Berkshire Takes $10.7 Billion IBM Stake, CEO Buffett Says

Berkshire Takes $10.7 Billion IBM Stake
International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) offices at 590 Madison Avenue in New York, U.S. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. acquired a 5.5 percent stake in International Business Machines Corp., the world’s biggest computer-services provider, as the billionaire chairman accelerated stock purchases.

The holding of about 64 million shares was acquired mostly in the third quarter and cost $10.5 billion to $10.7 billion, Buffett told CNBC in an interview today. At $10.7 billion, his company would have paid an average of about $167.19 a share, compared with IBM’s Nov. 11 close of $187.38. IBM advanced 0.8 percent to $188.85 at 10:10 a.m. in New York. Berkshire slipped 1 percent.

“They have laid out a road map and followed it extremely well,” Buffett said of Armonk, New York-based IBM. “They’ve done an incredible job.”

Buffett, 81, drew down Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire’s cash hoard in the three months ended Sept. 30 as U.S. stocks headed for their biggest quarterly decline since 2008. The chief executive officer invested $23.9 billion in the period as he acquired Lubrizol Corp., took a preferred stake in Bank of America Corp. and broadened the stock portfolio.

IBM is investing in areas such as emerging markets and analytics software to boost earnings. The company has said it will generate $100 billion in cash flow from 2010 to 2015 and return 70 percent of that to shareholders.

Buffett said he was betting on IBM’s ability to help clients’ information-technology departments outside the U.S.

‘More Comfortable’

“If you’re in some country around the world and you’re developing your IT department, you’re probably going to feel more comfortable with IBM than with many companies,” he said. “They’ve done a terrific job of developing that.”

Last month, IBM named Virginia “Ginni” Rometty the first female CEO in the company’s 100-year history. She is taking over from Sam Palmisano, who increased earnings by steering the company toward software and services, and disposing some hardware businesses such as personal computers.

IBM targets operating earnings of at least $20 a share by 2015, up from $13.35 the company projects for this year. Software will make up half of total profit in 2015, IBM forecasts. Analytics software, which helps businesses predict trends, is expected to draw $16 billion in sales by 2015, while cloud computing will draw $7 billion, IBM predicts.

Not Going to Panic

Buffett “had the funds and the opportunity to purchase shares at an attractive price,” said David Kass, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “He’s not going to panic when there is some temporary economic problems which could cause the stock markets to plunge for some period of time. He just sees that as a buying opportunity.”

Mike Fay, an IBM spokesman, referred to Buffett’s comments on the company’s growth plans and said IBM didn’t immediately have anything to add.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, which fell 14 percent in the third quarter, has advanced about 11 percent since Sept. 30.

Buffett spent $11.4 billion on equity securities in the nine months ended in September, compared with $3.9 billion in same period last year and $3.2 billion in the first three quarters of 2009. The stock purchases this year are in addition to the $5 billion Berkshire spent on Bank of America preferred stock and warrants and the takeover of Lubrizol for about $9 billion.

Wells Fargo

Buffett said his company increased its stake in Wells Fargo & Co. in the last quarter. Berkshire has previously disclosed new stakes this year in MasterCard Inc., the world’s second-biggest payments network, and retailer Dollar General Corp.

Buffett’s firm had requested permission to omit information from regulatory filings that listed U.S. equity holdings as of March 31 and June 30. Regulators sometimes let companies withhold data to limit copycat investing while building or cutting a position. Berkshire hasn’t filed its third-quarter stocks statement as of 10:20 a.m. in New York.

“If the stock is cheap, we will buy it,” Buffett said in a Sept. 30 interview with Bloomberg Television.

Berkshire’s investable funds were boosted this year as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and General Electric Co. returned financing that Buffett extended during the 2008 credit crunch. Cash was also bolstered by earnings at units from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad to the Geico car insurer. The third-quarter investments reduced Berkshire cash hoard to $34.8 billion as of Sept. 30 from $47.9 billion three months earlier.

Insurance, Railroads

“The guy has a billion plus coming in to Omaha” every month, said David Rolfe, chief investment officer of Berkshire investor Wedgewood Partners Inc.

Berkshire, which posted profit of $13 billion last year, reported a 24 percent decline in third-quarter net income as Buffett’s equity derivative bets pressured results. Insurance units reported a $1.7 billion pretax underwriting gain, while net earnings at the railroad rose 8.5 percent to $766 million.

Berkshire had $68.1 billion in stocks at the end of September. That includes investments of non-U.S. companies, including the biggest shareholding of Germany’s Munich Re and a stake in the U.K.’s Tesco Plc.

Buffett, in preparation for his eventual retirement, hired money manager Todd Combs last year and instructed him to focus on equities. Combs was assigned to oversee as much as $3 billion and can make trades without consulting Buffett. Berkshire said hedge fund manager Ted Weschler will join the company next year and take charge of a portion of the portfolio.

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