business who has taken students to meet Buffett in Omaha. “Shareholders should be very pleased.”
Liberty Global has spent almost $50 billion to consolidate the European cable industry in recent years. Last month, it agreed to fully take over Ziggo NV, a Dutch broadband operator, for 4.9 billion euros ($6.7 billion). Liberty Global has gained 26 percent in the last 12 months.
Berkshire decreased its stake in Malone’s Liberty Media Corp. by 322,000 shares, or about $44 million, and ended a 547,000-share investment in satellite-TV provider Dish Network Corp. in the fourth quarter, according to the filing. It exited a stake in drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline Plc.
Buffett, 83, has been handing his deputies more money as he prepares Berkshire for a new generation of leaders. The former hedge-fund managers were hired in the past four years and will be responsible for investments once the billionaire chairman and chief executive officer steps aside. Each currently oversees about $7 billion.
Returns by Combs and Weschler contrast with Buffett’s own. For the first time since he took control of Berkshire in 1965, the CEO is poised to report that he missed his goal of boosting the company’s net worth more than the S&P 500 over a five-year period.
Falling short of that target would reflect surging stock prices -- the S&P 500 (SPX) returned 128 percent from year-end 2008 through 2013, including dividends -- and Berkshire’s size. As the company expanded through acquisitions, boosting its value has gotten harder.
Buffett’s five-decade track record of compounding shareholders’ money has earned him a following among investors. Quarterly disclosures of Berkshire’s U.S. stock picks are studied by mutual funds and individuals looking for clues about his investment strategy.
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