Over time Delphi fell out of favor, and so, apparently, has Omaha.
March 16 last year, a good day for the stock market, was not a very good one for
. The company hadn't made the list of top holdings in
annual letter to
(BRK:NYSE) shareholders over the weekend, which meant that Berkshire had sold. Of the eight decliners on the
that Monday, McDonald's fared the worst. Its stock dropped 1 5/8, or 3%, to 53 on huge volume. (Share data exclude a 2-for-1 stock split set March 5, 1999.) By Thursday it had shed 5.7%. In the meantime, the
had gone up 2%.
What a difference a year makes.
Omitted from Berkshire's holdings in the letter Buffett put out this weekend was
stake Berkshire held last year would have been worth about $1.2 billion at year end (and $1.6 billion today). At the very least, Buffett sold a bit more than a third of his stake.
But this had very little effect on trading today. Citi, it is true, traded a little heavy -- it was flat at 65 5/16 on a day the market moved higher. But this had as much to do with
announcement that it would buy
. That put "who's-next?" speculation in the bank stocks again, sending banks seen as takeout candidates higher and putting pressure on potential acquirers. Citi is in the latter camp.
Which is a somewhat long-winded way of saying the stock market does not care as much about Buffett as it has in the past.
"Buffett's effect has been lessened," says Dan Mathisson, head stock trader at
D.E. Shaw Securities
. "As a market timer, he doesn't get that much respect -- he's been saying the market's overvalued for a while, and it continues to go up."
Then there's that ill-fated McDonald's move -- something that Buffett, in this year's letter, says he regrets. Investors who bolted from McDonald's on the news that Berkshire had sold made a mistake. In the year since, the burger (well, French fry) vendor has outperformed the S&P 500 by 40%.
Wall Street is always creating a new
and then turning away when reality pulls back the curtain. Mathisson noted the scorn that was heaped on
Goldman Sachs' Abby Joseph Cohen
as stocks fell this summer and she kept on being bullish. With the resurgence of the market, her image has lost some of its tarnish.
But not all of it, and perhaps here is a good place to draw a parallel between Buffett and Cohen. Cohen's great insight was seeing in the market a staircase pattern of steps and explosive risers. It was an idea that she came up with in 1992, and it rang true for six years. It doesn't really look all that cogent anymore -- Cohen's style has fallen out of favor with the market. Or, rather, the market has fallen out of her style.
The same could be said of Buffett, whose everybody-needs-a-razor style hasn't been working lately. Over the last year, the classic Buffett stocks --
-- haven't been great ones to own.
Buffett may be the victim of his own success, points out Courtney Smith, chief investment officer at
. "If you look at where he really made his money," says Smith, "it was large-cap growth stocks. He bought them really cheap and now they're really expensive."
People often forget, but that was the other side of Buffett's strategy. It wasn't just that everybody needed a razor, but that the company that was selling the razors had a price-to-earnings ratio in the single digits. Now it's 49. That's been a wonderful thing for the value of Berkshire's portfolio, but it's also meant that Berkshire has so much money sloshing around, it's hard to deploy it well.
"The glory days of his style of investing are over for now," says Smith, "and he has too much money to go after the small-caps that would fit his criteria."