Here’s How Warren Buffett’s Stock Picks Have Done Since Last Year’s Berkshire Hathaway Meeting
At this year’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A) annual meeting, tens of thousands of investors will once again celebrate Warren Buffett’s investing prowess. This year, in fact, that number could get up into the millions as the event known as “Woodstock for Capitalists” will be webcast for the first time.
And while Buffett’s legendary investing track record is well documented, rightfully earning him the moniker of the “Oracle of Omaha,” it’s worth pointing out that his recent stock-picking performance has been lackluster. Since Berkshire’s shareholder meeting a year ago, more than half of the 43 publicly traded stocks it owns are down. Berkshire Hathaway stock itself has also been punished: The shares fell 12.5% in 2015—their worst performance since the 2008 financial crisis, though they have recovered recently, and are up about 2% over the last year.
But of the companies Buffett calls his “Big Four” investments—American Express (AXP), Coca-Cola (KO), IBM (IBM), and Wells Fargo (WFC)—only one has gained since Berkshire last held its annual meeting. That would be Coke. Its shares are up more than 10% during the past year. American Express, however, has plunged 15% in the same period, while IBM’s stock price sank nearly 16%. Wells Fargo, meanwhile, lost 9% (though in typical Oracle fashion, Buffett bought more of the bank’s shares amid the selloff earlier this year).
To be fair, Buffett himself isn’t responsible for picking all the stocks that Berkshire owns, as his two deputies, Ted Weschler and Todd Combs, are now managing large portfolios of their own at the company. But that doesn’t necessarily make Buffett’s record look better: Berkshire’s biggest winner over the last year is Verisign (VRSN), up 39% over the past year—and it was likely a Combs pick, according to Fortune senior editor Stephen Gandel’s analysis. (On the other hand, Berkshire’s biggest loser, Liberty Media (LMCK), down 53% in the past year, was Weschler’s doing as well, according to the same analysis.)
It’s also possible that Buffett has dumped some of his losing holdings in the last few months since his last portfolio disclosure, which only updated Berkshire’s portfolio through the end of 2015. Buffett also adds to his positions. So some of his most recent purchases as the market has rebounded in the past few months, may have been good calls, even if those same stocks are down for the full year since the last meeting.
Still, only 19 stocks in his portfolio are up over the last year, and 24 are down—and some of them way, way down. Buffett’s investments in newspaper companies including Graham Holdings (GHC) (former owner of the Washington Post) and Lee Enterprises (LEE) (which publishes dozens of regional papers), are among his worst performers, with Graham’s shares down 24% and Lee’s down 30% over the past year. But Buffett has said in the past that while he likes owning newspapers, he sees them more as money pits than growth opportunities.
Another disappointment has been Goldman Sachs (GS), whose shares have fallen more than 17% since last year’s Buffettpalooza in Omaha—though the Oracle reduced his stake in the bank in the latter part of 2015.
Tune in to the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m. E.T./9 a.m. C.T. to see if Buffett has anything to say about his stocks’ dismal performance over the past year. If not, come back this time next year when we’ll likely grade them again.