In the wake of the
recent meltdown, legendary value investor
has played the unlikely Comeback Kid role to the hilt -- just in time for today's annual meeting of
shareholders in his hometown of Omaha, Neb.
Since the tech-heavy Nasdaq peaked on March 10, it seems that someone's borrowed the shock paddles from
ER and applied them to Buffett's holding company. Shares of Berkshire Hathaway rocketed 44% as the go-go Nasdaq Composite fell 25%.
That's a real turnaround from 1999, when Berkshire Hathaway suffered its first down year since 1990. Buffett's strategy of buying companies with strong brands and cash flows in basic, low-tech industries and holding them for years looked stale in a market dominated by speculative tech stocks that trade on the Nasdaq.
Now one imagines the humble and grandfatherly Buffett, 69, strutting around his Omaha offices saying, "Stick that in your
Stuart." He's earned the right to be smug. Over the past 15 years, Berkshire Hathaway is up a whopping 3189%, beating the
index by more than 2400 percentage points.
In honor of Buffett's resurgence, this week's Saturday Screen sifts for funds with the biggest bets on Berkshire Hathaway. More than 150 funds own shares, according to
. Here are the 10 biggest believers.
As you might guess from their varying returns, not all these funds invest "The Buffett Way." But at least two are decent proxies.
At the top there's no-load
Sequoia with its whopping 29% bet on the man himself. Co-managers William Ruane and Robert Goldfarb do a Buffett imitation with the rest of their large-cap value fund too.
Like Buffett, they run a concentrated portfolio. The fund has just 10 stock holdings, according to Morningstar. And it's committed to its picks, as indicated by a low, 21% turnover ratio -- less than one quarter the average stock fund's turnover.
Sequoia also shares Buffett's financial stock fetish; 92% of the fund is invested in the sector. Some 15% is bet on mortgage reseller
and almost 12% is with insurer
. The fund has a 0% tech weighting.
That approach was a loser last year, when the fund returned a negative 16.5%. But it has helped the fund weather the market's recent storm. Over the past month the fund is up 7.4%, while most stock funds are underwater.
Unfortunately, if you don't already own the fund, you're probably out of luck since it has been closed to new investors since Dec. 23, 1982. If you absolutely, positively need to get into the fund, there is a
gray market on Internet message boards, where you can buy a share from current shareholders and build your account from there.
If you don't like those cloak and dagger tactics, consider mid-cap blend
Oak Value, run by David Carr and George Brumley since the fund's 1993 inception. The no-load fund has just 19 holdings, focusing about half the fund on financials. Berkshire Hathaway is its top holding and the fund also has big bets on stocks Buffett owns, like
. Like Sequoia, the fund doesn't hold any tech.
Merrill Lynch Global Value follows a Buffett-esque approach with a global flavor. Stephen Silverman, who has run the large-cap value fund since its 1996 inception, favors financials and consumer staples over sexier sectors. His "growth at a reasonable price" approach is a bit less strict than Buffett's, but the fund's 40% overseas weighting offers a Buffett-like portfolio with a dash of diversification.
Speaking of which,
Legg Mason Focus gives you the investment styles of both Buffett and fellow value legend Bill Miller, who manages
Legg Mason Value Trust. Beyond his 8.9% Berkshire stake, fund manager Robert Hagstrom also holds Buffett favorites like
Since Miller's value approach extends into tech, Hagstrom also holds
. That balanced approach helped the fund to a 18.6% return last year when strict Buffet-niks, like Sequoia, sank. More recently, the fund's Buffett holdings have kept it afloat. It's up 1.5% over the past month.
Not True Believers
The other funds on our list aren't much of a Buffett proxy.
Century Shares and
Fidelity Select Insurance focus strictly on insurance stocks, and there's more to Buffett than that subsector.
Pioneer Growth and
Hilliard Lyons Growth are both low on tech, but are a bit too growth-oriented to fit the Buffett mold.
MegaTrends, run by author and newsletter editor Stephen Leeb, and
Weitz Value, run by respected value manager Wally Weitz, both have sizable bets on financial stocks, but also have the flexibility to set their sights elsewhere. Weitz, for instance, made big bets on cable and telecommunications stocks in the early 1990s.
What About the Real Thing?
If you want to invest in Buffett's style, why not just buy Berkshire shares? Easier said than done. As of Thursday's close, a single class A share of Berkshire Hathaway would've cost you $59,400, and Class B shares
went for $1920 each. Unless you're a fat cat, the fund route is probably your only bet.
So, there you have it. If the closest you can get to Berkshire shares is a fund that holds them, that's what you have to choose from. And if the closest you can get to Buffett's meeting is
, check out Contributing Editor
coverage all weekend.