Berkshire’s $1.2 billion selling spree

February 15, 2011, 7:07 AM UTC

In the you can’t-have-too-much department, Berkshire Hathaway raised cash last year as it prepared for a rare change of the investing guard.

The Omaha-based company sold its stake in Bank of America (BAC) and seven other big companies as a top lieutenant to Warren Buffett retired.

Gets much-needed financial boost

Berkshire (BRKA) sold off its holdings in cable company Comcast (CMCSA), shoe maker Nike (NKE) and home improvement retailer Lowe’s (LOW) in the fourth quarter, the company said late Monday in a quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company also sold its stakes in medical device maker Becton Dickinson (BDX), finance technology provider Fiserv (FI), water treatment company Nalco (NLC) and the Swiss chocolatier Nestle.

The positions Berkshire liquidated were worth $1.2 billion at the end of the third quarter, according to SEC filings.

The sales came at the end of a year that saw the retirement of Lou Simpson, who had managed money for Berkshire’s Geico for many years. The stocks Berkshire sold were major holdings of Simpson’s at Geico, the car insurer that controls a massive stock portfolio of its own.

Berkshire last year hired hedge fund manager Todd Combs and put him in charge of a portfolio worth $2 billion to $3 billion, in line with what Simpson oversaw at Geico.

Berkshire didn’t sell all Simpson’s stocks. Indeed, one of his favorites, judging by Geico’s portfolio, is Wells Fargo (WFC), and Berkshire added to that position in the fourth quarter. It was the only stock position Berkshire expanded during the period.

Berkshire trimmed its holdings of many of the Geico holdings it didn’t liquidate altogether, lightening its stakes in Bank of New York (BK) and Moody’s (MCO), among others.

Berkshire didn’t touch its stake in Washington Post (WPO), whose board Buffett recently said he would leave after some three decades.

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