Yacktman Cut BlackBerry Stake in Half Before Z10 Debut

Donald Yacktman, whose $21 billion mutual-fund firm was BlackBerry’s fifth-largest investor last year, sold almost half his holdings in the smartphone maker in the weeks before the debut of its ballyhooed BlackBerry 10.

Yacktman Asset Management Co. sold 11.4 million BlackBerry in the quarter ended Dec. 31, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, cutting its stake to 12.1 million shares. The move followed a period of aggressive buying during the previous quarter, when the firm “backed up the truck” to buy the stock on the cheap, Yacktman said in an interview.

That let him take advantage of a rally for the shares, which surged 58 percent in the fourth quarter. Still, Yacktman sold before an additional 38 percent gain this year, fueled by optimism that the BlackBerry 10 lineup will be a hit. BlackBerry, formerly known as Research In Motion Ltd., is counting on the new phones to pull it out of a sales slump and win back market share lost to the iPhone and Android devices.

“The dilemma in a company like this is that there are vast differences in outcome potential,” Yacktman said. Today, the stock is more expensive, with no guarantee the new phones can turn the company around, he said. “The stock is in a lot different situation at a much higher price.”

Stock Picking

Yacktman relies more than peers on picking individual stocks rather than indexes, a strategy that helped his firm outperform other mutual funds during the economic slump. The $8.1 billion Yacktman Focused Fund has returned 14 percent over the past five years, putting it in the top 1 percent of comparable funds, data compiled by Bloomberg shows.

BlackBerry unveiled the BlackBerry 10 phones at an event on Jan. 30 and has since began selling the Z10 model in the U.K. and Canada. Buoyed by positive reviews, the phone has garnered more initial sales in those countries than any previous model.

Still, the device has yet to arrive in the U.S., BlackBerry’s biggest single market. The Z10 is due to go on sale there in March.

With his smaller stake, Yacktman became the company’s nine-largest holder. BlackBerry shares rose 5.7 percent to $16.96 at the close in New York.

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