Cascade owns a sizable chunk of Ecolab -- 27 million shares, or roughly 9% of the company, for a total market value of about $1.6 billion. The Gates Foundation is another big holder. It ended the year with 252,000 shares, a year-end market value of $4.4 billion.
Ecolab has been as solid a performer. The stock has nearly tripled during the past decade, rising from less than $24 to a recent $60 a share.
In the past decade, Ecolab has grown annual sales by more than 11% a year. This has pushed sales from $3.4 billion to what could reach $12 billion by the end of 2012. Profit growth has been nearly as impressive at a little more than 10% annually. Earnings per share started at 80 cents a decade ago and are likely exceed $3 by the end of this year. The stock's forward price-to-earnings ratio is 20, however, which is not that cheap.
The Lone Active Purchase
At some point during the fourth quarter of 2011, the Foundation purchased 351,000 shares of embattled food packager Diamond Foods (DMND), worth roughly $11 million.Because of the way these filings work, it is not possible to tell precisely when buying and selling activity takes place. For Diamond Foods, this is crucial to know because the stock plummeted early in the quarter. The drop was dramatic -- Diamond traded at more than $90 per share in late September but fell precipitously in November. The stock stabilized a bit in December, settling down around $30 per share. In what has been a very public implosion, Diamond was riding high and had agreed to acquire the Pringles potato chip brand from consumer products giant Procter & Gamble (PG). But shortly after the deal was announced, accounting irregularities surfaced at Diamond surrounding the manner in which it accounted for the purchase of walnuts from its suppliers. There has been speculation it cooked its books to make its numbers look better to P&G in order to seal the Pringles purchase. Returning to the timing of the Gates purchase, it could very well be that the Foundation chose to go bottom-fishing in Diamond's stock. The company still owns a healthy mix of food brands, including Kettle Potato Chips, Pop Secret and Diamond Culinary Nuts. Pringles has since been snapped up by rival Kellogg (K), but Diamond still has a solid growth track record and could eventually put its accounting woes behind it. If Gates holds Diamond through the first quarter, or even acquires additional shares, then he'll likely own the stock for the long haul.