Berkshire Hathaway Inc. increased its holdings in some of billionaire Chairman Warren Buffett’s favorite companies in the first quarter, including Wells Fargo & Co. and International Business Machines Corp.
Berkshire also added to its stake in U.S. Bancorp, according to a regulatory filing Friday detailing its U.S. stock portfolio as of March 31. Buffett’s deputies pared holdings in stocks including National Oilwell Varco Inc. No new companies were listed in the portfolio.
While Buffett is widely known for his skill at picking stocks, the investment portfolio at Berkshire has become less important over time as the company shifted toward buying whole businesses. Equities have also gotten more expensive. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is on pace to increase for its 10th straight quarter.
“If there are no screaming buys out there, there’s not much for him to do,” Gregg Warren, an analyst at Morningstar Inc., said earlier this week in a phone interview.
Buffett boosted his IBM holding by 3.4 percent to 79.6 million shares, bringing the stake to $12.8 billion at the end of the first quarter. He said at Berkshire’s annual meeting this month that he had added to the IBM stake despite its revenue slump, without saying how many shares he acquired.
The Wells Fargo investment climbed by 1.5 percent to 470 million shares and was valued at more than $25 billion at the end of March. The U.S. Bancorp stake rose by 4.6 percent to 83.7 million shares and is valued at more than $3 billion.
Wells Fargo and IBM are part of Buffett’s “Big Four” stock investments. The other two companies in that group are American Express Co. and Coca-Cola Co. The stakes in those companies were unchanged in the first quarter. Berkshire is the biggest shareholder in all four businesses.
The other biggest additions in the quarter were in oil refiner Phillips 66 and manufacturer Precision Castparts Corp. Both are probably part of the portfolios run by Buffett’s deputy investment managers Todd Combs and Ted Weschler. They tend to make smaller investments than their boss.
The largest reduction in the portfolio was in National Oilwell Varco. Berkshire’s holding in the oilfield services company fell by 62 percent to 1.98 million shares and was valued at almost $100 million at the end of March. The company has lost more than a quarter of its market value in the last year amid plunging oil prices.
Berkshire’s stakes in Viacom Inc. and Bank of New York Mellon Corp. also declined in the quarter.