Berkshire Outcast Loads Up on Bank Stock

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- David Sokol has backed up the truck to load up on shares of Middleburg Financial ( MBRG), continuing to add to a position the investor was holding when he resigned from Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway ( BRK-B) in March.

According to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Sokol purchased 66,811 Middleburg shares for his trust account this month, through Tuesday, for a total of $978,638, or an average price of $14.65 a share. Sokol also picked up 11,817 shares for his IRA account, for $169,743, or an average price of $14.36.
David Sokol

Sokol controlled 1,534,565 shares of Middleburg Financial, or roughly 22% of the company's shares outstanding.

Middleburg Financial's shares closed at $14.76 Tuesday, up 2% so far in August and up 4.5% year-to-date, bucking the trend for the largest U.S. banks. This performance compares quite favorable to the KBW Bank Index ( I:BKX), which was down 21% month-to-date and down a whopping 30% year-to-date.

Some of the best-known U.S. banking names have fared even worse, with Bank of America ( BAC) seeing its shares drop 35% during August through Tuesday's closing price of $6.30. Shares of the nation's largest bank were down 53% year-to-date.

Shares of Citigroup ( C) were down 29% month-to-date and down 42% year-to-date when they closed at $27.32 Tuesday.

Looks like other investors smell a winner in Middleburg Financial (or maybe in Sokol), despite the bank's meager earnings.

Middleburg Financial had $1.1 billion in total assets as of June 30, and reported second-quarter net income of $1.2 million, or 17 cents a share, compared to $724 thousand, or 10 cents a share, a year earlier.

The company's provision for loan losses declined to $1.1 million during the second quarter, from $1.3 million a year earlier, however, this improvement was more than offset by an increase in expenses on foreclosed properties to $606 thousand in the second quarter, from $295 thousand a year earlier.

The bank's net interest margin -- the difference between its average yield on loans and investments and its average cost of funds -- was 3.78% during the second quarter, expanding from 3.67% a year earlier. Its second-quarter return on average assets was 0.39%, which is way below the combined U.S. bank and thrift industry's 0.85%, reported Tuesday by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. .

Berkhire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett announced the resignation of David Sokol from his executive positions at the firm on March 30, saying that Sokol's decision "came as a surprise."

Sokol's resignation occurred after a media uproar over the timing of his purchases of shares of Lubrizol Corp. ( LZ), which began before he pitched the chemical manufacturer to Buffett as a possible target for acquisition. Berkshire Hathaway announced on March 14 an agreement to purchase Lubrizol for $135 a share, or roughly $9 billion.

Lubrizol's shareholders approved the deal in June, and Berkshire said on August 5 that it expected regulatory approvals "to be obtained within the next one to three months."

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-- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.

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Philip W. van Doorn is a member of TheStreet's banking and finance team, commenting on industry and regulatory trends. He previously served as the senior analyst for TheStreet.com Ratings, responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to banks and savings and loan institutions. Mr. van Doorn previously served as a loan operations officer at Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, Fla., and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, where he monitored banks in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Mr. van Doorn has additional experience in the mutual fund and computer software industries. He holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Long Island University.