Buffett, Buffett, Buffett
. That's what every headline and every story says every time
shows up as an investor in a company. It's always Buffett bought this and Buffett bought that, which was the case with Berkshire's recent purchase of shares in
Great Lakes Chemical
But a closer look at the SEC filings tells a very different story.
While Buffett, Berkshire and other Berkshire entities were named as co-filers in both, it's just as important to look at Section 7, down near the bottom of the Form 13-G. That's where companies are asked whether a specific subsidiary made the purchase. With Great Lakes and TCA, Berkshire names Government Employees Insurance Company, also known as
What's more, the amount being bought in both cases was in the $100 million- plus range. "One thing you do know is that Geico is growing at a very fast rate, and therefore premium money is coming in at a very fast rate and has to be invested," says
fund manager and
The Warren Buffett Way
author Robert Hagstrom, who is putting the finishing touches on
The Warren Buffett Portfolio
. "Warren basically says he needs billion dollar ideas for his $30 billion portfolio. What you're showing me is $100 million ideas, which are more meaningful to a $2 billion portfolio, which might be Geico." (Hagstrom says "might" because details of Geico's investment portfolio aren't broken out by Berkshire.)
Why should anyone care whether it's Buffett or someone else? "It's interesting to think that Berkshire is an organization that is larger than and has more intelligent pieces than just Warren Buffett," Hagstrom says, "and it's something people don't focus on." Geico's co-CEO is low-profile
, generally regarded as the heir-apparent to Buffett. In last year's Berkshire annual report Buffett wrote that Berkshire's reported positions "sometimes reflect the investment decisions" of Simpson, whom Buffett has called one of the most capable and talented investment managers he knows. "Lou independently runs an equity portfolio of nearly $2 billion that may at times overlap the portfolio that I manage, and occasionally he makes moves that differ from mine," Buffett added.
As with Buffett, Hagstrom says Simpson tends to run highly concentrated, big- bet, low-turnover portoflios. "But they each go about picking stocks in different ways."
Oh, and sure, technically as long as the purchases are being made by Berkshire, and as long as Buffett signs the SEC filings, it's technically correct to say he bought the stock. But considering that Simpson may be running the joint one day, it might be wise to start paying attention to who is calling what shots.
Through Buffett's secretary, Berkshire officials declined comment.
When we last left insider trading tracker George Muzea of
Muzea Insider Consulting
, he had turned neutral on tech stocks after two years of being positive but hadn't yet seen January data that would help him decide whether he should turn outright bearish. Those numbers are in, and last week, before the rout, he not only went bearish, but told his clients that the tech sector "is negative, with the lowest amount of interesting insider buying since July 1995. Whether this implies a fundamental problem with the sector, or simply valuation is beyond the realm of expertise, I simply do not have enough IQ points to figure that one."
His advice for investors who still want to dabble in the sector (which doesn't include Internet stocks) is to cherry-pick stocks.
How long will Muzea remain negative on tech? "It's a function of what happens with these markets," he says. "If I get the right kind of buying based on the way I look at insider activity, then I will upgrade to neutral and positive."
Overall, he adds, the general market "is still okay," with capital goods, consumer cyclicals and financials (especially regional banks) looking the best. He makes special note of "renewed interest" by insiders in small stocks.
Herb Greenberg writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with the editorial policy of TSC, he does not own or short individual stocks. He also does not invest in hedge funds or any other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at
email@example.com . Greenberg writes a monthly column for Fortune and provides daily commentary for CNBC.